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Home / About / Portrait / History / In the Spirit of Modernity (1945–2008)
After the Second World War, Québec City prepared to make some major transformations, a number of which would help shape the city's current urban landscape.
With most recent buildings on Parliament Hill dating back to the 1930s, it was time to expand. Construction of a veritable parliamentary city grouping most government ministries together in the same area began in the late 1960s.
In 1980, a decree was passed to rename the buildings that had been identified by the letters A, B, C, and E since the late 1930s. They became known as "Hôtel du Parlement", "Édifice Pamphile-LeMay", "Édifice Honoré-Mercier", and "Édifice André-Laurendeau". However, Complexe G, which was renamed "Marie-Guyart" in 1989, is still simply referred to as "the G" by some.
In the early 1960s, dilapidated and abandoned buildings marred the Old City. Initiatives such as the creation of the historic borough of Old Québec in 1963 and the passing of legislation to promote the restoration of Place Royale in 1967 breathed new life into this neglected neighborhood. These efforts bore fruit when the historic borough was added to UNESCO's prestigious list of world heritage sites in 1985.
Québec City quickly grew into its role as leader of the French-speaking community in North America, notably with the Grande Convention Nationale that brought together francophones from all across North America in 1880 and the first Congrès de la langue française in 1912. Over time, Québec City became the veritable capital of French-speaking North America. We need look no further than the Superfrancofête of 1974, the Francophonie Summits (1987 and 2008), and the creation of Centre de la francophonie des Amériques, a 400th anniversary gift from France.
After World War II, families abandoned the city for the greener pastures and better quality of life in the suburbs. The population ballooned at an incredible rate in a number of areas. From 1941 to 1961, Giffard, Beauport, Charlesbourg, and Sainte-Foy swelled from 11,000 to 63,000 residents. Inversely, the population of the Saint-Roch district plummeted from 13,450 to 6,815.
From 1940 to 1954, the number of cars on the road rose from 15,500 to over 60,200. This situation, combined with increasing bus use, progressively led to the disappearance of electric trams, or p'tits chars (little carts) as they were known by the locals. On May 26, 1948, the trams traveled the streets of Québec City for the last time. The next day, 140 buses took over.
Construction of Autoroute Dufferin-Montmorency, which began in 1969, garnered considerable media attention due to the problems plaguing the project: obstructed access to the river, division of the Saint-Roch neighborhood, destruction of the Beauport tidelands. Shelved in 1976, the unfinished project to build a road tunnel between Boulevard Champlain and Parliament Hill left ghost ramps against the rocky cliff until they were demolished in the summer of 2007.
The rise of automobile use led to the expansion of the road network. Boulevard Laurier was built between 1945 and 1947. But the main access roads were not built until between 1960 and 1976: Autoroute Laurentienne, Autoroute Dufferin-Montmorency, Autoroute de la Capitale (today Autoroute Félix-Leclerc), and Autoroute Duplessis, as well as Boulevard Saint-Cyrille (today Boulevard René-Lévesque), Boulevard Champlain, Boulevard Henri-IV, and Boulevard du Vallon (today Boulevard Robert-Bourassa). Pont Pierre-Laporte, inaugurated in 1970, was the first suspension bridge in Canada held up by parallel strand cables.
Having outgrown its Old Québec site, Université Laval began construction of a new campus on the edge of Sainte-Foy and Sillery in the 1950s. With its right-angled intersections, grassy quads, and hierarchical order of buildings, the proposed campus layout was inspired by campuses at U.S. universities. The School of Surveying and Forest Engineering was the first to be built in 1950. Other faculties and schools followed until 1966.
The first malls to appear were Place Ste-Foy, in 1957, and Galeries de la Canardière, in 1958. Place Laurier—then the largest mall in Canada—opened in 1961, followed by Place Fleur-de-Lys in 1963, and Galeries de la Capitale in 1981. These malls led people to desert downtown stores. A number of shops that had been key players in the capital's commercial heyday—including Compagnie Paquet and Syndicat de Québec—were forced to close.
In 1864, Québec City hosted a conference that included the debates that laid the foundation for the creation of the Canadian Confederation in 1867. One hundred years later, the commemoration of this conference marked the history of Québec City. On October 10, 1964, Québec City welcomed Queen Elizabeth II. This visit, which took place at a time of mounting nationalist fervor, was not well received. To prevent any hostile demonstrations, the police brutally suppressed those opposed to the queen's visit in what became known as "Truncheon Saturday". The queen later returned to Québec City in 1987 to a much less tumultuous reception.
At the end of World War II, Gérard Thibault breathed new life into his restaurant located on the corner of Rue Saint-Nicolas and Rue Saint-Paul by serving meals with musical accompaniment. Thus was born the Chez Gérard cabaret, which featured a host of famous French artists such as Charles Aznavour, Georges Brassens, Édith Piaf, and Charles Trenet (see photo). Damaged in a fire in 1978, the cabaret was restored and then classified a historic monument in the 1980s.
The celebration commemorating the Canadian Confederation was anything but run-of-the-mill. It all started in February 1963. Québec Premier Jean Lesage suggested that his federal counterpart take part in the creation of a Québec City "monument" to commemorate the centennial of the Confederation in 1967. Thus emerged the project to build the Grand Théâtre, which would include an opera and concert hall, a theater, and the Québec City music conservatory. But where to build it? A flood of site suggestions poured in, including Cartier-Brébeuf Park, Parc Victoria, Parc Montmorency, and the Plains of Abraham. All these proposals were rejected in favor of the theater's current location, which had always been the first choice of Lesage, who saw it as an appealing addition to Parliament Hill.
Construction of the theater was not without its pitfalls. Four years passed between the official sod-turning ceremony and the theater's inauguration. This was due in part to work stoppages following a change in government, delays in granting contracts, and a strike. Not to mention the outcry sparked by the inscription on the mural by Jordi Bonet, "Vous êtes pas écœurés de mourir, bande de caves? C'est assez!" ("Aren't you sick of dying, you gang of idiots? Enough!"), a quotation from poet Claude Péloquin. The theater was inaugurated in 1971—four years after the Confederation's 100th anniversary celebrations!
Since 1833, 37 mayors in all have taken office at City Hall. Some were young—Hector-Louis Langevin (1857–1860) was 31—and others were less so—Robert Chambers (1878–1880) was 69. Some were just passing through—Georges Tanguay spent 47 days in office in 1906—while others were in it for the long haul—the record was set by Jean-Paul L'Allier (1989–2005), who was mayor for 16 years. One (Simon-Napoléon Parent) even served both as mayor (1894–1906) and Québec premier (1900–1906). Only one woman has ever been elected mayor of Québec City (Andrée P. Boucher, 2005–2007).
Adolphe Guillet (also known as Tourangeau) took the cake as Québec City's most unusual mayor when in 1870 he barricaded himself and his advisors inside City Hall after losing the election. The newly elected mayor, Pierre Garneau, laid siege to City Hall, having it monitored day and night. Succumbing to hunger, Guillet and his advisors eventually gave up and left after three days of reclusion.
Did you know that there is a parish municipality located smack-dab in the middle of Québec City's lower town? It's called Notre-Dame-des-Anges. Established in 1855, this municipality governed by the Augustines—some of whom hold the title of mayor and advisors—encompasses Hôpital Général de Québec and the various religious buildings associated with the hospital, including a monastery, a church, and a museum.
Québec City's borders have undergone many changes in the last 400 years, including the annexations that occurred between the late 19th century and the 20th century. The merger of 12 suburban municipalities with Québec City on January 1, 2002, also redrew the urban map. Four years later, the borders of the city changed again after the demergers of Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures and L'Ancienne-Lorette.
Québec City has had ample opportunities for anniversary celebrations in 400 years! In 1898, for its 290th anniversary, it built the Champlain Monument near the Château Frontenac. The tricentennial celebration in 1908 was a spectacular affair. Although the 350th and 375th anniversary festivities were somewhat less lavish, the city had a grand vision for turning 400: to make this anniversary an "exceptional year of commemoration".
For the city's 400th anniversary, the Champlain Monument was painstakingly restored. During the restoration work, a commemorative case containing documents and objects dating back to 1898 was found. It had been placed in the base of the monument when it was inaugurated. A new case was left there on September 23, 2008.
From July 19 to 31, the public was invited to concerts, shows, parades, fireworks, city illuminations, and many other displays. Special guests and a steady flow of tourists took part in the activities. The anniversary coincided with the creation of the commemorative park on the Plains of Abraham. This veritable gem was prominently featured once again in Québec City's 400th anniversary celebrations.
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