"The Gibraltar of North America"

Old Québec's Fortified Wall
Became Known as
"The Gibraltar of North America"

(1832 to 1866)

This period (1832 to 1866) marked the end of the British Regime in Canada. It also marked the Fortified Wall's highest point of usefulness for military purposes, as the essential part of Québec City's defensive system. In the middle of the 19th Century, after the permanent Citadel was completed (including its interior buildings), the Fortified Wall was called by Charles Dickens "The Gibraltar of North America".

In 1834, Château St. Louis was at the pinnacle of its architectural splendor and political prestige, just before it was destroyed by fire.
Image Credit: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Centre d'archives de Québec (BAnQ-Québec) / Access number E6, S8, SS1, SSS1, SSSS1349, D9771, PA8 / Engraving by Robert Auchmuty Sproule published in « Hawkins' Pictures of Québec », page 129, in 1834 / Photographed by Gérard Morisset (1900-1965) under the title « Québec, Québec – Château Saint-Louis – Avant le sinistre de 1834 » / Reproduced with the permission of Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Centre d'archives de Québec (BAnQ-Québec).

This illustration of Prescott Gate in the 19th Century clearly shows that the gates used as sections of Québec City's Fortified Wall at that time had narrow openings and were built for defensive purposes. Such a narrow opening was just high and large enough to let only a horse-drawn carriage or a few pedestrians through. With guards controlling those passages, the gates were truly part of Québec City's defensive system. The Prescott Gate was then one of the entrances to the Upper Town of Old Québec, along with De Hope Gate, Du Palais Gate, St. Louis Gate and St. John Gate.
© 2008 Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada / Brochure entitled "Québec, a Fortified City: Geological and Historical Heritage", page 5 / Image reproduced with the permission of Natural Resources Canada.
1834 — Château St. Louis was destroyed by fire on the night of January 25. It burned to the ground and was never rebuilt. Most of its ruins were demolished in 1838. But the site upon which it had been constructed, rebuilt and improved for nearly two centuries was considered by the authorities of Québec City as a remarkable site, a unique site. So much so that only major projects such as the Durham Terrace in 1838 (which eventually became the Dufferin Terrace in 1879) and the Château Frontenac in 1893 would later be allowed to occupy such a prestigious location.

1837 — As if to confirm British apprehensions that the French population in Québec City could rebel against the British Regime, there was an open Rebellion of the "Patriotes" in Lower Canada (Québec) during the fall of 1837 and the following year. It was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau after the British had rejected the list of demands for political reform of his nationalistic party, the "Parti Patriote", in 1834. But it did not directly affect Québec City, as most of the insurrection was fought along the Richelieu River.

1838 — The ruins of Château St. Louis, which had been destroyed by fire in 1834, were demolished for the most part. An impressive boardwalk, called the "Durham Terrace", was built on the site that Château St. Louis had previously occupied. It was about 164 feet (50 meters) long and 49 feet (15 meters) wide. That terrace and its successive expansions would greatly contribute to the protection of the archaeological ruins of the four Forts St. Louis and two Châteaux St. Louis, which would be excavated after 1980 at that location.

1840 — De Hope Gate, first built in 1790 and restored in 1823, was fortified. This fortified structure would last until 1873, when it would be demolished and not rebuilt.

1842 — While visiting Québec City, Charles Dickens wrote that it had become "The Gibraltar of North America". The expansion of Québec City's defensive system, including its Fortified Wall, had reached its peak in the middle of the 19th Century, when he made that statement. At that time, military properties in Québec City occupied more than 40% of the land within its Fortified Wall.

This 1840 view of Québec City's permanent Citadel overlooking Old Québec and the St. Lawrence River gives us a better idea of the reason why Charles Dickens, while visiting Québec City in 1842, called it "The Gibraltar of North America".
© 2009 Service des communications, Ville de Québec / Book in French about the 400th anniversary of Québec City, entitled "Québec, ma ville, mon 400e", page 23 / Painting by R. Wallis and W. H. Bartlett, entitled "Vue prise de la Citadelle de Québec", 1840, at Archives de la Ville de Québec / Image reproduced with the permission of Archives de la Ville de Québec.

1851 — This year marked the end of the construction of the permanent Citadel, with the completion of its interior buildings. The permanent Citadel was also designed to serve as barracks and an arms depot. At this point, it could house between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers, as well as their equipment. It was rare, however, for the full complement of troops to be stationed there.

1853 — The Durham Terrace, built in 1838, was extended in the direction of the permanent Citadel.

1864 — Because it had become obsolete as part of Québec City's defensive system, Du Palais Gate was demolished and not rebuilt afterward. Previously, it had been built in 1691, restored in 1720 and 1790, demolished and rebuilt in 1823.

1865 — Because it had become obsolete as part of Québec City's defensive system, St. John Gate was demolished, but it would be rebuilt in 1867. Previously, it had been built in 1693 and rebuilt in 1720, then restored in 1791 and replaced in 1823.

1865 — In the context of the American Civil War and more particularly of the gains made by the South in the early years of that war, the British authorities feared the worst and decided to go ahead with extending Québec City's perimeter of defense on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. Separate forts were constructed on the heights of Pointe de Lévy, located directly opposite to Québec City and its Fortified Wall. They were designed to prevent the Americans from attacking Québec City and its Fortified Wall from that side of the river. In the Québec City area, this would prove to be the very final building project of the British for military purposes.