On July 3, 2008, Québec City celebrated its 400th Anniversary since its foundation by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. Few cities in North America have reached this milestone. When Champlain chose the location of his settlement he named «Kébec» (a word from an Amerindian language meaning «place where the river becomes narrow»), did he suspect that he was establishing the roots of French civilization in the Americas?
During the 17th et 18th centuries, Québec City was the centre of New France and its enormous territory. At the time, this «empire» covered all of what is known today as Eastern Canada, the Eastern United States, the Great Lakes and Louisiana, extending from Hudson’s Bay in the North to Florida in the South.
Champlain chose to build his first «abitation» (dwelling) at the foot of Cape Diamant, in a neighbourhood known today as Place-Royale. The Place-Royale Interpretation Center presents the history of this site, considered the cradle of French civilization in the Americas.
Old Québec was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The best way to explore this historic neighbourhood is to stroll along its narrow streets lined with stone houses. Occasionally, these buildings, with their pointed or mansard roofs, have carriage gates that open onto a courtyard. (To learn more about the buildings in this part of town, see the section «Architecture»).
Québec City was under French rule between 1608 and 1759, except for the period between 1627 and 1632, when the Kirke brothers controlled the city.
The Recollets, who were the colony’s first missionaries, arrived in 1615. They were soon followed by the Jesuits in 1635, then the Ursulines and Augustines in 1639. The latter two, both orders of nuns, are still active today (see the section «Religious»).
After having founded the Séminaire de Québec in 1663, Mgr François de Laval became the first bishop of the newly created diocese of Québec in 1674.
Built between 1748 and 1750, the New Barracks was the largest building constructed in New France at the time.
In 1759, the famous battle of the Plains of Abraham would alter the course of the colony’s history that had been, until then, relatively uneventful. The English won the battle and took control of the city, then later the colony. The following year, France signed the Treaty of Paris, thus transferring ownership of New France to England and putting an end to the Seven Year War.
In 1775-1776, American troops tried, and failed, to capture Québec City. The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the “Province of Québec” into Upper and Lower Canada and designated Québec City as the capital of Lower Canada.
In 1841, the Union Act united the two Canadas. Over a period of a few years, different Canadian cities played the role of national capital, including Québec City. Even today, Québec City is still referred to in French as the «Vieille capitale», which means former capital.
The flag of Quebec is often called the “fleur-de-lis” flag. The white cross originates from ancient royal flags of France. Contrary to popular belief, the fleurs-de-lis are not taken from the banners of French kings, who used golden fleurs-de-lis. The white fleurs-de-lis, on Quebec’s flag, are symbols of purity; which originally represented the Virgin Mary.
Adopted on January 21, 1948 through an order of the Lieutenant-Governor in Council and accepted as an ‘official symbol’ the same day. The fleurdelisé flag replaced the Union Jack.
A white cross divides the flag into 4 azure quadrants in which are placed 4 white fleur-de-lis. The fleur-de-lis on azure first appeared under King Louis VII who reigned from 1137 to 1180. The fleur-de-lis had long been used on the Royal Seals. The banner preceeded King Louis everywhere, and he was the only person allowed to display it. In 1534, Jacques Cartier’s ship displayed a white cross on a red background. At the same time, a new flag – a white cross on a blue background – was competing for prominence. By 1603, the blue and white flag was flying from Samuel de Champlain’s ship as he sailed up the Saint Lawrence River.
In 1946, when Canada replaced the Union Jack with the Red Ensign, the people of Québec were less than pleased. There was nothing in the flag to represent French-Canadians. In 1947, an independent member of the legislative assembly, René Chaloult demanded a new flag which would reflect the French heritage of the province. When the Qué government hesitated in making a decision, Chaloult submitted a resolution on the matter to be discussed on January 21, 1948. There was no debate, however, as Québec Prime Minister Maurice Duplessis entered the legislature and announced that the fleurdelisé flag was already flying over the Parliament Building.