Among the Oldest
Maison François-Jacquet-Dit-Langevin, built in the late 17th century, is one of the oldest residences in all of Québec. It also figures among the first private homes in Upper Town Québec City. Relatively untouched over time, it stands as an invaluable example of residential architecture during the French Regime. Today, it bears the imprint of its most famous owner.
One of the first Upper Town families
In 1675, most Québec residents lived in Lower Town, near the river. Upper Town properties were divided among religious communities and civil and military authorities. However, with a growing population and the overcrowded conditions at the foot of Cape Diamond, the biggest landowners were forced to sell some Upper Town holdings.
This was the case of this piece of land sold by the Ursuline nuns to master roofer François Jacquet dit Langevin in 1674. The following year he built a wooden house on the property and, sometime around 1690, he rebuilt it in cut stone.
Today Maison Jacquet consists of two main units, the oldest of which was constructed in 1690 and is set back from the street. The original house was closer to the public road because rue Saint-Louis was laid out differently then.
This section of the original house is one of only a handful that has preserved the features specific to residential urban architecture in New France, despite the series of renovations and expansions that occurred. The house still reflects the French tradition but already includes adjustments to Québec conditions. (The French Canadian house adapted to local materials and climate became standard in the late 18th century.)
Maison Jacquet was small and therefore easy to heat. It had very thick walls, and very little snow could accumulate on its steep gabled roof with dormer windows. The panes of its shuttered windows consisted of small squares of glass that could be imported from France without fear of breakage. This one-and-a-half storey residence also had a small root cellar for storing vegetables during the winter, and an attic for grain and legumes (mostly wheat and peas). Inside, the ceilings with exposed beams and the built-in cupboards were French inspired.
Originally the property had a yard with all the commodities of daily life—a stable, a woodshed, a vegetable garden, outhouses, and a well, the latter being crucial because the river was too far away to furnish drinking water.
Extra space needed
By the turn of the 19th century, the original house was too small to the occupants’ tastes, so in 1795 they added an extension that contained a huge kitchen hearth. A second main block went up some 20 years later. At first it had only one-and-a-half storeys, like the first house, but later another storey was added. These changes gave the residence its current look typical of the 19th century.
Echoes of a famous owner
In 1815 Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, a lawyer and the Seigneur of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, acquired the house through a transaction that had all the markings of real estate speculation because the following year he sold it at a profit without ever living there.
A few years later, Philippe Aubert de Gaspé published an important book in the literary history of Québec, Les Anciens Canadiens, a historical novel with nationalist overtones set in the 1750s. The restaurant that has occupied Maison Jacquet-Dit-Langevin since 1966 is named after it.