The Heart of the Latin Quarter
Rue Couillard is in the heart of the oldest residential neighbourhood in Upper Town, the part of town first inhabited by artisans. When Université Laval was set up just a stone’s throw away in 1854, professionals gradually moved into the artisans’ homes, transforming the neighbourhood into Québec City’s intellectual and artistic centre. Rue Couillard then became the main road through the Latin Quarter, which got its name because as much Latin was spoken there as French.
Just like on Paris’s Left Bank
The Latin Quarter took its name from the area around Paris’s famous Sorbonne University, which was founded in the 13th century and where classes were taught in Latin. For years in Québec, classical studies included a good dose of Latin, and by the time students moved on to university they were fluent in the language of knowledge and learning. To no one’s surprise, the area around Université Laval soon became Québec City’s equivalent to Paris’s Latin Quarter.
Rue Couillard cuts across land ceded to the first farmer of New France, Louis Hébert. Guillaume Couillard’s widow, Hébert’s heir, sold the land to the Séminaire de Québec in 1663, which in turn ceded lots to people looking to build homes in Upper Town.
The street, originally known as Saint-Joachim, appeared for the first time on a map in 1709. It boasts one of the oldest houses in the city at No. 17, which was built for the locksmith André Bouchard in 1728. Until the mid-19th century, the land formerly belonging to Louis Hébert was mainly inhabited by such artisans.
Université Laval was built alongside the Séminaire de Québec between 1854 and 1856, transforming the area. Artisans made way for professionals, who had fine homes built for themselves. Lawyers, notaries, and doctors enjoyed living close to the university where many of them taught. This new cultural hotbed also appealed to intellectuals and artists, Students lived there by the hundreds.
Of the artists who lived on rue Couillard, musician Calixa Lavallée left the biggest mark. In 1879 he was living at No. 22 when he composed a patriotic song for the national convention of Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Québec City that year. The song, O Canada, officially became Canada’s national anthem in 1980.
An exciting place to live
Université Laval started to expand in the 1920s as departments, schools, and faculties spread to neighbouring streets. Expansion accelerated after World War II. Its Cercle universitaire found a home at 29 rue Couillard, while the student body and its newspaper moved in to the same building, right next to the Latin restaurant. Rue Couillard in particular was a hive of activity.
Back in the groove
In 1950, to meet the university’s growing needs, plans were drawn up for a huge modern campus outside the Old City at the limit of Sainte-Foy and Sillery. The Latin Quarter was to lose its soul and Latin voice. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the ambiance of old returned to the neighbourhood streets when the university’s School of Architecture returned to some of the seminary’s oldest rooms, along with hundreds of students and their professors.