Rediscovering the Architecture of New France
When it was built, Maison Chevalier was on the river edge. This location was very prized by import-export merchants and, later, innkeepers. The building was used for business purposes from the mid-18th century until it was restored in the 1950s. However, despite the extensive work it underwent, it has never regained its original appearance.
Jean-Baptiste Chevalier, ship owner and trader
In 1752 Jean-Baptiste Chevalier chose this site in the Lower Town as the location for both his home and his business. The infill that has extended today’s shoreline out was not added until a century later. At the time, Chevalier’s building was right on the river. Boats could land on the beach just in front of the building to load and unload the large ships moored offshore. This was the perfect location for a ship owner and trader who imported and exported a variety of goods in his own ships.
The ruins of a house built in 1675 sat on the property when Chevalier acquired it. He had them totally demolished to make room for his new, much grander residence. The building would also serve as a warehouse, so he had a vaulted stone cellar built to help preserve the perishable goods he traded. These cellars have survived bombardments and fire and are open for visitors to attend workshops and traditional performances.
A second life
Maison Chevalier was heavily damaged by the bombardments of the British army as it lay siege to Québec in 1759. It was rebuilt a few years later and continued to be used for trade long after. In the 19th century, it was turned into an inn and renamed the London Coffee House, a name it still bears on one of its outer walls.
Rediscovering New France
In the 1950s Maison Chevalier drew the attention of art historian and Québec Provincial Museum director Gérard Morisset. He believed that this 18th century edifice and its surrounding buildings merited reconstruction since they were good representations of architecture in New France. The Québec government followed his recommendations and acquired the whole block of houses in 1957. The major restoration project that followed lasted six years.
The head architect sought to restore the French character of the buildings. The goal wasn’t necessarily to return Maison Chevalier to its exact original appearance, but rather to create a harmonious overall look that would evoke the character of the French Regime. The result was such a success that the building was considered a benchmark in restoration and was used as a model for the entire Place-Royale project.
An “authentic” French Regime house?
The original house was actually a smaller building. When it was rebuilt, it was combined with neighbouring buildings to create a structure that resembles the privately owned inns of the French Regime and reflects the standards in effect in New France—stone masonry, fire walls, and sheet metal roofing.
However, while the outer walls of the original building had been covered with wet dash, the architect preferred not to use this method for his 20th century reconstruction. What’s more, the main entrance is now on boulevard Champlain, whereas it used to be on the other side, on rue du Cul-de-Sac. Additionally a stone outbuilding was added to replace a more recent brick structure that clashed with the rest. That is how the architect succeeded in his goal of recreating the atmosphere of New France.
Relive the past
Today Maison Chevalier offers exhibitions and activities and is managed by Musée de la civilisation, which uses it to present historic exhibits and recreations of historic interior decors. The Museum shares the building with Ville de Québec’s urban interpretation centre and Centre de valorisation du patrimoine vivant, which uses the original cellars for workshops and presentations of traditional Quebec dance, music, storytelling, customs, and crafts.