We grew up familiar with the idea of Quebec – though the fact that a province in Canada, a country we felt we knew because of Commonwealth links and the Montreal Olympics, spoke French seemed very odd to us in largely monolingual New Zealand.
Quebec also seemed tremendously far away, and to be frank it wasn’t high on our list of places to go. Until a work opportunity in Canada spurred us to visit.
The first thing we learned was that Quebec is not pronounced “kwebbeck” but “kebbeck” – I’m still working on getting that right.
It was supposed to be summer, but we arrived into grey skies, low cloud, rain showers, and a cold wind. The wind whipped in off the St Lawrence River, and we froze. Quebec City seemed to me therefore to be inevitably a winter town. Perhaps I was also influenced by our hotel with its wonderful thick stone walls, hearty wooden beams and a huge fireplace. I sat eating my delicious breakfast at the restaurant by the fire, imagining how cosy it would feel in the middle of winter with snow piled high outside.
New Zealanders also think of Canada as a young country, similar to our own. It might be compared to Europe, but it is much older than we are. We realised this when we started exploring, finding the old stone buildings established 400 years ago, and feeling very much as if we were in fact in France.
That is, until we tried speaking French. Quebec French has evolved in its own manner over several hundred years and sounded quite different to my ears from French French. Consequently I struggled to understand and be understood.
The town itself is dramatic. The Lower Town where the first settlers established themselves around the port hugs the river, and nestles in under the cliffs of the Upper Town, where the towering Chateau Frontenac dominates the view.
It was very easy to stand in the Upper Town of Quebec City, looking across the river and imagining what it must have been like as the first European settlers, awed at the vastness of the land beyond, the hardships and the prospect of riches. I imagined how it must have felt to have been the indigenous people reacting to these strange beings arriving into their land. We were surprised at the lack of information about the indigenous tribes, their lives, languages and customs in the region. There was enormous focus on the battles between the French and English , but the original inhabitants seemed forgotten, their presence unacknowledged.
That aside, Quebec City stole our hearts. We found it friendly and romantic, a fascinating place with an amazing history. And so we took a bit of Quebec home with us. As another rain storm swept in from the river, we ducked into this art gallery
to shelter, and fell in love with this piece.
It now hangs proudly at our entrance, and makes me think of elegant women in the Quebec winter.
It’s obvious I must return. In winter.