fortifications by nomad tours quebec

Quebec City’s Fortifications

One of the first main tourist sights travelers visit my City are Quebec City’s Fortifications (ramparts) around the Old City. Oftentimes my guests see them when driving under St-Louis Gate on the way to their hotel.  The fortifications are a must see on all my walking tours, especially the Quebec 101 Tour  and the Photo Tour . Some tour companies and guides in Quebec City do not include this attraction because it’s a bit of a walk from the other of Quebec City, but personally I think it’s worth the extra time, just like the Parliament Building. 

Disclaimer: I’m a native French speaker.  English is not my first language. I learned English at school, but I mostly learned it by watching to The Simpsons and listening to rock/metal music. So, I might have made a few mistakes in this blog post.  If I did, please tell me, its the best way I can improve!

St-Louis Gate in Quebec City

St-Louis Gate is one of the 5 remaining gates of the City fortifications. Photo by David L. Labrie

Quebec City’s Fortifications

Why does Quebec City have fortifications?

To answer this question, we must first understand the geography of Quebec City. Samuel de Champlain choose to build a fur trade post in what would become Quebec City because of its strategic position. Here, the Ste-Lawrence River gets much narrow and facing it, stands an imposing cliff called the Cap Diamant, a natural defensive wall. That means that the city was protected from the side of the Ste-Lawrence River to the east, but not so much to the west, an area then called the Plains of Abraham.

The evolution of the fortifications

The fortifications we see today are not exactly the ones built by the French. The fortifications were developed between 1608 and 1871, erected under both French and British regimes. The English began fortifying the existing walls built by the French after they took command of Quebec City following the famous Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and the Treaty of Paris of 1763. The history behind the fortifications is very interesting, and so is its evolution through time. If you want to learn more, Parks Canada offers affordable and interesting tours about the fortifications.

map of fortifications

The evolution of the fortifications around Old Quebec. Notice how huge the Citadelle is!

Fortifications 2.0

By the 1870s, the Quebecois wanted to destroy the fortifications. They felt that they were useless and that they were not a sign of modernity. At that time Lord Dufferin  (yes, the same Dufferin as in Terrace Dufferin) was the Governor General of Canada (representative of the Queen) and he saw what was happening in the city. He managed to convince politicians and the people to keep the fortifications and even improve them. One of the things that he did to improve the fortifications was enlarge the existing gates and give them the medieval look we still enjoy today.

Fortifications and St Jean Gate

The fortification offer breathtaking vistas over Old and modern Quebec City, especially at sunset!

Through time, some gates were destroyed, other were built to help with traffic in and out of the Old City.

The fortifications have four surviving gates:

  • Porte St. Jean
  • Porte St. Louis
  • Porte Prescott
  • Porte Kent

(You now know the French word for gate/door: ‘’porte’’!)

The only original gate, Porte Dalhousie, can be seen on a visit of La Citadelle, just a few minutes from St-Louis gate.

Dalhousie Gate

The Dalhousie Gate can be seen at La Citadelle. Photo by La Citadelle

A World Heritage Site

Today, the fortifications make a big loop around the city which is approximately 4.6 km (2.5 miles). The fortifications were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1948 and declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1985.

The fortifications on my tours

One of the things I enjoy the most about the fortifications is the breathtaking view from the top. From there, you can have an amazing view over the Old City and the Ste-Lawrence River. You can also look over the strategic spaces in the walls, making it a unique experience. On my summer walking tours, I often have a stroll with my guests on top of the fortifications, we can truly feel the military’s dominating presence and the defensive measures taken to protect the city.

Marie-Pierre explaining the Fortifications to a tourist

On this picture, I was explaining the history of the fortifications to an American visitor

Will I be showing you the fortifications during your next stay here in Quebec City? I hope so! You can contact me and book a tour using the contact form below.

See you in Quebec City!

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