Quebec City’s Citadel and Changing of the Guard Ceremony [2024 update]

quebec citadel

If you’re gearing up for a trip to Quebec City, chances are you’re sifting through a ton of “top 10 attractions” or “must-see” blog posts. The Citadel consistently makes its mark on all those lists, and with good reason! Dive into why the Citadel earns a prime spot on all my Quebec City walking tours.

Quebec citadelle
Check out the grandeur of the Citadel! This fortress stands as a testament to Quebec City’s history, built to safeguard both the city and the St. Lawrence River from potential American invasion.

Disclaimer: I’m a native French speaker.  English is not my first language. So, I might have made a few mistakes in this blog post.  If I did, please let me know, its the best way I can improve!

Quebec City’s Citadel and the Changing of the Guard Ceremony

Why was the Citadel built?

The Citadel is part of the city fortifications. It is a short 10-minute walk from the Fairmont Château Frontenac and a 2-minute walk from the Parliament Building.  The Citadel stands as the largest of its kind in North America. Constructed between 1820 and 1850 on top of Cape Diamond (Cap Diamant in French), it served as a final refuge for the British army and as a bastion to safeguard Quebec—and all of Canada—from potential American invasions. Its imposing stature and strategic position have earned it the nickname of “The Gibraltar of the Americas.”

Fearing a possible American attack, various military structures were built during the British Regime, including the Martello Towers and the Citadel. Note that it is at the Citadel that we find the oldest intact gate of the old city fortifications: the Dalhousie Gate. On the Lévis side, Forts 1,2 and 3 were built. Fortunately, the Americans never attacked Quebec again.

The Citadel on my Quebec City tours

When I’m guiding visitors from France, they often recognize the distinct shape of our Citadel, which echoes the designs of the renowned French engineer, Vauban. This star fort configuration is a familiar sight in cities like Lille, Arras, Strasbourg, Nîmes, and numerous others across Europe. However, when I’m with guests from the United States, they’re often taken aback to discover that the Citadel was constructed as a defense against American invasion. Many are surprised to learn that the American Army actually launched two attacks on Canada prior to the Citadel’s construction.

You can understand why I always highlight the Citadel during my Quebec City tours. Yet, I don’t typically go inside it on my tours. The Citadelle truly a world unto itself and that’s why I definitely recommend embarking on a comprehensive guided tour of this bastion. Their Citadel guides are exceptional, boasting extensive knowledge not only about the Citadel but also about Canada’s military history as a whole.

Royal 22e Régiment

At the time of the First World War, the Canadian Army’s official language was English. That means that French-Canadian did not want to join the army. It wasn’t easy, but eventually, the Canadian Army created it’s the first French-speaking infantry regiment known at the time as the 22nd Battalion. They have won several battles of honor and got the title of ”Royal”. The Citadel has been the Royal 22e Regiment’s home base since 1920. That mans that this fortress is still an active military base. 

changing of the guard citadelle quebec
The Changing of the Guard Ceremony performed by the Royal 22nd Regiment (photo taken before COVID)

2024 update: the Changing of the Guard Ceremony will be substituted with live musical performances by the Royal 22nd Regiment Band.

Unfortunately, since COVID, the famous Changing of the Guard Ceremony has not resumed. However, starting from June 24th until September 1st, the Changing of the Guard ceremony will be substituted with live musical performances by the Royal 22nd Regiment Band. These performances will take place every Wednesday to Sunday at 10 a.m., with additional shows at 4 p.m. on select Thursdays. Admission to these shows is included in certain guided tour packages. Please be aware that performances may be canceled due to inclement weather.

Did you know?
The Royal 22e Regiment has a nickname?  ‘’The Van Doos’’ represents an anglicized pronunciation of the French for twenty-two, (vingt-deux).

DSC 0109
Batisse is the Royal mascot of the Royal 22e Regiment since 1955.  On this picture, we can see Batisse from the 11th generation.

Did you know? The Noon-Day Gun Tradition
Every day at noon, a cannon blast echoes from the citadel, resonating across the fortress and its surrounding environs.
This custom, entrenched in the Citadelle’s history, dates back to the arrival of the Royal Canadian Artillery’s garrison in 1871. Initially, two cannons fired daily. The first, precisely at noon, served to synchronize the city’s residents’ watches, signaling lunchtime or marking the Angelus, the midday prayer. The second cannon sounded at 9:30 p.m., announcing the curfew for gunners and any soldiers within the city limits. This tradition passed to the Royal 22e Régiment upon its assumption of the garrison, enduring until 1994. It was resurrected in 2008 to commemorate Québec City’s 400th anniversary.

Marie-Pierre Lessard

Marie-Pierre Lessard

Quebec City Tour Guide, Business Owner and Blogger

In 2015, I launched my very own tour company, Nomad Tours Quebec. Specializing in personalized guided tours of the enchanting historic Quebec City, let me be your guide to exploring the essence of my beloved city!

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