Forget the O.C. (Orange County), the Q.C. (Quebec City) is the place to party for New Year's Eve!
30.12.2007 - 05.01.2008 -20 °C
On July 3, 1608, Samuel de Champlain was looking to set up the first permanent settlement in the new world for France. Coming to a narrow spot in the river that had served both as an Iroquois settlement called Stadacona and fort founded and later abandoned by Jaques Cartier, Champlain decided on this spot to locate his city. Naming it after the local native word Kebec, meaning “where the river narrows,” Quebec City became the most important city in New France.
Nearly 400 years later, Quebec City is geared up to celebrate its 400th birthday. That celebration started on December 31st, 2007, with a multimedia musical show leading up to the countdown to midnight and the ringing in of 2008.
Having just started up my project in Houston a couple of months ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get an opportunity to get away during the Christmas break, and as such I hadn’t arranged a trip. As he got close to Christmas, it was clear that I would be able to sneak a couple of weeks in vacation in. However, by that time, everything was sold out or outrageously priced. Add to that the recent nagging guilt I’ve been feeling about travelling all around the world but ignoring the amazing sites in my own country, and I decided that I needed to spend some time in Canada.
I debated sticking around my home in Toronto, or heading up to Ottawa or Montreal, but all are places that I have been lots of times before, and wanted to do something different. Quebec City provided a good opportunity both because I hadn’t been there since I was 10 years old and also because I could get there on the train. So I booked tickets on Via Rail, made some hotel reservations and headed off to Canada’s most “European” feeling city.
Champlain founded his city around the small town square which today goes by the name of Place Royale. The square gave name to the area that sits between the St. Lawrence river and the foot of the cliff that towers over it. The area contains a number of small streets and alleys with old buildings that today house a number of restaurants and boutique shops along cobblestone streets.
Up atop the cliff is the area of town called Old Quebec. The entire area is surrounded by thick fortified walls, and the highest point is dominated by the gothic looking Chateau Frontenac Hotel, one of the many luxury hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway company to encourage travellers to take their trains across Canada.
Just east of the walled city is the Champs-de-Bataille park, also known as the Plains of Abraham. During the seven year’s war between Britain and France, it was on these plains (a farm owned by Abraham Martin, thus the name) that British troops under General James Wolfe defeated the French general Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and took the city. This was the start of the fall of New France. The French Colonies within North America had extended from east-to-west from Newfoundland in the Atlantic ocean to the Rocky Mountains and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south. At the end of the Seven Year’s War, most all of this land was ceded to Britain. There is a notable exception to this, the small Atlantic islands St. Pierre and Miquelon that are still controlled by France today, though most North Americans are unaware of the existence of this small French colony just off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
To the north of the Plains of Abraham is the Grand Allee, a beautiful street with old buildings that have been mostly converted into restaurants, bars and the occasional museum. I wandered along it for a few moments, but quickly headed back to my hotel.
I have a confession to make here. I am a Canadian, it is true. But I come from Toronto, one of the southern most cities in Canada, and due to both it’s southern latitude and the moderating effect of Lake Ontario, Toronto doesn’t really get very cold or very snowy at all. In fact, in 1999 Toronto became the butt of many jokes within Canada for having to call in the Army to clear the streets after a snow storm. As a Torontonian, I am mostly used to a few inches of gray, wet slush on the ground and temperatures around the freezing mark.
Quebec City, being farther north, gets snow, and it gets cold. Most of the time I was in the city, the temperature didn’t get above -20 Celsius, and dipped down much colder at night. My fragile Torontonian body could barely take the cold that, I am sure, Quebeckers were laughing and thumbing their noses at.
I did manage, however, to pull myself out of doors, bundled up in all my warmest clothes, to watch the big multimedia celebration at Place D’Youville on New Years Eve. As much as I wanted to enjoy the festivities, though, it was a bit of a dud. They had wedged the stage in a corner of Place D’Youville against the walled city, which meant that most people (including myself) didn’t have a view of the stage, so I ended up watching the festivities on the big screen. Then it turns out the timing was off on the show, and by the time the show climaxed with a countdown from 10 to the New Year, it was already 12:03 am on January 1st, 2008.
Note that they are counting down in French, starting at six
Oh well, what is time but a human construct anyway, so why not celebrate the New Year countdown whenever it’s convenient? At least the fireworks afterwards were nice. And it does look like there are going to be some pretty big parties this year in Quebec City to celebrate their 400th year, including their famous Winter Carnival, the craziness that is the Red Bull Crashed Ice contest, and some big parties set up for July to mark the actual founding of the city.
And if you are thinking of going, the good news is that in July the weather will be a lot warmer than it is in January.