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The UNESCO monument

The UNESCO monument

Old Québec as World Heritage Site

This monument commemorates the inscription in 1985 of the Historic District of Old Québec on UNESCO’s prestigious list of World Heritage sites. Québec was the first city in North America to earn the distinction, the culmination of a series of efforts dating back to the 19th century to protect and present the district. Contrary to popular belief, it was not just the fortifications that qualified Québec City for World Heritage status.

International recognition

On December 3, 1985, the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation (UNESCO) voted to inscribe Old Québec on its list of World Heritage sites. The list inventories the world’s cultural and natural treasures having outstanding universal value. In 2012 only 240 cities around the world shared this distinction.

Built and historical heritage

Two main criteria were applied to Québec City—its built heritage and its historical heritage. The first concerned the coherence and remarkable degree of preservation of the city’s built heritage. With its French, then British architecture, and its practically intact fortifications, Old Québec is the best preserved and most complete example of a fortified colonial town north of Mexico.

The second criterion has to do with Québec’s history and culture. UNESCO has recognized Québec as the cradle of French civilization in North America and as illustrating one of the major stages in the European settlement of the colonization of the Americas by Europeans.  

Not a new project

The first project to preserve and present Old Québec goes back to the second half of the 19th century. Québec was already drawing tourists when Lord Dufferin, appointed governor general of Canada in 1872, halted demolition of the fortifications. As soon as he laid eyes on them, he knew Québec would not be the same without them. He had the foresight to put forward a plan to embellish the fortifications that would also improve urban traffic flow, an equally important consideration for municipal authorities.

During the same period, a number of other projects were undertaken to enhance Old Québec’s appeal and heritage, such as expansion of Dufferin Terrace and construction of the Château Frontenac.

20th-century progress on the heritage front  

In 1928 another step forward was taken with the creation of the city’s urban planning and conservation commission, tasked with preserving the architectural integrity of Québec’s historic district. At times the commission was powerless to deal with proponents of urban progress, but it would nonetheless play a decisive role in raising awareness of and safeguarding the city’s heritage value, one that would pay off in the long run.

In the 1960s the Québec government created the Historic District of Old Québec as part of a coordinated project to protect and enhance the old city. It established rules whereby vestiges of the French Regime would have to be preserved with a view to highlighting Québec’s role as the cradle of French civilization in North America. The extensive work on Place-Royale would be one of the landmark achievements of the policy.

General Secretariat located in Québec City

After Old Québec was inscribed on the World Heritage list, then-mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier suggested that Québec City host an international symposium bringing together representatives of the other World Heritage cities to discuss common challenges. The meeting led to the creation of the Organization of World Heritage Cities in 1993 in Fez, Morocco. The organization’s General Secretariat has been headquartered in Québec City ever since.