Magnificence and Power
The Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux archeological site was named a national historic site of Canada because nowhere else in the country are there closer ties to the colonial power of the past. The remnants of the four Saint-Louis forts and chȃteaux that came and went in succession between 1620 and 1834 can be glimpsed under glass domes. A veritable treasure trove for archeologists!
The history of a prestigious site
To better protect Québec, in 1620 Samuel de Champlain built a first fort, which he named Saint-Louis, at the top of Cape Diamond. Six years later, he reinforced the fort and had a stone residence constructed there. It was enlarged by the first official governor of New France, Charles Huault de Montmagny, to become the first Château Saint-Louis—a single-storey dwelling measuring 26 x 7 metres, completed in 1648.
In 1690 after the siege of Québec, Governor Frontenac added a gun battery and proceeded to build a new Château Saint-Louis, fortified this time. Its two storeys and lateral wings made it four times bigger than its predecessor. It was completed in 1723.
The building was heavily damaged by shelling in 1759. The British had to demolish part of it but restored what could be salvaged. A few years later, Governor Haldimand found the quarters too cramped and had Château Haldimand constructed a little further from the cliff. But Governor James Craig preferred the location of Château Saint-Louis with its unobstructed view of the river and the region. He added to it and modernized it with a triangular pediment and columned veranda typical of the Palladian style that was all the rage at the time. This last Château Saint-Louis was destroyed by fire in 1834.
Vestiges and buried memories
The first public boardwalk, created in 1838, hid the vestiges of Château Saint-Louis from view and long confined them to collective memory. Every now and then, recollections would be dusted off, such as when the statue of Champlain was erected on the site of the original fort, or when the Château Frontenac was built and the last of Château Haldimand disappeared. A century would elapse before archeology unearthed the exceptional value of these vestiges again.
A heritage treasure
The main dig from 2005 to 2007 produced more than 500,000 artefacts and 500 architectural remains.
The find consisted of the foundations of the first forts commissioned by Champlain, in 1620 and 1626, and the first château erected by Montmagny. It was discovered that it had been annexed to the building that Frontenac enlarged and that it was completed under Vaudreuil’s watch in 1723. The damage done by the 1759 invasion and subsequent repairs by the British were also unearthed. The last British Château Saint-Louis was also found and painstakingly unburied.
Since many of these remains were part of work areas—kitchen, servants’ hall, pantry, oven, hearth, and fireplace—these discoveries are a marvelous addition to the historical record. Thanks to secondary buildings such as the bakery, laundry, greenhouses, cold rooms, covered passages, stables, and carriage houses, as well as the countless objects found on site—tableware, clothing, decorative items, and much more—today we have an accurate understanding of what daily life was like in these prestigious homes of the French and British governors. A veritable treasure trove under the boardwalk!
Development of the site
In 2008 on the occasion of the celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec, Saint-Louis Forts and Chȃteaux Historic Site was opened to the public, staffed by Parks Canada. There were more than 300,000 visitors to the impressive remains. Development of the site is ongoing, and visitors remain welcome.