Practical and Distinctive
Québec City is built partly in a valley and partly on a headland. Travel between Upper Town and Lower Town has always been a challenge, and the stairways a solution. The first appeared in 1635, but the number increased in the 19th century, mainly to facilitate access to the Saint-Roch district. Today they are a distinctive feature of Québec City and even attract extreme sports enthusiasts.
The 118-step stairway you see before you is striking with its wrought iron arch. In 1882 it replaced a wooden stairway built in the same spot 25 years earlier. It was a time when Québec City was growing prosperous again and when many beautification projects were underway. The bourgeois of Upper Town used this more inviting stairway to get to the stores on rue Saint-Joseph, which had become Québec City’s main shopping street.
City engineer Charles Baillairgé, who designed the stairway, loved wrought iron. It was a noble yet modern material used for many prestigious projects in Europe. Among other things, it made it possible to prefabricate modules that were easier to assemble on the steep slopes.
The arch on this stairway evokes the origins of the main groups of Québec City residents at the time: roses for England, thistles for Scotland, clover for Ireland, and maple leaves for the French Canadian majority.
Escalier du Faubourg
Escalier du Faubourg, located a bit further west at the end of rue de la Couronne, has a similar history. It was first built out of wood in 1855 to improve the flow of workers between Saint-Jean-Baptiste—located midway up the hill—and Saint-Roch. Mayor Langelier then had it replaced with an iron stairway in 1880, with a landing midway to better view the city.
The current Escalier du Faubourg was built in 1931. It has 99 steps. The public elevator next to it was added in 1941.
The workers’ stairs
The neighbouring De la Chapelle stairs at the Méduse artistic complex is one of Québec City’s shortest, with 80 steps, and also one of the oldest.
Before it was built, workers in Saint-Jean-Baptiste took a trail running directly from top to bottom of the cape to get to the Saint-Charles River shipyards. In doing so, they significantly shortened a long trip by avoiding the winding côte d’Abraham. Municipal authorities agreed to build a more practical and safer wooden stairway where the trail had been located, but these stairs were destroyed by the first great fire of Saint-Roch in 1845. They would be rebuilt shortly after at the request of workers.
Almost abandoned in the mid-20th century, the stairway was restored in the 1980s at the same time as the Méduse complex.
Stairs for fitness
The Québec City Staircase Challenge was created in 2009 to take advantage of the city’s unique terrain and the many stairways between upper and Lower Town. A course running 19 kilometres and counting 3,000 steps—or for the less daring, 13 kilometres and 1,925 steps—offers the ideal way to maintain a fit and healthy heart and an original way to take advantage of Québec City’s unique public infrastructure.