There are a few places “close to home” that we can visit if we want to experience a culture different from our own. Canada’s famous French province of Quebec is one such place; and we can keep the money in our pockets that would have been used to pay airline fees to France! True, Quebec is much more anglicized now than it was centuries ago, but if you look closely you can still pick out many remnants of its French past. You have to know where to find these hints of culture, and it’s easy with a tour guide, a guide book, or a friend who happens to know the area!
The colony’s first settlers arrived in 1608, led by a daring French explorer many schoolchildren learned about in their formative years: Samuel de Champlain. This man helped to make Quebec the place it is today. Were it not for him, Spanish or English colonists would have likely made their way upstream to what was to become Canada, and would have given the city an entirely different look than it has. Religious tradition, brought from the devout, mostly Catholic settlers, also helped to found the churches, convents and faith-based institutions that Quebec’s cities now boast.
When researching things to do in Quebec, you will most likely want to start at the beautiful city of Montreal, which still retains much of its French heritage. In your research, you will probably come across a church called Notre Dame. Yes, there is a Notre Dame Cathedral in North America. It may not be as old as the medieval structure by the same name in Paris, but it is still well worth a visit. Known as a basilica (Basilique Notre-Dame) the church was built in the mid 17th century, prior to many churches in North America. The interior of Notre Dame is strikingly beautiful, gilded, arched and decorated.
For a beautiful excursion that will take up the greater part of the day, try out Old Montreal, known much more romantically as Vieux-Montreal. Many people believe it bears a striking resemblance to its sister city Paris (which is a wonderful thing to know if you don’t want to travel the world to eat at a French cafe). In Old Montreal you will find great places to dine, fabulous (though a bit pricey) shops and lots of things to see and do, including some museums well worth your time. You can find everything in Montreal, from historic buildings to churches to old ruins. At Champs-de-Mars, you can see the remains of the old walls that once guarded and strengthened the city. They were constructed in the early 18th century and have been preserved in part as a reminder of the city’s past.
Many of the streets in Montreal have retained their French names. Rue (meaning Street) is a common street name, usually followed by the name of a Catholic saint. For some examples, a few of Montreal’s streets are called Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue Notre-Dame (Our Lady). The places called Place d’Youville, Champs-de-Mars and Bonsecoeurs also vividly remind visitors of Montreal’s European heritage.
In Quebec City, there are also a ton of things to experience. For a history lesson, visit the Plains of Abraham. The year was 1759: Frenchmen longed for Quebec to belong only to the French, as it had once been, and tried to oust the British soldiers who were all too eager to meet the challenge. The Plains of Abraham could be considered one of North America’s most important battles because it was only after this battle that England felt confident enough to commandeer the French provinces. Were it not for the Plains of Abraham, Quebec might only be open to French immigrants to this day, and we could not enjoy the attractions that can be found here.
Strangely enough, Quebec City also has a Notre Dame Cathedral! The Basilique Cathedrale was originally built in the 1600s but has endured renovations since that time. Unlike Montreal’s cathedral, huge and blocky with little exterior ornamentation at some places, Quebec City’s Notre Dame boasts a beautiful and graceful facade. The inside of the church is even more beautiful. It is impossible to compare the interior of Montreal’s church to Quebec City’s because each interior is wonderfully constructed, full of gold accents, angelic statuary, vaults, and amazingly detailed altars. You don’t want to visit Quebec City without stopping in to see the Basilique Cathedrale.