A Guide Newcomer’s Guide to “La Vieille Capitale”
Quebec City is known for foodie restaurants and festivals, and its Winter Carnival is the largest winter festival in North America.
Located on the cliffs above the St. Lawrence River and home to numerous cobblestone lanes, picturesque cathedrals, and stunning views of the Laurentian Mountains on clear days, Quebec City is unique in North America.
With an Old City that is often referred to as a living museum, Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage site with more than 400 years of European settlement and a truly Francophone city, with just 1.5 per cent of the population having English as their mother tongue. That said, tourism is big business here, so many locals are fully bilingual.
A Brief History
What is now the province of Quebec has been home to Aboriginal people for thousands of years. There are ten First Nations present in Quebec, including the Abénakis, Algonquins, Atikamekw, Cree, Malecites, Huron-Wendat, Innu, Micmac, Mowhawks, and Naskapis. It is important to remember that each of these groups has their own culture, languages, customs, food, and ceremonies. The name Quebec comes from an Algonquin word that means, "where the river narrows."
The first European settler was the French explorer Jacques Cartier, who arrived in 1535. He did not last long, however, and the next French explorer to arrive was Samuel de Champlain in 1608. He founded an “abitation” called New France and built a fort (what is today Place Royale) on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. New France soon attracted explorers, French fur trappers, and missionaries.
The British wanted to claim this territory as part of their new settlements in the continent, but the stubborn French settlers built forts to defend themselves. However, English General James Wolfe successfully arrived with his army to Quebec City in 1759 and a months-long battle ensued. New France was eventually toppled in favour of British rule.
In 1791 Quebec City became the capital of Lower Canada and remained so until 1840, when Upper and Lower Canada were united and Montreal became the capital. When Canadian Confederation occurred in 1867, Quebec City was made the capital of the province of Quebec.
According Statistics Canada’s 2016 census, 531,902 people live within Quebec City’s limits, with 800,296 people residing in the total metropolitan area.
The city is overwhelmingly populated by native French speakers, with native Anglophones comprising only 1.5 per cent of the population. However, many residents are fully bilingual, as tourism is a huge industry.
As of 2016, 6.4 per cent of Quebec City residents were visible minorities, which is a very low number for a Canadian city (the average in other cities is 22.3 per cent). Black Canadians make up the largest minority group, forming 2.4 per cent of the population. Only 3.4 per cent of the population are First Nations, compared with the national average of 6.2 per cent.
Quebec City’s weather is characterized by four distinct seasons (as with much of the country), with warm summers and cold, snowy winters.
Summers in Quebec City are very warm and humid, and in June, July, and August most days have pleasant temperatures, between 20 and 27 degrees Celsius, though the humidity can make it feel even hotter. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the thermometer to top 35 C on especially hot days!
The average daily temperature during winter drops down to -18° C, so make sure you dress warmly, with many layers and a high-quality winter jacket. Quebec City gets more snow than almost anywhere else in Canada, so be prepared for the flurries…
Public Transport: The RTC
If you want to experience the quaint lanes and cobbled streets of the Old City, the best way to get around is by foot. However, for residents of Quebec City, the bus system is an excellent and affordable way to traverse the entire metro area.
The local bus network, dubbed the Réseau de Transport de la Capitale (RTC), operates six Metrobus routes that cover the centre and 60 additional routes that cover the entire city, as well as Express services, school buses, and night services.
The RTC costs $3.50 for adults, if you pay on board in cash (you must have exact change), or $3.10 if you pay via a bus ticket (this is reduced to $2.60 for children and seniors). You can find these bus tickets at more than 170 businesses, mostly convenience stores and pharmacies. Look for the RTC logo in the window of a shop.
You can save additional money by purchasing a monthly pass or by buying tickets in books of 10. A monthly pass costs $89.50 for an adult, $59. 80 for students and children, and $57.80 for seniors 65 and older.
Top 5 Things to Do in Quebec City
1.Old Quebec – As the only fortified city north of Mexico, Old Quebec has 400 years of fascinating history to explore. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Old Quebec is lined with cobblestone streets, French restaurants, quaint shops, and a ton of character. It’s best to explore this area of foot, or better yet – on a free walking tour.
2.Parc de la Chute-Montmorency – Located a stone’s throw away from the centre of the city, the beautiful Montmorency Falls Park is open all year round. The waterfalls are 83 m (272') tall, which is more than 30 metres taller than the famous Niagara Falls! You can hike the trails, take a cable car up the cliff, visit the interpretation centre, or traverse the suspended bridge. Feeling adventurous? Enjoy a turn on the ziplines, or one of three via ferrata courses nearby.
3.Terrasse Dufferin – Dufferin Terrace is one of the most beloved places to visit in Quebec City, a district of Old Quebec that is dominated by the Château Frontenac. Often hailed as “the most photographed hotel in the world,” this Canadian Pacific Railway hotel was opened in the late 19th century and is the city’s stunning emblem. Wander through the Artist’s Street and take in stunning views of your new city.
4.Place Royale – When you visit the Place-Royale you will truly feel like you’re taking a step back in time, to the birth of “New France,” as it’s where Samuel de Champlain settled his “abitation” in 1608. The oldest stone church in North America (1688) is the Basilique Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-Quebec, and it is open for visitors and tourists.
5.Musée de la Civilisation – The Musée de la Civilisation is a fully interactive museum that prides itself on hands-on activity stations and multimedia exhibits. There are two permanent exhibits onsite that showcase the region’s First Nations history, as well as two rotating exhibitions that change on a regular basis. Admission (including all exhibitions) is $22 per adult over the age of 31, $15 for adults ages 18 to 31, $7 for children ages 12 to 17, and free for kids under the age of seven. There are also family rates – the cost for two adults and three children ages 12 to 17 is $45.
When you first arrive in Quebec City, it is natural to feel confused, isolated, or unsure of where to turn for services. Thankfully, it is home to many organizations and community groups that are designed to help you fit in.
Your first point of contact should be the Ville de Québec, which has partnerships and arrangements with many different local community organizations. It can even help you find the right resources for your needs and access the services you need to get settled in Canada, including French language lessons, orientation, housing information, and children’s programs.
It can also provide you with personalized accompaniment to meetings, social support, and other support services provided by community intercultural agents.
Here are some of the other services available for immigrants and refugees in Quebec City:
- Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion
- Centre multiethnique de Québec (in French)
- Centre international des femmes de Québec (in French)
- Le Piolet (in French)
- Mieux-être des immigrants (in French)
- Motivation Jeunesse (in French)
- Ressources Espace Familles (in French)
- Service d'aide à l'adaptation des immigrants/immigrantes (SAAI) (in French)
- Voice of English-speaking Québec
Newcomers to Canada can find a whole host of services available at local public libraries. While Quebec City’s libraries are focused on French language materials, there are many English books as well. Quebec City’s libraries offer French language classes, one-on-one computer training, free WiFi and computers, children’s story times, play groups (in French), and other community groups.
Quebec City’s libraries (bibliothèque publique de Québec) are great centres for French language research materials, books, and social activities. If you’re looking for an English language library, you should head to the stunning library at the Morrin Centre. Known to tourists and locals alike for its “Harry Potter” feel, it’s a brilliant place to read, relax, study, or simply admire the beauty that surrounds you.