A National Historic Site
Parc Montmorency is located on a section of the first farm in New France, that of Louis Hébert and his wife Marie Rollet. The park has a monument in their memory and in the memory of other pioneers of the colony. The other monument—dedicated to George-Étienne Cartier—helps explain why Québec City is sometimes called the “Old Capital.”
Two commemorative monuments
In the early 20th century, the usual way of paying tribute to a historical figure was by erecting a statue. The two monuments located in the park, like numbers of others that embellish Québec City, speak to the nationalistic zeal that inhabited French Canadians at the turn of the 20th century as one of the founding peoples of Canada alongside the British.
The monument to Hébert and Rollet was inaugurated with great pomp on September 3, 1918, with the Premier of Québec, Lomer Gouin, in attendance. Before a huge crowd, he said, “Faithful to its motto—I remember—our province has piously and wisely remembered the great names in its history and, every year, unfailingly raises monuments to the memory of those . . . who have made our homeland illustrious.” A second speaker described Louis Hébert as “the father of our agriculture,” and a third emphasized that Marie Rollet was the first in a long line of “strong generations of women in our country over the last three centuries.”
But who were Louis Hébert and Marie Rollet?
A pioneer couple
Parisian apothecary Louis Hébert made his first voyage to America in 1606–1607, landing at Port-Royal in Acadia. He returned with his wife and remained from 1610 to 1613, but trouble in the colony forced their return to France.
In 1617 Champlain recruited the couple again, along with their three children, and brought them with him to Québec. Settling on a property on Cape Diamond that extended from today’s Parc Montmorency to rue Couillard and rue Hébert, they were the first family to take up residence permanently in New France. The farm covered the sites occupied today by Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica and the Petit Séminaire de Québec. Louis Hébert grew grain, vegetables, medicinal plants, and Normandy apple trees. He also tended the sick, among them Native people, with whom he had amicable ties.
Marie Rollet helped work the land, care for the sick, and preach the Gospel to the Aboriginal population. In 1627, after her husband’s accidental death (he slipped on a patch of ice), Marie Rollet married Guillaume Hubou. She died in 1649. Their daughter Guillemette and her husband Guillaume Couillard produced a long line of descendants.
A national historic site
However, Hébert and Rollet’s pioneer farming was only one of the reasons why the Government of Canada made Parc Montmorency a national historic site in 1949.
The monument dedicated to George-Étienne Cartier, one of the Canadian Fathers of Confederation, suggests another major reason: It is located at the exact spot where the parliament of the United Province of Canada once stood. The building was destroyed by fire. In 1864, the first version of the British North America Act—the founding document of modern-day Canada—was drafted there.
A part-time capital
Regional rivalries at the time (1849 to 1867) concerning the location of the capital of a united Canada were resolved through a compromise: Québec City and Toronto would alternate as the seat of government, each taking one term of office. In the 1860s, Québec City was therefore a part-time capital. It also entertained the hope of becoming the capital of a future Canada, but Queen Victoria of England decided otherwise, designating Bytown, soon renamed Ottawa, a small, out-of-the-way city with no claims in that regard, as the capital of the country that would be born in 1867.
Hence, the reference to Québec City as the “Old Capital.”