"A World Heritage Site"

Old Québec and its Fortified Wall
Are Now "A World Heritage Site"

(1940 to today)

Québec City and its Fortified Wall were ready to occupy a prominent place on the world stage. The permanent Citadel was still a formidable stronghold. Château Frontenac had reached its full architectural expression. The urban embellishment of the Fortified Wall complemented the urban embellishment of the rest of Old Québec. The world itself was ready to recognize them as a "World Heritage Site", due in large part to the fact that Québec City was the only city in North America to have retained the major parts of its historic defensive system and that the Upper Town of Old Québec was still surrounded by its Fortified Wall.

1940 — World War II had just begun (on September 3, 1939). It eventually became an even greater war than World War I (which had been called "The Great War") and lasted until 1945. Just like in World War I, many Canadians fought in Europe during that war, but, from its beginning to its end, there were no reports of enemy ships near Québec City or its port and there were no wartime air attacks on Québec City either. However, three major world conferences were held inside Québec City's Fortified Wall during World War II (in 1943 and 1944) and right after World War II (in 1945). They played an important role in this world war and in the new world order following this world war.

1943 — An exceptional World War II conference was prepared in the greatest secrecy and held at the highest level between the leaders of the two most important Western Allies. British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met for the first time at Château Frontenac and the Citadel, from August 17 to August 24. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King also participated in those discussions. Most of their staffs of nearly 700 people stayed and met at Château Frontenac, while the two leaders and the Canadian prime minister stayed and met at the permanent Citadel of Québec City, in order to discuss their strategy for World War II. During that Québec Conference, they agreed on one of the most important decisions of World War II. They chose Normandy in France as the landing site for the invasion and liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany, which they timed for 1944. It would actually happen on "D-day", on June 6, 1944.

This photo was taken at Québec City's Citadel, during the world conference of August 1943. Clockwise from the top-left of this photo, we can see: Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, Governor General of Canada Alexander Augustus Frederick Cambridge, the First Earl of Athlone, and American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Part of Château Frontenac is also visible in the background, at the top-left of this historical photo.
© August 1943 by the Imperial War Museum (TR1347) / Artwork created by the United Kingdom Government / Public Domain.
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RooseveltChurchillMackenzie.jpg

1944 — Churchill and Roosevelt met for the second time at Château Frontenac and the Citadel. Québec City then became the only city in the world where they met twice during World War II. That second Québec Conference was held from September 11 to September 16, about 13 months after the first one. Château Frontenac was reserved for 10 days with very strict security measures. Antiaircraft guns were placed a few feet from Château Frontenac, while air force fighters patrolled the sky above Québec City and its Fortified Wall. The discussions between Churchill and Roosevelt focused on the changing war with Japan, as well as the future of Europe after the end of hostilities with Nazi Germany.

1945 — At the beginning of November, after the end of World War II, another world conference was held at Château Frontenac. It marked the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), within the United Nations (UN) system. The FAO was part of the new world order created after World War II and still exists today. Its head office is located in Rome.

1948 — Québec City's defensive works, including the Fortified Wall, were proclaimed a Canadian "National Historic Site". Today, they are better known as the "Parks Canada — Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site". In fact, its "National Historic Sites" are places of profound importance to Canada. They bear witness to that country's defining moments and also illustrate its human creativity and cultural traditions. Each one of those "National Historic Sites" tells its own unique story, part of the greater story of Canada, contributing a sense of time, identity and place to a better understanding of Canada in its totality.

1967 — The Québec Provincial Government decided to restore Place Royale and its surroundings, in the Lower Town of Old Québec. It took charge of the restoration and reconstruction of the buildings in that area, in order to recreate the ambiance of New France and Québec City at their beginnings. Old Québec's Fortified Wall was not part of this immense restoration and reconstruction project, but it indirectly benefited from the revitalization of the area where Samuel de Champlain had established the first permanent French settlement in North America, in 1608. The urban embellishment of Old Québec's Lower Town complemented the previous urban embellishment of Old Québec's Upper Town and Fortified Wall.

This is the way part of Place Royale looked, in the Lower Town of Old Québec, after its restoration by the Québec Provincial Government, in 1967.
© August 2004 / Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri / Uploaded on Wikipedia on April 18, 2007.
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:QuebecCitySum04.jpg

1975 — Parks Canada became responsible for preserving, maintaining and improving the fortifications of Québec City, including Old Québec's Fortified Wall, and has done so ever since. The main goal of that governmental agency is to help the Canadian population as well as foreign visitors to discover and appreciate the history of Québec City's defensive system. The whole area which benefits from this enduring endeavor is called the "Parks Canada — Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site".

1980 — The 1980s marked the beginning of major archaeological excavations along the Fortified Wall and they are still going on today in its different sections. Among the findings were stone and brick ruins, as well as numerous artifacts (such as glasses, dishes, ceramics, silverware, jewels and even smoking pipes) from the past four Forts St. Louis and two Châteaux St. Louis. They were discovered under the boardwalk of the Dufferin Terrace, which was restored after those particular archaeological excavations.

1983 — In large part because this year marked the 375th anniversary of Québec City's foundation in 1608, Parks Canada built a footbridge in Côte de la Montagne that became known afterward as the new Prescott Gate. Because it had become obsolete as part of Québec City's defensive system, the old Prescott Gate had been demolished in 1871. But Parks Canada wanted to honor its history as well as the memory of Governor-in-Chief Robert Prescott, who had built it in 1797 and after whom it had been named.

1985 — UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared the "Historic District of Old Québec" a "World Heritage Site". It was a prestigious honor for Québec City and its Fortified Wall. It was a worlwide recognition of the very special and unique place which Québec City and its Fortified Wall occupy in North America and on the world stage.

1985 — UNESCO stipulated on its Web site that: "Québec was founded by the French explorer Champlain in the early 17th Century. It is the only North American city to have preserved its ramparts, together with the numerous bastions, gates and defensive works which still surround Old Québec. The Upper Town, built on the cliffs, has remained the religious and administrative center, with its churches, convents and other monuments like the Dauphine Redoubt, the Citadel and Château Frontenac. Together with the Lower Town and its ancient districts, it forms an urban ensemble which is one of the best examples of a fortified colonial city."

Here is a panoramic view including the Citadel, Old Québec, Château Frontenac and the St. Lawrence River, all of which contributed to make Old Québec and its Fortified Wall a "World Heritage Site" in 1985.
© 2006 Québec Photo / By Luc-Antoine Couturier.
Image Source: washingtonpost.com/?wp-dyn/?content/?article/?2006/?07/?21/?AR2006072100501.html

1985 — UNESCO also made this "Statement of Significance": "Founded in the 17th Century, Québec City illustrates one of the major stages in the European settlement of the Americas. Notably, it was the capital of New France and, after 1760, of the new British colony. The Historic District of Old Québec is made up of two parts: the Upper Town, defended by fortified ramparts, a citadel, and other defensive works; and the Lower Town, which developed around Place Royale and the harbor. A well preserved, integrated urban ensemble, this historic district is a remarkable example of a fortified city of the colonial era, and unique north of Mexico."

1985 — Finally, UNESCO specified the two criteria for such a great honor: "(iv) — A coherent and well-preserved urban ensemble, the Historic District of Old Québec is an exceptional example of a fortified colonial town and by far the most complete north of Mexico. (vi) — Québec City, the former capital of New France, illustrates one of the major stages in the European settlement of the colonization of the Americas by Europeans."

1986 — Château Frontenac became a CP Hotel, then a Fairmont Hotel. During this year, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) company, which had owned Château Frontenac since its creation in 1893, became known simply as the Canadian Pacific (CP) company. It was at that time Canada's second largest company. In addition to Canadian Pacific Railway, the company's subsidiaries included PanCanadian Energy, Fording Coal, CP Hotels (which later became known as Fairmont Hotels) and CP Ships.

1993 — In order to celebrate Château Frontenac's 100th anniversary in grand style, to modernize this prestigious hotel while preserving its "French Renaissance" style and to maintain its world-class standing, another major expansion of Château Frontenac was completed between 1987 and 1993, with the construction of the Claude-Pratte Wing. This vast restoration and renovation project was undertaken at a cost of $65,000,000 in Canadian dollars. The new wing included a superb indoor pool, a physical fitness center and a magnificent outdoor terrace. It gave Château Frontenac a total of 610 luxury rooms and suites, plus 20 assembly halls. And it was inaugurated exactly one century after the creation of Château Frontenac in 1893.

2001 — The site where the four Forts St. Louis and two Châteaux St. Louis were erected was recognized as a Canadian "National Historic Site". Located on top of high cliffs overlooking the Lower Town of Old Québec, this site is very close to Château Frontenac. It lays beneath the Dufferin Terrace boardwalk. It is a major archaeological site that contains vestiges linked to the governors of both the French and British Regimes. Later on, after a campaign of successful archaeological digs was carried out by Parks Canada between 2005 and 2007, this site was opened in 2008 to the public as part of the celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of Québec City. During this year, more than 300,000 people visited the vestiges of the four Forts St. Louis and two Châteaux St. Louis.

2002 — Throughout the world, Québec City is considered a major tourist destination. For example, during this year, Québec City had more than 9,000,000 visitors. It was estimated that 63% of them, or about 5.67 million people, visited Old Québec and its Fortified Wall. According to Statistics Canada, the number of tourists (or of people who slept at least one night in Québec City) rose from 3,141,000 in 1984 to an estimated 5,815,000 in 2002, which represented an increase of more than 85%.

2008 — The 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City, in 1608, was magnificently celebrated. This year also marked the 400th anniversary of Old Québec's Fortified Wall, since French explorer Samuel de Champlain, during the summer of 1608, had his first "Fortified Habitation" built in the Lower Town of what is today Old Québec, not far from the St. Lawrence River. He had called it "l'Abitation de Quebecq" (in French, for "the Habitation of Québec"). That "Fortified Habitation" in the Lower Town was eventually replaced by the Fortified Wall, in the Upper Town of what is today Old Québec.

2008 — The celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Québec City were launched on December 31, 2007, and ran until December 31, 2008. In fact, they were more like "a yearlong celebration marked by unprecedented festivities", such as:

  • Shows by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and pop diva Céline Dion (who is originally from the Province of Québec);
  • An exposition called "The Louvre in Québec City" at Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, with 275 artworks loaned from The Louvre Museum in Paris and the theme "Old Art meets the New World";
  • An open-air multimedia show called "The Image Mill" that was repeated many times during summer evenings in front of a total of 500,000 people and projected onto the largest screen ever used (on the 1,968-foot or 600-meter wide and 98-foot or 30-meter high white grain elevators towering above the north side of the Bassin Louise in Québec City's port);
  • A gigantic family picnic on the Plains of Abraham;
  • A unique show created by members of Cirque du Soleil (also originally from the Province of Québec);
  • A special gathering place that was the main venue of those celebrations called "Espace 400e " (or "Space 400th " in English);
  • Numerous daily events;
  • And so on.

All these festivities were like fireworks spectacularly displayed for a whole year, a year to vividly remember.

To celebrate Québec City's 400th anniversary, with a surface area the size of 25 IMAX screens combined, Robert Lepage created a unique audiovisual display, a 40-minute exhibition known as "The Image Mill". Using 27 video projectors to produce images on 81 white towering grain silos in Québec City's port, it has been called the world's largest projection show. Lepage used it to broadcast major events in the history of Québec City, including events associated with the history of Old Québec's Fortified Wall. During the summer of 2008, a total of 500,000 people saw his show.
© 2008 Photo by Jacques Boissinot / Canadian Press.
Image Source: cbc.ca/canada/?montreal/?story/?2008/?07/?10/?qc-lepage-cp-0710.html

2008 — As a special gift from the governments of Québec and Canada, Québec City received for its 400th anniversary three new parks along the St. Lawrence River: the 1.55-mile or 2.5-kilometer long Promenade Samuel-De Champlain, the 0.62-mile or 1-kilometer long Baie de Beauport and the Bassin Brown. Just like the 300th anniversary of Québec City, in 1908, had given birth to the immense park called "The Battlefields Park": a site unique in the world by its sheer size, its geographic location, its historical role and its great beauty. The Battlefields Park was developed to honor the memory of both French and British combatants. It connected the Plains of Abraham and the Des Braves Park.

TODAY — A fortified wall surrounds only one city in North America, as only Québec City's Fortified Wall surrounds the Upper Town of Old Québec. This architectural treasure and its legendary past served as a gateway that helped shape Canada's future after 1867. Together with the rest of Old Québec, the Upper Town's Fortified Wall is recognized by the whole world as a pure jewel of this planet, as a "World Heritage Site". The future of Québec City's Fortified Wall looks brighter than ever.

You can zoom in and out of this other panoramic view of Québec City, fully illuminated at night and seen from the south shore or "city of Lévis" side of the St. Lawrence River.
© June 13, 2009 / Photo by Martin St-Amant / User: S23678 / Reproduced with the permission of the photographer / Wikipedia / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Under the "Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported" License.
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/?File:79_-_Qu%C3%A9bec_-_Juin_2009.jpg