When I told my Canadian friend, whom I met in my island home of Bucas Grande in the Philippines, that I would be attending the Second International Summit of Co-operatives in Quebec City, Canada from October 6-9, 2014, he advised me not to miss having a Quebec City walking tour. In fact, his admonition that If you have not toured around the Upper Town, you have not seen Quebec City kept resonating in my mind while I was inside the Centre des congrès de Québec (Québec City Convention Centre) attending one of the most sought after gathering of cooperative leaders worldwide.
Hence, after the closing ceremony of the international gathering, I and my close friend Gadwin Handumon, who now holds the rank of Undersecretary being the Cooperative Sector Representative to the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) of the Philippines, came out with the idea of rewarding ourselves for religiously attending the 3-day event by doing a Quebec City walking tour.
We decided to limit our walking tour to some interesting destinations within the Haute-Ville (Upper Town) as time constraints and intermittent rain would not permit us to visit the other spots therein nor in the Basse-Ville (Lower Town) portion of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and historical neighborhood Vieux Quebec (Old Quebec).
Truly, I felt ecstatic after crossing the Boulevard René-Lévesque as my eyes were glued at the carefully manicured lawns and gardens dotted with 26 bronze statues of past premiers and other influential figures in the history of the province Quebec , Canada. A few steps more and I realized that we were setting foot at the grounds of the Paris Louvre Palace-inspired Parliament Building which is the oldest and most important historical site in Québec City and the seat of Québec’s government.
As I leisurely walked on Avenue Honoré – Mercier, an elegant 7-meter high and 4-meter wide circular fountain dubbed as the “Fontaine de Tourny” situated at the center of a roundabout that sits in front of the main Parliament Building like an extravagant centerpiece had caught my attention. Its design composed of several circular bowls superimposed along an octagonal pedestal with characters comprising four children holding each other’s hands standing on top of a bowl decorated with fishes and two men (Neptune, the God of the sea and Acis, the God of the Acis River in Sicily in Roman mythology ) and two women (Amphitrite, the sea goddess and Galatea, goddess of calm seas in Greek mythology) sitting on the granite base is truly mesmerizing. Most importantly, its water jets coming out of the mouth of 16 frogs that move to the next level with the rest of the 43 jets departing from higher levels to fall to the circular granite basin below are simply amazing.
A few steps away from the Fontaine de Tourny, my eyes twinkled in admiration upon seeing the monument of the Indian democrat and apostle of non-violence Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who is my idol and inspiration in my own non-violent struggles in life. Sculpted by the Indian artist Gautam Pal, the monument was donated by the Government of the Republic of India to Quebec City at the instance of the Indian community established in Quebec. Unveiled on November 2, 2006, the Gandhi monument serves as a lasting testimony of friendship, fraternity and understanding between the peoples of India and Quebec.
The history buff in me had manifested when we went closer to the statue of Francois Xavier Garneau, who was born in Quebec City in 1809 and was recognized in his life as a French Canadian historian, poet, civil servant and liberal before he died at the age of fifty-seven. Staring intently at Garneau, I talked to him in silence: Here comes a man in front of you who felt so guilty for not finishing his self-imposed task of writing the history of his island town despite of the fact that it is only a needle’s tip compared to what you have had accomplished in writing a three volume history of the French Canadian nation between the years of 1845 and 1848.
A short walk through the Avenue Honoré – Mercier with a left turn to Rue Grande Allee Est lead us to the Porte Saint-Louis (St. Louis Gate) which was built in 1693 as part of the 6 gates integrated into the system of walls and fortifications surrounding the Haute-Ville (Upper Town) of Quebec.
As I gazed upon the thick defensive wall having a broad top with a walkway, my mind traveled back in time to the year 1690 when, upon orders of Louis de Buade, Earl of Frontenac, temporary enclosures were made on the west side of Quebec City out of fear of a European siege. Further, my mind was figuring out men constructing palisade with mump bastions to replace the former temporary fortification in 1693. My wandering thought then focused upon workers, with the go signal by the general commissioner of the fortifications of Louis XIV, sluggishly working on separate wall projects between 1701 and 1720 that resulted to a multitude of isolated, incomplete and inadequate fortifications. But Alas! New England troops supported by British naval units attacked and occupied the great French bastion at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia on the afternoon of June 28th, 1745. My imagination thereafter saw men in panic hurriedly erecting, upon authorization of Governor Beauharnois , enclosures entirely covered with masonry which gave rise to 4.6 kilometer walls girding almost entirely the Upper Town of Old Québec.
Candidly, an enigmatic feeling had engulfed my psyche as I crossed the rampart through St. Louis Gate. Feeling as though I was in a fairytale, I had been so enthralled by the experience of stepping into the only North American fortified city outside of Mexico whose walls still exist that I had hardly noticed my fingers clicking on my point and shoot camera capturing in the process the image of Porte Saint-Louis (St. Louis Gate) as viewed from inside the walled city.
As my eyes wandered around, a little park with manicured lawns and artfully sculptured gardens dubbed the Parc de l’Esplanade located between 2 gates (Porte Saint-Louis and Porte Kent) along the fortifications on one side and the Rue d’Auteuil on the other had caught my admiration.
Our first stop within the Esplanade Park was the monument to the Quebec Conferences. Unveiled in May 7, 1998, it recalls the conduct of two meetings: the First Conference of Quebec (1943) and the Second Conference of Quebec (1944). Looking with earnest and eager attention at the busts of United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, I could sense the enormity of the issues being ironed out with their host Canada Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King during the highly secret military conference (codenamed QUADRANT) held at the Citadelle and at the Château Frontenac on August 17, 1943 – August 24, 1943 at the height of the Worl War II. Further, my mind was picturing out how intense the discussions were being done between the three great leaders during the follow-up conference codenamed OCTAGON held in the same venue on September 12, 1944 – September 16, 1944. But for a history aficionado myself, the best proof of the outcomes of those conferences can be summarized in the marker carved in granite in French: Ne Serait-Ce Pas Magnifique Si L’Histoire Pouvait Raconter Que C’est A Quebec Que L’on A Assure La Liberation De La France, which, if translated to English would tell us the message: Would Not It Be Magnificent If History Could Tell That It Was In Quebec that One Ensured the Liberation of France.
My will to roam around the whole of Parc de l’Esplanade was still overflowing but the intermittent rains and the impending arrival of a thunderstorm had influenced our decision to do the Quebec City walking tour in a hurry. Hence, from the Esplanade Park we walked a little bit faster along the Rue Saint-Louis which is one of the oldest street of the city of Quebec with its origin dating back 17th century when a road connecting the Fort Saint-Louis in Sillery and Cap Rouge was constructed. The 500-meter long, east-west orientation curved road hosts a number of historical houses like the house where Louis-Joseph de Montcalm , Lieutenant-General of the Armies in New France, died on September 14, 1759; the Dunn House which served as the first permanent town hall in Quebec City from 1840 to 1896 and; the townhomes of Alexandre-Chauveau who was a lawyer, judge, educator and political figure in Quebec.
For some inexplicable reason, my heart had beaten faster while walking down the Saint-Louis Street. While my brain was taking full control of my long and decisive steps but my eyes were trained on the grand copper turrets and majestic stone towers visible from a distance. A few minutes’ walk and my mouth opened wide in amazement and my jaw fell to the street in admiration as I was awestruck with the sight of a towering 600-room, 18-floor, Middle Ages and Renaissance hotel with a number of turrets all topped by a distinctive green roof unfolding right in front of me.
It was then that I realized that we had reached that part of the Dufferin Terrace (Terrasse Dufferin) overlooking the St. Lawrence River where the most photographed hotel in the world and the symbol of Quebec City- the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is found.
As I heard the bells of the nearby Church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires on our way to the port for a ferry ride to our hotel in Levis City situated across the St. Lawrence River, I stopped for a while, prayed the Angelus in silence, offered thanks for the fruitful, meaningful and fulfilling Quebec City walking tour and said, Thank you God for bringing me here.