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Two private homes that have today been converted into local businesses are a wonderful illustration of Grande Allée’s impressive status at the turn of the 19th century. They belonged to prominent Québec City residents: No. 575 to the Price family, which came from the wood and pulp and paper industry, and No. 600 to the Garneau family, which was involved in politics and wholesale trade.
With its sophisticated brickwork, steep sloping roof, and Château-style cone-shaped turrets, the semidetached Garneau-Meredith house proudly displays the status of those who lived there. Inspired by the castles of the Loire Valley in France, this style was very popular in Québec City once the armoury and Château Frontenac had been built. It is a perfect fit for Grande Allée, which had become the swankiest part of town by the time the house was built in 1899–1900. A notary by the name of Meredith, who lived in one of the homes, was the Chief Justice of Québec’s son. The other occupant was the son of Pierre Garneau, a former mayor and influential Québec government minister. His son Georges was an engineer, chemist, and businessman.
The prosperous merchant would go on to play a key role when he in turn became Québec City mayor from 1906 to 1910, ceding the first plots of land that would go on to become the Plains of Abraham to the National Battlefields Commission. He would also be the first person to chair the commission, and he presided over the city’s 300th anniversary celebrations in 1908, the main legacy of which was… Battlefields Park.
When he moved to Grande Allée in 1901, William Price had just taken over from his uncle at the head of Price Brothers and Company, where he had worked since 1885. The company founded by his grandfather had made a fortune, but it had been losing money for years and was now threatened with bankruptcy, despite its book value of close to a million dollars. At only 34, William was young and enterprising. He relaunched the company, spending the considerable sum of $25,000 to build the grand neo-Tudor home. Its monumental porch adorned with sculpted motifs, its half-timbered pediment, and its colonnade balcony with candlesnuffer roof made their owner’s riches clear for all to see—and, as it turned out, Price’s optimism was well founded.
In 1905 Price Brothers returned to the black with profits of over one million dollars, with William Price the majority stakeholder. One of faces of Québec City’s economy, he was also chair of the local board of trade and sat on the boards of several businesses.
The neighbours on Grande Allée tended to be equally rich and influential. From the outside their luxurious homes boasted a variety of styles. The oldest went for Neoclassical (640–664), before Second Empire style became the norm (661–675 and 455–555), with Eclecticism—an amalgam of styles—also featuring, as shown by the Price and Garneau homes. But these people moved in the same circles and met in homes with similar interiors. Frequent social obligations were held in the grandest surroundings (living room, dining room, library, a billiards and smoking room, each set off with wood and expensive furniture, while servants had separate quarters and their own staircases), the aim of society life being to share wealth with people who belonged to the same circles of power and to show off one’s success. All while having a good time, of course.
These two magnificent homes show the recent changes that have come to Grande Allée. One has been converted into a disco, the other into a restaurant and nightclub. The interiors have changed, but the exteriors have been well preserved, with entertainment more important than ever.
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