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From a simple country road in the 17th century, Grande Allée had become one of the city’s most well-to-do addresses by the late 19th century. Later the street opened up to a broader range of people, coming from near and far. Today it is a great place to eat, drink, dance, meet new people, and generally have a good time.
In 1648 the Jesuits wrote that they had taken the “grande allée,” a long road that led from the residence belonging to the governor of the colony on top of Cape Diamond to Cap Rouge, ten kilometres to the west. The road was quiet and few people lived along it.
After the conquest of New France by the British in 1759–1760, the soldiers took over the meadows in front of the ramparts, the length of Grande Allée alongside the St. Lawrence. They aimed to expose any enemy that tried to attack the town. On the north side, religious orders began to sell plots of land to workers and artisans who settled by Porte Saint-Louis in what would become the Saint-Louis district.
In the mid-19th century, the rich left the densely populated neighbourhoods inside the city walls, fleeing epidemics and the risk of fire. Grande Allée gave them fresh air and space in which to build their chic homes: villas and townhouses along the lines of the English terrace house, an eloquent example of which can be found at 640–664 Grande Allée, built in 1847–1848.
The soldiers’ leaving in 1871 stepped up development in the neighbourhood by freeing up land that had been set aside for them. The Québec provincial government, which had been created when Canada was founded in 1867, acquired one such plot of land—the Garrison Cricket Field—to build its parliament on. Local dignitaries scrambled to build their homes close to such an elegant building.
The land released by the federal government on Grande Allée was quickly snapped up. From 1877 to 1900 rich businessmen, high-ranking officials, and prominent politicians built luxurious homes for themselves, from the top of the hill at Côte à Perrault where the La Laurentienne building stands today, down to the ramparts. Second Empire was the most popular style of the day, associated as it was with prosperity, progress, and power. No surprise, then, that it was the style chosen for the parliament. The most representative example can be found today at 455–555 Grande Allée.
Inspired by some of Europe’s most prestigious streets, city authorities widened Grande Allée in the late 1880s and lined it with American elm trees. Official parades and processions now passed along the street, and some began to call it Québec City’s very own Champs-Élysées. Electric street lights and one of the city’s first electric tramway lines further enhanced its reputation. From 1900 to 1930 the other side of Côte à Perrault, to the west, also began to welcome rich residents of its own, who gave Grande Allée a new wave of luxury homes.
The avenue changed again in the 1960s as rich-looking homes in front of parliament, built in the Second Empire style, were demolished to make way for government office buildings. A new, modern hotel was also built alongside the Plains of Abraham. Then in the 1980s Old Québec’s nightlife spilled out onto Grande Allée, with restaurants, bars, and outdoor patios pushing out well-heeled residents.
Today many dignitaries visiting the city travel down Grande Allée. But tourists and locals from all social classes still flock there for a good meal and a good time in one of the many bars and restaurants that make the street one of Québec City’s premier nightlife destinations.
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