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Prior to the 1960s, the stereotypical image of French-speaking Quebec was of a profoundly Catholic society that placed religious faith and family ahead of the individualism and materialistic values of Anglo-Protestant North America. That land-based image, which was fostered by the priests who wrote most of the province’s early histories and trained its historians prior to the mid-twentieth century,[1] also appealed to the romantic sensibility that drew English-speaking artists, writers, and tourists to the province of Quebec in search of the traditional and the picturesque. Historians and literary scholars examining this phenomenon have focused on rural areas such as Charlevoix County,[2] but it was not only the countryside that was seen as out of step with modernizing society. This article will examine how, as the nineteenth century progressed, tourism promoters increasingly depicted the very heart of the province, Quebec City itself, as a medieval outpost in the rapidly evolving New World.

The earliest and most numerous sources describing Quebec City are the memoirs published by British and American travellers, most of which are referred to in this article, but we will also examine descriptions by British officers stationed in the garrison town for a period of time, and by genteel colonists who passed through en route to Upper Canada. As historian W. H. A. Williams notes, British travellers had an acute visual orientation, and the ability to describe the landscapes they encountered was considered a mark of social distinction.[3] Tourism, on the other hand, has generally been associated with tasteless consumerism, but Quebec City became a uniquely popular urban tourist destination as early as the 1830s, largely because of its historic character. While Montreal represented the modern English-speaking face of the province to the outsider, Quebec City epitomized its traditional French-speaking face, frozen in historical time. What influence this image had on the provincial capital’s economic development is impossible to judge, and historians of tourism are divided on whether it is essentially a positive or negative force, but, as architectural historian Marc Grignon (citing Bahktin and Derrida) has pointed out, images are not innocent, for they help to define reality rather than simply re-presenting it.[4]

In the fall of 1776, a British army officer wrote that, after the American siege of the previous winter, Quebec City no longer conformed to “the beautiful description given by that elegant writer Mrs Brookes in her Emily Montague, for many houses were destroyed for fuel, others to prevent harbouring the enemy, and shot and shells continually defacing and burning the rest, you must easily imagine, greatly contribute to destroy all ideas of regularity.”[5] Even after the damage had been undone, however, it would not be the city itself but its defensive capabilities and the sweeping views from its Citadel that would impress the upper-middle-class British travellers who felt that it was their patriotic duty to enlighten their fellow countrymen about the colonies they visited.[6] Like those who visited colonial Halifax, the diversity of their political and religious affiliations did not prevent them from sharing a “remarkably common” perspective,[7] for Quebec City was assumed to be the symbolic key to the North American empire.

Quebec City’s shipbuilding and timber export economy boomed as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, but the early British visitors were unanimous in their expressions of disgust with the mud, stench, and crowded conditions of working-class Lower Town, which lies at the base of Cape Diamond, and most were not particularly impressed with middle-class Upper Town, with its narrow irregular streets. After opening with a description of how he had jumped from his ship into a mudhole surrounded by a herd of swine, the pseudonymous Jeremy Cockloft focused in 1811 on the port’s insalubrious marketplaces and uncomfortable lodgings. Strangers to the town found nothing to do, Cockloft’s Cursory Observations Made in Quebec claimed, except visit nearby Montmorency Falls, play billiards, and stroll about the wharves “where there is little to be seen, except a number of ships loading timber.”[8] Eight years later, Lieutenant Francis Hall was also critical of Quebec City, claiming that it had little to boast of, “either of beauty or convenience.”[9] John Morison Duncan agreed, writing in 1823 that “there is not much in its appearance to interest a stranger,” and Irish-born emigration proponent Edward Talbot was even more critical in 1824, complaining that when the spectator “enters into the streets, squares, and alleys, especially of the lower town, and finds the whole to be confined, ill-constructed, and inelegant, nothing can equal his disappointment.”[10]

Although Quebec City ranked third as a North American port in 1830,[11] Talbot was one of the few observers to describe its commercial sector in Lower Town, and his vivid image is telling: “The granaries, warehouses, and dwellings, though generally very lofty, are frowned upon by the impending rocky projections of Cape Diamond, which, in some directions, seem to threaten them with instant destruction.”[12] A more concrete example of the anti-commercial bias of the genteel travellers is the observation by Thomas Hamilton, retired Scottish officer and gentleman, in 1833: “It is in this quarter that merchants do most congregate; and here are the exchange, the custom-house, the banks, and all the filth and circumstances of inglorious commerce.”[13] The only visitor to demonstrate much interest in Quebec’s commerce was the self-styled “mercantile man” James Lumsden, who wrote in 1844 of Pollock, Gilmour, and Company’s operations in Wolfe’s Cove that “the quantity of timber afloat in the booms and lying in their ship-building yards astonished me not a little.”[14]

But mercantile men had little time or inclination to publish travel accounts, and the main focus of such narratives in the early nineteenth century was on Quebec’s defensive strengths. British historians have concentrated on the empire’s “swing to the East” after the loss of the Thirteen Colonies,[15] but the scores of British travellers who passed through Quebec City were certainly not prepared to relinquish the part of the North American continent that remained under British rule. Irish travel writer Isaac Weld wrote in 1799, for example, that the approach from the St. Lawrence was “so strongly guarded by nature, that it is found unnecessary to have more than very slight walls” on that side. Weld’s painting of a very steep Cape Diamond topped by a rather diminutive fortress clearly illustrates his point, but he added, “On the land side, the town owes its strength solely to the hand of art, and here the fortifications are stupendous.”[16] Eight years later, George Heriot’s Travels through the Canadas also included an artist’s view of the city from across the St. Lawrence that made the city’s defences appear to be impregnable (see figure 1).[17] John Lambert, who spent the winter of 1807 in Quebec and returned briefly in 1809, was a rare exception, for he referred to the site of the fortress as “a heap of ruins and rubbish; a heterogeneous collection of old wooden log-houses and broken-down walls.”[18] The situation had clearly changed by 1824, when Talbot wrote that the fortifications were “kept in excellent repair, and new defences are added whenever they may be deemed necessary.”[19] Similarly, John Morison Duncan described how, as one approached by steamboat, “first are seen two of the Martello towers, which like gigantic sentinels keep watch over the celebrated plains; then the redoubts around the citadel on the summit of Cape Diamond, slowly develop their strength; embrasures, cannon, and loop holes, successively presenting themselves.”[20] Finally, there is Susanna Moodie’s impression as an immigrant en route to Upper Canada in 1832: “Canadians!—as long as you remain true to yourselves and her, what foreign invader could ever dare to plant a hostile flag upon that rock-defended height, or set his foot upon a fortress rendered impregnable by the hand of Nature?”[21]

As the military value of the fortifications declined, the Citadel and Quebec City were increasingly viewed from an aesthetic and symbolic perspective. Reflecting what art historian Albert Boime refers to as the northern European “reverential gaze,”[22] Edward Thomas Coke described in 1833 how “the bold craggy rocks of Cape Diamond, crowned with the impregnable fortress, stand in bold relief against the sky.” That same year, Thomas Hamilton wrote that even “the most obtuse traveller” could not mistake Quebec for “a mere commonplace and vulgar city. It towers with an air of pride and of menace—the menace not of a bully, but of an armed Paladin prepared for battle.”[23] To Charles Dickens, writing in 1842, Quebec City was the “Gibraltar of America, its giddy heights, its citadel suspended, as it were in the air.”[24] These descriptions clearly challenge the thesis of architectural historians Noppen and Morriset that the British image of Quebec City was internally focused (the city as the “sum of its private domains”) as opposed to the externally focused French image of the “king’s city” in the pre-Conquest era.[25]

Figure 1

Quebec from Pointe Levis, S.W, by George Heriot

Quebec from Pointe Levis, S.W, by George Heriot
Mikan 2836538, C-012751, LAC

-> See the list of figures

If the view of Cape Diamond from the river assured British travellers that their country’s grip on the transatlantic colonies rested on a solid base, they were even more enthusiastic about the prospect from atop that cliff. Its fading military value aside, the Citadel was an excellent site for what Boime refers to as the “magisterial gaze,” one that embodied the “desire for dominance.”[26] Boime associates this perspective with American “manifest destiny,” and the views of the mid-nineteenth-century paintings he examines are generally from a wilderness elevation towards the “improved” landscape, sometimes including a city—in short, from the past to the future. The view from Cape Diamond was, necessarily, from the city to the wilderness, but this was a fitting perspective for an Old World power that was expanding its influence on the New World frontier. The magisterial gaze was not as distinctly American as Boime assumes, for, as Mary Louise Pratt states, the “monarch-of-all-I-survey” trope was an imperialist one that “naturalized” the domination of colonized spaces by visualizing them as landscapes.[27] And the very concept of landscape, Denis Cosgrove argues, implies that “the spectator owns the view because all of its components are structured and directed towards his eyes only.”[28]

Whereas the view of Cape Diamond from below, on the St. Lawrence, evoked the awe-inspiring sublime, with its sense of an overpowering Nature, that from the top of the cliff invariably conformed to the picturesque, a distinctly English convention that favoured scenes embodying roughness and irregularity while accentuating the harmony between human beings and Nature.[29] In England, the ideal perspective was from a low elevation, allowing for the intimate sense of being enveloped by the landscape.,[31] which would explain why Isaac Weld felt overwhelmed by “the vastness of the scene” from the top of Cape Diamond, where he imagined that he was “looking at a draft of the country more than the country itself.” But he simply moved lower down to the upper battery, where he still had a commanding view. From this perspective, the southern bank of the St. Lawrence appeared to be “indented fancifully with bays and promontories,” while the opposite shore was “one uninterrupted village, seemingly, as far as the eye can reach,” with the houses appearing to be built on the sides of mountains that “rose directly out of the water.”[32]

The rules of the picturesque were becoming looser in the early nineteenth century because of the influence of romanticism, and other British observers expressed no discomfort with the high elevation of Cape Diamond when constructing their picturesque images. Thus, Hugh Gray claimed in 1809 that the view from the Citadel surpassed that from the Rock of Gibraltar, the pass of Bellegarde in the Pyrenees, the Cintra near Lisbon, or even Kingsweston near Bristol! What particularly appealed to Gray was the picturesque “blending of art and nature,” by which he meant the combination of “villages, country houses, cottages, and corn fields” with “primeval woods, fine rivers, beautiful islands, magnificent waterfalls, towering hills, and lofty mountains.”[33] Similarly, J. C. Morgan of the Royal Marines wrote in 1824, “However much we may feel gratified in contemplating this noble entrepót [sic] of our North American possessions, the eye turns with more pleasing satisfaction to the wild and romantic scenery which surrounds it. The celebrated fall of Montmorenci, the numberless cascades rushing through the woods and tumbling down the rocks, together with the little village of Point Levi, with its whitened cottages scattered amongst the green foliage of the trees, presents a scene upon which the contemplative mind will dwell with incessant delight.”[34]

As the number of British travel narratives reached its peak in the early 1830s, the magisterial gaze swept ever wider, reminding us that in North America the concept of landscape was not confined to land that had been modified for permanent human habitation.[35] Rather than having the single focal point of a formal landscape painting, most of these literary views unfolded like a panorama as the eye swept in a circle, but, as Simon Ryan has pointed out, the panorama was also an imperial perspective.[36] In 1834, for example, the barrister Henry Tudor painted a scene in words that included “all the objects of a perfect landscape; a river unsurpassed in beauty and crystal clearness—the lovely island of Orleans in the centre of its channel—extensive plains and chains of mountains stretching away, in various directions, to the northward; the distant wilderness of forests, untouched by the hand of man, and untrodden by human foot, except by that of the Indian hunter roaming in pursuit of game through its almost impervious wilds, and which sweep along, in boundless extent, to the shores of Hudson’s Bay.”[37] The allusion to the lone Indian hunter was a romantic one, but the implication was that this vast space, as unknown as central Africa, according to Sir James Edward Alexander, was there to be explored.[38] Any sense of independence for the Natives was undermined by the many descriptions of the Hurons of nearby Lorette as a domesticated and degenerate people.[39]

Figure 2

View from near the Offcer’s [sic] Barracks Citadel, Quebec—Cap Tourment, Island of Orleans and Point Levi, by Milicent Mary Chaplin

View from near the Offcer’s [sic] Barracks Citadel, Quebec—Cap Tourment, Island of Orleans and Point Levi, by Milicent Mary Chaplin
Mikan 2833245, C-000812, LAC

-> See the list of figures

The magisterial gaze also extended southward to the still-contested American border. Thus, the former medical officer John J. Bigsby wrote that the opposite shore of the St. Lawrence was “rugged and high, occupied with dwellings, and farms near at hand, while the more distant region, the valley of the Chaudière chiefly, is a sea of undulating forests, extending within sight, I verily believe, of the frontiers of the United States.”[40] A few years later, the panoramic sweep before James B. Brown also ended in “the dim mountains of the States of Maine and Vermont.”[41] One might assume that imperialists would focus on the improvements made in their colonies, but the early-nineteenth-century picturesque convention clearly did the reverse because of its fascination with unspoiled nature.[42] Imperial links were reinforced insofar as the British travellers arrived in search of the picturesque, and they depicted a vast untapped wilderness, but it is rather doubtful that their descriptions did much to encourage the prospective emigrant interested in arable land and economic opportunities.

The same might be said for the romantic British travellers’ appreciation of Quebec’s historic character. In 1832, for example, John M’Gregor expressed his fascination with the “imposing grandeur” of the city’s Catholic cathedral, including its High Mass with “the loud solemn tones of the organ; the kneeling crowds; the silver censers; the incense; the splendour which surrounds the altar.” M’Gregor also noted approvingly that the French-speaking gentry “retain the courteous urbanity of the French school of the last century.”[43] On a similar note, English artist David Wilkie proclaimed of Quebec in 1837, “This ancient city was the only spot of real historical interest” that he had discovered in North America. Wilkie sought out Wolfe’s Cove “and the sacred spot, too, on the Plains, where this short-lived hero breathed his last,” but he was most interested in the Chateau St. Louis, the old seat of the Quebec government that had burned to the ground three years earlier. Reflecting the English fascination with the monastic ruins of their own country, which symbolized a return to the state of nature, Wilkie suggested that “visitors to Quebec look with more interest upon the smoked ruins of the castle of St. Lewis, than they do perhaps upon many of the natural wonders to be seen over the face of the continent.”[44]

The Irish actor Tyrone Power was also drawn to the ruins of the Chateau St. Louis in the mid-1830s, and Dickens wrote a few years later, “Apart from the realities of this most picturesque city, there are associations clustering about it which would make a desert rich in interest.”[45] Quebec City was presumably becoming too familiar by the 1840s—a decade of mass British emigration through the port—to appeal to the market in travellers’ memoirs, for the number that described the old city dropped dramatically. Furthermore, the few mentions that were made tended to be less than complimentary. In 1843 the Oxford chemist Charles Daubeny simply dismissed Quebec as, “for the most part, a congeries of second-rate or mean looking houses,” and, eleven years later, Scottish publishing figure William Chambers referred to it as “a curious old city,” assuring potential emigrants that they would soon be able to take the railway to destinations farther west.[46]

Meanwhile, though far fewer in number than their British counterparts, American travel writers also began to visit Quebec City during the early nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, they tended to be less enthusiastic about Quebec’s role as a bastion of British imperialism.[47] Joseph Sansom, who in 1817 claimed to be the first American to write an account of Canada, complained about the inconveniences caused by the zigzag pattern of Upper Town’s fortifications, which were swarming with sentries. As a veteran of the War of 1812, Samson left Quebec with the “confirmed opinion” that “its citadel, reputed the strongest fortification in North America, with its hundreds of heavy cannon, and its thousands of well disciplined troops,” would “cost infinitely more than it could be worth,” were Americans disposed to take it.[48] Thirty-two years later, in 1849, the Virginia-published travel account of J. C. Myers also expressed a fascination with the city’s fortifications, noting how an officer had shown him the “small impressions made by cannon shot . . . for the purpose of getting the impression abroad that the walls could not be effectually reached, even with the heaviest guns.” Unlike most Americas, Myers was clearly impressed, describing how from the top of the tallest building in the Citadel, “and under the folds of the British flag, I viewed with astonishment one of the most splendid prospects in the world.” This was “the great key by which the British hold their power in America,” one that “would never be taken by storm, so long as the garrison remained true to their trust.”[49]

As one would expect of a proponent of civil disobedience, the visiting Henry David Thoreau’s view was closer to that of Samson. After complaining that he was forced to zigzag in a “ditch-like road, going a considerable distance to advance a few rods,” Thoreau stated that the artillery on the cliff was “faithfully kept dusted by officials, in accordance with the motto ‘In time of peace prepare for war’; but I saw no preparations for peace: she was plainly an uninvited guest.” Thoreau likened the “frowning citadel” to “the beak of a bird of prey,” but he also reassured his American readers that it was “a ‘folly’—England’s folly,—and, in more senses than one, a castle in the air.”[50] To Thoreau, Quebec was less an imperial garrison than a medieval city, for he wrote of the Citadel, “Such structures carry us back to the Middle Ages, the siege of Jerusalem, and St. Jean d’Acre, and the days of the Bucaniers.” The first French builders of the fortress, Thoreau claimed, were already “behind their age; and those who now inhabit and repair it are behind their ancestors or predecessors.” Indeed, all large stone structures “rather oppress than liberate the mind,” with the result that the citizens of Quebec were “suffering between two fires, the soldiers and the priesthood.”[51]

At a time when British travel writers were losing interest in Quebec, and Thoreau’s rather negative assessment to the contrary, the city’s historic character was a powerful draw for American tourists who felt that their own cities had little to offer in this respect.[52] Thus the Methodist clergyman James Dixon commented in 1849, “The ecclesiastical buildings of all sorts—cathedrals, (for there are two, Popish and Protestant,) churches, convents, hospitals, Hôtels de Dieu, and all the rest—are seen to predominate over everything secular.” Dixon did not share Thoreau’s pacifist views, but he added, “This feature, together with the military air of the place, causes Quebec to wear an aristocratic and feudal appearance, perfectly dissimilar to the trading and commercial aspect of all other places in America, whether belonging to the States or to Great Britain.”[53] From this perspective, Quebec City was of interest to the American traveller, not only because of its exoticism, but because it was a tangible reminder of how Catholicism had stalled the enlightened progress made by Anglo-Protestant society.

Historians once made a sharp distinction between the solitary traveller driven by intellectual curiosity and the tourist viewed as a consumer of a packaged commodity,[54] but it was the Old World image of Quebec that ensured its inclusion on the northern tourist circuit as early as 1828. That was the year that G. M. Davison’s The Fashionable Tour, published in Saratoga Springs, New York, offered a “methodical plan of excursion” through the old city. Davison complained that much of the town was “taken up with the religious and military establishments, which, with their courts and gardens, leave the streets very irregular, and uneven, and give rather an unfavorable impression of the taste and elegance of its inhabitants,” yet he assured his readers that “it presents much to gratify the curiosity of the stranger.”[55] And, while Theodore Dwight’s The Northern Traveller dismissed Lower Town in 1830 as “crowded and dirty” with “no decent public houses,” it also went so far as to suggest that “no scene in Canada, or the United States, can boast of a combination of objects comparable in variety and magnificence to those here presented to view.”[56] In 1850 the American-produced Appleton’s Northern and Eastern Traveller’s Guide noted that the city’s trade was extensive, and that “vessels from all parts of the world may be seen riding at anchor in its capacious harbour,” but it claimed that “the citizens of Quebec are less enterprising than those of Montreal, and there is a greater spirit of improvement in the latter city than in the former.”[57] Like the British travellers in Catholic Ireland, then, American tourists who flocked to Quebec City were “clarifying and justifying the values of the industrial capitalist culture” that was remaking their own country.[58]

Meanwhile, Quebec’s early promoters—in striking contrast to those of Halifax[59]—had begun to publish books that demonstrated their eagerness to capitalize on their city’s historic character by attracting American tourists, though without sacrificing capital investment. As early as 1829 George Bourne’s The Picture of Quebec described the views from various vantage points and outlined a historic walking tour of the city, but it also depicted Quebec as a bustling commercial centre that would greatly benefit, “as the natural emporium of Canadian traffic,” from “the proposed wharves across the mouth of the St. Charles.” Bourne argued, as well, that because the crowded conditions of Lower Town were damaging business, what was needed was a major landfill project to allow expansion onto the tidal flats.[60] Similarly, although the illustrated guidebook produced by the topographic artist and commander of the Quebec garrison Lieutenant-Colonel James Patterson Cockburn painted a more romantic picture of the city in 1831, it did not ignore the local industries. Cockburn recommended to “our American friends” that they visit the modern sawmills that Peter Patterson had built at the base of nearby Montmorency Falls, and he even included a partial view of them in one of his illustrations.[61] But such attractions would fade more and more into the background as the focus of the local promotional publications shifted increasingly towards attracting tourists in search of historic sites other than the Plains of Abraham.

On the basis that history rendered “every spot in this remarkable city a sort of consecrated ground,” Hawkins’s Picture of Quebec with Historical Recollections, published in 1834, included six chapters on Quebec’s past, as well as describing the historical significance of all its major public sites.[62] Devoted exclusively to the “Use of Strangers Visiting the City and its Environs,” the anonymously written The Hand-book of Quebec, which appeared in 1850, boasted of the city’s “historical associations, its natural strength and towering position, and the beauty of its surrounding scenery.” Tourists were informed that Quebec was “the only fortified city in North America,” and that interesting sights included the Seminary garden, Place d’Armes, Theatre St. Lewis, Durham Terrace, the Old Chateau St. Louis, the governor’s garden, and the Plains of Abraham.[63] In 1857, three years after the rail link was forged with the United States, the Travellers Hand-book of the City of Quebec and its Environs declared, “There is no city on this continent in which so many varied attractions to the sight-seer are accumulated as in Quebec, and more especially is this true of the American Traveller.” At the risk of offending the very people it was aiming to attract, the Hand-book ventured, “The cities of America,—Boston to some small extent excepted,—afford nothing of historical interest.” Quebec being “the emporium of the lumber trade,” the timber coves were said to be “an object of decided interest,” yet Lower Town was “a place every stranger will escape as soon as possible” because it was “an overcrowded depot of commerce.”[64]

Another locally published guidebook that first appeared in 1857, Quebec: As It Was and As It Is by journalist Charles Roger, also made reference to the modern side of the city, claiming that “with moderate opportunities for advancement, it must become one of the greatest cities of the new world in respect of learning, arts, commerce and manufactures.” But Roger’s guidebook was essentially a history of the city, and his self-professed aim was to entice tourists to spend more time exploring “this Old Cabinet of Curiosities.”[65] Aside from noting the “vast beaches, where rafts of timber innumerable rest in safety,” Chisholm’sAll Round Route and Panoramic Guide of the St. Lawrence, published in Montreal in 1867, made no attempt to depict Quebec as in any way modern. Claiming that the plateau on which the city stood had “for thoroughfares the identical Indian paths of Stadacona or the narrow avenues and approaches of its first settlers in 1604,” the guidebook added that “it would be vain to hope for regularity, breadth and beauty in streets, such as modern cities can glory in. It is yet in its leading features a City of the 17th century—a quaint, curious, drowsy, but healthy location for human beings, a cheap place of abode.”[66]

Such descriptions were clearly effective, for the Quebec and Montreal Travellers’ Free Guide observed in 1872, “During summer months Quebec is largely visited by strangers specially [sic] Americans who take much interest in viewing the many historical scenes and objects connected with it.”[67] One can still detect a condescending tone in the 1865 assessment by Charles F. Browne (posing as the uneducated Artemis Ward) that Quebec was “old fogeyish, but chock full of interest.”[68] But the famous American novelist Henry James was unreservedly enthusiastic, writing in 1871, “If Quebec is not the most picturesque city in America, this is no fault of its incomparable site.” As one approached the city by rail, James enthused, ‘the old world arises in the midst of the new in the manner of a change of scene on the stage.“ The cosmopolitan James was even nostalgic about the British Empire, reflecting on how the “idle ramparts” were but “a shadowy image of that great English power, the arches of whose empire were once built strong on foreign soil.”[69]

James’s romantic anti-modernism was a reflection of his elite status, as was that of Quebec City’s own prolific naturalist and antiquarian James MacPherson LeMoine, who published The Tourists’ Notebook in 1876.[70] Raised on his grandfather’s seigneurie, LeMoine claimed that Quebec City was replete with relics “of the mysterious past that has hallowed these with all the mystic interest that attaches to antiquity, great deeds, and beautiful memories. To see all these, a tourist requires at least two days’ time.” One of those tourists was the influential American clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher, whom LeMoine quoted approvingly from the New York Ledger. “It is a shame,” Beecher wrote, “when Quebec placed herself far out of the way, up in the very neighbourhood of Hudson’s Bay, that it should be hunted and harassed with new-fangled notions, and all the charming inconveniences and irregularities that narrow and tortuous streets, that so delight a traveller’s eye, should be altered to suit the fantastic notions of modern people.”[71]

Noppen and Morriset claim that Old Quebec was saved by the British predilection for living in single-family dwellings, which led to expansion beyond the city walls rather than increased density within them, but this did not prevent the municipal council from pressuring the federal government to demolish the constricting walls and gates of the old city.[72] LeMoine’s aim was to ensure that tangible reminders of the past were preserved by defending the walled city from the forces of “improvement” that were inspired by Baron Haussman’s urbanist vision for Paris. Deploring the fact that four of the city’s gates had been destroyed since 1871, the year that the British military had withdrawn and the modern-styled provincial parliament building and post office had been built,[73] LeMoine played on the Canadian nationalist theme by arguing that Quebec’s ramparts were “very costly monuments of national history, unequalled on the continent.” Quebec was not only “where the foundation of civilized society in Canada was first firmly laid,” but, equally important, it was where “the protracted duel between France and England for dominion on this continent was decisively fought to a conclusion destined to become the basis of our future Canadian nationality.” It followed, therefore, that the idea “of destroying the walls of Quebec, and utilizing the ground occupied by them and their outworks for building purposes, was not only a mistake as regards the welfare of the city itself, but was also a contemplated wrong to the people of this country generally.” Quoting Beecher again, LeMoine concluded, “The place should always be kept old. Let people go somewhere else for modern improvements.”[74]

Holiwell’s New Guide to the City of Quebec, whose sixth edition appeared in 1888, also presented a critical view of the modernizing pressures upon the city. Its author lamented, “Much that is interesting and ancient in Quebec has in the last few years disappeared. The old gates, which excited the wonder and curiosity of the traveller, have been levelled, and the fortifications and walls of the city, which then bristled with cannon and were patrolled night and day by vigilant sentinels, have changed their warlike appearance to peaceful promenades.”[75] Lemoine, however, was not averse to seeing the old city’s attractions embellished for the benefit of tourists. To take advantage of the view, he suggested that a “continuous promenade” be built around the Citadel and the walls (in fact, they were lowered in strategic places), and that the character of every monument and historic site be developed in order to inspire “sentiments of historical renown and national honour.” What he had in mind was turrets and bridges to “enhance the antique effect of the gates and walls.”[76] LeMoine’s ideas were inspired to some extent by Governor-General Lord Dufferin, who was also steeped in the romanticism of the era. Classifying Quebec as one of the three most beautiful cities in the world, Dufferin had initiated a campaign in 1874 not only to preserve but to embellish its historic attractiveness “on behalf of civilization and the inhabitants of the whole American continent.”[77] The result was the creation within the next few years of what Martine Geronomi refers to as “une pure fantaisie romantique et moderniste magnifiant un passé indéfini.”[78]

With the intensification of Canadian nationalism in the 1880s, landscape artists from Montreal and Toronto turned to Quebec City as a symbol of the country’s historical continuity.[79] This was the decade that saw the appearance of overtly nationalist publications such as Picturesque Canada, whose editor, George Monro Grant, paid tribute to LeMoine’s “Boswell-like consciousness in chronicling everything connected with the sacred spot.” While the volume includes modern images of Montreal, such as a close-up illustration of a towering Victoria Bridge and the unloading of steamers by electric light, the focus for Quebec City is almost exclusively on the military fortifications and the view of and from the Citadel, as well as on Catholic institutions and street scenes within the walled part of the city. Not surprisingly, then, Agnes Maule Machar’s chapter on Quebec City focuses mostly on the many expansive views and the historical background of the more notable sites.[80]

As a romantic, however, Machar was outshone by Toronto’s Reverend William H. Withrow, whose Our Own Country Canada appeared in 1889. Withrow, identified as “the cultured and industrious editor of the Canadian Methodist Magazine,”[81] described how, as he approached Quebec at sunrise, ‘the numerous spires and tin roofs of the city caught and reflected the level rays of the sun like the burnished shields of an army hurling back the javelins of an enemy. The virgin city seemed like some sea-goddess rising from the waves with a diamond tiara on her brow; or like an ocean-queen seated on her sapphire-circled throne, stretching forth her jewelled hand across the sea and receiving tribute from every clime.” Quebec’s virginity, in Withrow’s overwrought imagination, did not preclude its antiquity: “The historic associations that throng around it, like the sparrows round its lofty towers, the many reminiscences that beleaguer it, as once did the hosts of the enemy, invest it with a deep and abiding interest. But its greatness is of the past. The days of its feudal glory have departed. It is interesting rather on account of what it has been than for what it is.”[82]

Two years later, in 1891, the considerably more talented Canadian writer, Charles G. D. Roberts, produced a rare modern literary image of Quebec City for his American audience: “The waterfront of the city is thronged with ships whose masts and funnels obscure the warehouses. Ships are anchored thickly mid-channel, and between them dodge the puffing tugs and the high two decker ferries making their hasty way to the lofty and huddling town of Point Lévis, whose heights resound all day to the shrieks of locomotives.”[83] Roberts then shifted, however, to the more picturesque imagery characteristic of the earlier British travel writers: “The picture is one whose sublime lines and masses are brought out to the full by the fresh coloring that plays over it. Under the vivid and flawless blue come out sharply the pale gray of the citadel, the duller gray of the cliff-face streaked with rust-color and splashed with light green, the black guns bristling on the ramparts and batteries, the brown streets, roofs of shining tin, and gilded steeples, with here and there a billow of thick foliage, the blue-green flood of the St. Lawrence, the white and emerald of the tributary farms and villages, and the sombre purple setting of the remote surrounding hills.’[84]

Rather paradoxically, the guidebooks distributed by the railway companies at this time made less reference than did Roberts to the modern features of Quebec City. The Quebec Central’s Car Window Glimpses, published in New York in 1887, declared, “Quebec stands like a fragment of the old world—like a creation of the contentious feudal ages stranded upon the shores of a new continent.”[85] Six years later, An Intercolonial Outing along the Shores of the Lower St. Lawrence declared, “Other places anticipate the future: Quebec clings fondly to the past. It is well that it should be so, for, in this practical and prosaic age, but few cities retain the halo of romance that surrounded them in their early years. New York may afford to grow wealthy and forget New Amsterdam, but the Quebec of to-day reminds one at every turn of the Ancient Capital as it was in the centuries that are dead and gone.”[86] Yet another railway publication, the Canadian Pacific’s The Ancient City of Quebec, published in 1894, was equally close to LeMoine’s book in spirit. This is hardly surprising, given that the CPR depended on tourists to occupy its recently erected Chateau Frontenac, strategically located to take advantage of the view and designed by an American architect to evoke the Renaissance castles of the Loire.[87] Rather than becoming more modern with time, the guidebook claimed, Quebec City was becoming more ancient, with “its tortuous thoroughfares, its huge fortifications, its old-world buildings—aye, and its inhabitants, so many of whom speak the quaintest of French dialects—all these breathe out the charm of dead centuries saturated with Indian traditions, the traditions of Brittany and Normandy, and of the France and England of days gone by.”[88]

Quebec City’s labour-intensive industries, such as shoe manufacturing, had expanded as its shipbuilding industry had declined, but its population grew very little between 1861 and the end of the century, by which time even the locally published guidebooks were denying the city’s commercial and industrial character.[89] Thus, Chamber’s Guide to Quebec of 1895 declared that the city stood “at the very threshold of this strong and impatient New World, in this age of progressive activity and enterprise, like a little patch of mediaeval Europe, transplanted, it is true, upon a distant shore, but shutting out by her mural surroundings the influences that the whole surrounding continent has failed to exercise upon her.” In fact, Chambers claimed, “the absence of commercial turmoil and competition, and the story of her glorious past, are alike the objects of her pride.”[91]

Furthermore, the city was rediscovered by romantic British imperialists such as the wife of the governor-general, Lady Aberdeen, who wrote in her travel memoir of 1893, “It is strange that the emigrant to the New World should make acquaintance with it first in this old-world city, full of associations and traces of the past—its very inhabitants seeming to transport you to a France of two or three centuries ago.” Ignoring the city’s industries, Aberdeen described how LeMoine had guided her and her husband up the cliffs scaled by Wolfe’s army and to the scene of the famous battle.[92] In a similar vein, Douglas Brooke Wheeton Sladen declared in his On the Cars and Off, “He must be strangely constituted whose heart does not beat a trifle quicker when, turning a sharp corner on the mighty St. Lawrence, he suddenly beholds looking up before him the Rock of Quebec, with its fantastic pile of steeples and ramparts bristling with old-fashioned cannon, . . . and, high over all, the banner of England—an old shot-rent Union Jack.”[93]

Sladen mourned the destruction of the city’s gates as “an act of vandalism” not in any way warranted by the subsequent increase in business, but his picture of the city was still a romantic one, with references to the story of “le Chien d’Or,” which had inspired William Kirby’s novel of the same name, as well as to Horatio Nelson’s attempted elopement with a local barmaid. Lower Town, once disparaged for its dirt and confusion, was now “most interesting with its queer stores, where the hardy sailors of the St. Lawrence buy their fishing and boating outfits,” and its marketplace “where the time-honoured quack with his vegetable medicines, and the Indian corn-doctor with his long hair, who used to drive about drawn by four white horses, still excite the profoundest faith, conducting their professions in the midst of a medley of dried tobacco leaves, maple-sugar cakes, black puddings, blocks of frozen milk in winter, rubbishy haberdashery and sabots, which the habitants, in their coarse blue home-made serges of old Breton fashions, come to sell or buy.”[94]

Prior to this point, the common people of the city had not been subjected to what sociologist John Urry refers to as the tourist gaze, but Sladen’s description was strictly in keeping with the conventional picturesque focus on English gypsies and beggars.[95] The well-known poet Rupert Brooke, whose travel dispatches were published in the Westminster Gazette in 1913, was also fascinated by the local inhabitants, writing that he felt that he was in “a foreign land for the people have an alien tongue, short stature, the quick, decided cinematographic quality of movement, and the inexplicable cheerfulness, which mark a foreigner.” Racialized as this image was, Brooke claimed that he did not feel out of place in the “mediaeval, precipitous, narrow, winding, and perplexed streets” of Quebec, a city that was “as refreshing and as definite after the other cities of this continent as an immortal among a crowd of stockbrokers.”[96]

French Canadians, themselves, still favoured religious pilgrimages over secular ones,[97] but this image of Quebec City conformed nicely with the conservative ultramontane ideology of French-Canadian nationalists such as Judge Adolphe-Basile Routhier who, a few years earlier, had published the lengthy Quebec: A Quaint Mediaeval French City in America at the Dawn of the XXth Century. With unbridled enthusiasm, Routhier proclaimed, “Quebec is for all lovers of the ideal, a casket of precious stones; a shrine of historical relics, which if approached by sacrilegious hands, would call forth from all sides, a cry of protest.” While the city might be “entering upon an era of material progress,” Routhier felt confident that it would not simply be “of a commercial, industrial and maritime nature. Its artistic and monumental developments will be so great, that it will be considered as the most beautiful city on the American continent.”[98]

The shift in representation of Quebec City from imperial bastion to medieval town was not a sudden one, especially as those images were more complementary than mutually exclusive. But it did tend to follow the decline of British interest in the North American colonies, and the rise of American tourism in the railway era. If the solitary British travel writers sought out the picturesque as an aesthetic link to the imperial centre, the message of the tourism promotional literature was no less romantic. Admittedly, tourism was strongly linked to commerce and consumption, as illustrated by the increased number of advertisements for Quebec City’s hotels and other establishments that began to appear in guidebooks in the 1880s.[99] In 1912, Ella G. Farrell’s Among the Blue Laurentians went so far as to embed such a promotion in the text by advising its American readers to visit “the large fur store of Holt, Renfrew, & Co.,” a “wonderful firm” whose capital was one million dollars. Here, where the “magnificence and variety can scarcely be surpassed by Paris,” customers would be regaled by “quaint stories of the customs of the Indian,” for the employees “deal directly with the primitive people in purchasing their goods.”[100] But this ethnographic reference does complicate historian Catherine Cocks’s argument that the rise of urban tourism reflected the displacement of what she refers to as “the ideology of refinement” by “consumption and leisure in defining meaningful participation in the social order.”[101] A fur coat purchased at Holt, Renfrew was not only a luxury consumer item, it was also evidence that middle-class tourists were anxious to demonstrate their cultural distinction.

Farrell was clearly addressing a relatively well-to-do audience, as were most of the writers of travel memoirs, but the romantic imagery of the tourist guidebooks and railway brochures suggest that less wealthy tourists were also attracted by the opportunity to demonstrate their respectability and cultivation, as Jill Steward has noted.[102] What made Quebec unique as a North American city was not only its French Catholic character, making it a relatively inexpensive alternative to Continental Europe, but also its dramatic history as the site of the first permanent European settlement in Canada and of the famous battle of 1759. It was these two historical turning points that were commemorated by the momentous tercentenary celebration in 1908, an event that reflected the revival of British imperialism as well as attracting thousands of American tourists.[103]

In 1912, the same year that Farrell’s guidebook was published, the city’s publicity bureau finally admitted that Quebec’s “picturesque location, its romantic and chivalrous history has so captured the imagination of the tourist, traveller and writer, that they have lost sight of the fact, that it is also a great industrial centre; a city of mammoth factories, the products of which are sent to all parts of the civilized world.”[104] The campaign by local promoters to depict the city as historic rather than simply backward may have been motivated by liberal values, as Alan Gordon argues,[105] and it seems doubtful that the affluent tourists who checked into the Chateau Frontenac were driven by more than a superficial sense of anti-modernism, but the fact remains that Quebec was perceived to be a place out of step with the modern age. Of course, tourism was an important source of income for a city that was falling well behind Montreal and Toronto in commercial and industrial growth, as the railway companies and municipal authorities were well aware, and Quebec City’s historic importance was a source of civic pride. But the Old World image would do little to help tourism serve the larger goal of attracting outside economic investment, as it did in Halifax and Vancouver prior to the automobile era and the growth of tourism as a major industry in itself.[106] In fact, it may have had the reverse effect, as illustrated by the observation of the English-Canadian poet and journalist A. Ethelwyn Wetherald, in 1888: “Quebec is the Old World of America. Its claims to distinction depend not upon any trustworthy hopes of future greatness; they rest with confidence of assurance upon an unforgettable and richly dowered past.”[107]