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In 1908 the National Battlefields Commission was tasked with creating a large city park on the former military grounds spanning the Plains of Abraham between Grande Allée and the cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Québec City gained a magnificent park destined to host all kinds of activities and bring pleasure to generations of residents and tourists. But it took patience to bring this project to fruition.
The name “Plains of Abraham” dates back to the early years of New France, when the term was part of popular parlance. From 1635 to 1667 a section of the plains belonged to Abraham Martin. The same Abraham took a path—the present-day Côte d’Abraham—to lead his cows down to drink at the St. Charles River.
Once the British military left Québec City in 1871, municipal authorities pondered what would happen to the land troops had occupied on the Plains of Abraham, south of Grande Allée. The land was coveted by builders eager to erect houses for the city’s affluent class. But in short order a new consensus took hold: these vast green expanses—which were also a heritage site—were to be preserved and transformed into a city park.
In 1901, in keeping with this objective, the federal government acquired a first tract of land near where Musée national des beaux-arts stands today. The planners wanted to coordinate the park’s inauguration with that of Pont de Québec and the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham—the battle that sealed the fate of New France. But the bridge’s collapse in 1907 upended those plans.
The following year the federal government revived the project with the creation of the National Battlefields Commission. The commission was assigned two mandates: to organize Québec City’s 300th anniversary celebrations and complete the park on the Plains of Abraham.
The anniversary festivities were wildly successful and the park project also benefited from the new acquisition of several plots of land. A year later the commission called on the Montréal landscape architect Frederick G. Todd to draw up plans for the park. Todd submitted a proposal that encompassed all lands west of the fortifications up to Marchmount (now Collège Mérici)—the total area covered by the park today.
Todd had apprenticed with the designer of New York City’s Central Park and drew inspiration from that park’s picturesque English style. He favoured irregular landscaping that reproduced an idealized version of untamed nature. He thoughtfully took the area’s history into account by preserving the Martello Towers and went so far as to propose demolishing the prison designed by Charles Baillairgé—today a building belonging to the Musée national des beaux-arts complex—to uncover the remains of Wolfe’s Redoubt and add some romantic ruins. These suggestions were rejected.
Work on Todd’s plan began in 1912. Landscaping and reforesting proceeded until the First World War broke out, which interrupted the project until the late 1920s. The Great Depression of the 1930s actually sped things up as the government took to hiring unemployed workers in a bid to stimulate the economy. During that time several buildings on the plains were demolished. The city also took the opportunity to build a large underground reservoir near Martello Tower No. 1. The start of the Second World War again interrupted work, which did not resume until 1952.
Today Battlefields Park—known to locals as the Plains of Abraham—spans the full 103 hectares (1 km2) originally envisaged by Todd. Every season tens of thousands of visitors flock to this immense park in search of relaxation and recreation. In summer large-scale events and cozy concerts are presented without disrupting the calm enjoyed in other sectors where visitors jog, cycle, or play team sports, while cross-country skiing, sliding, and snowshoeing are popular in winter, with the Winter Carnival also holding a slew of activities in the park. Flower lovers are fond of the Joan of Arc Garden that was created within the park grounds in 1938, and the commission ensures the park continues to play a commemorative role. Whatever the time of year a stroll through the park provides a great opportunity to commune with nature.
Objects found at digs at Martello Tower No. 2 and Cove Fields on the Plains of Abraham
Bone brush. Manually marked “2909 R. McL / R 71” (soldier of the 71st Regiment)
Bone and rubber domino, probably from the second half of the 19th century
Derbyshire-type sandstone inkwell. England, 1800–1875
White clay pipe with “E DUMERIL” inscribed on the inside. Émile Dumeril was a pipemaker in Saint-Omer, France, working from 1845 to 1886.
National Battlefields Commission archeological collection
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