- Historic Sites
April 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 3
In Quebec the ship’s schedule allowed a full twenty-four hours in port. The dock is just a minute’s walk from the heart of Lower Town and is close to the funicular, where a slightly terrifying twenty-eight-second elevator ride brings one to the city that commands a stony cliff 333 feet above.
Cartier stopped here in the winter of 1535–36, but it was left to Champlain to establish the first permanent French colony in North America in Quebec in 1608. “I could find none more convenient or better situated than the point of Quebec, so called by the savages, which was covered with nut-trees. I at once employed a portion of our workmen in cutting them down,” he wrote, with a directness that leaps the years. ”… one I set to sawing boards, another to making a cellar and digging ditches, another I sent to Tadoussac with the barque to get supplies.”
In time Champlain ceased his explorations entirely to govern the struggling Quebec settlement. He died there on Christmas Day 1634, mourned by the entire colony, writes a biographer, “for he had no enemies.”
For today’s visitor Quebec’s layered history of nearly four centuries presents a richness and texture unique to this continent. Imperial schemes and nationalistic furies have seethed along the protecting stone walls and narrow streets and on the batteries and battlefields. Everywhere, monuments and plaques kindle memory.
Louis Joliet is celebrated as the first Quebec-born Canadian to make history. In 1684 the explorer of the Mississippi River built a house that now shelters the lower entrance to the funicular. A typed text pasted up near the turnstile reads: ”… he expressed the wish to settle in Illinois. However, this request was denied by the King, who said, ‘It is imperative that Canada acquire a sizable population before its people are allowed to settle in other regions.’”
The ship anchors in Bar Harbor’s Frenchman Bay, which refers to the explorer Samuel de Champlain, who stopped there in 1604.
Elsewhere, at the crossing of St. Paul and St. Thomas streets, I came upon a plaque dedicated to Benedict Arnold, who helped launch the nearly successful American attack on Quebec in 1775. Not far from here, I read, Arnold was wounded in the leg after having taken the first barricade. Had he managed the second, Quebec and all of Canada might well be American today. And Arnold might have remained an American hero.
The Royal Viking Sun ’s Canadian cruise is a two-week affair that loops back to New York. My hitch ended, after a week, in Montreal, where about a third of the passengers debarked. The poignance of finally crossing the gangplank to land was somewhat eased by a discovery in Eaton’s department store in the heart of the city. There, on the ninth floor and soaring some thirty-five feet high, is a restaurant that opened in 1931 in imitation of the grand dining room on the then supreme liner Ile de France . That vessel is gone, but this loving re-creation has remained virtually unchanged for almost sixty years. As I settled down and opened the menu, I could almost feel the sway of a ship on a gentle sea.