A Charming Military Past
Today rue des Remparts affords stunning views of the river, Lower Town, and the mountains, which is precisely why so many homes of the well-to-do were built there. But back in the mid-19th century, the ramparts completely blocked the view. If they are now beloved reminders of the city’s military past, thanks are owed to none other than Lord Dufferin to thank!
The vision of the French
Under the French regime, the escarpment running down the cliff was thought to constitute a natural defence for the city. All the same, given the site’s strategic importance, military authorities built a small stone redoubt with two batteries of cannons at the turn of the 17th century. A service road—later rue des Remparts—led to the batteries.
Houses were built here and there, including the present-day 45–49 rue des Remparts where Montcalm, the general commanding the armies of New France, lived for several months in 1758.
The British position
The British seized Québec in 1759. Later, after narrowly repulsing an attack on Québec from the American revolutionary army at the foot of the cliff, they felt compelled to boost the city’s defences on that side. Between 1786 and 1811, further fortifications were erected at the top of the cliff along rue des Remparts. The new walls were several metres high and included bastions defended with cannons. Meanwhile rue des Remparts remained little more than a service road used by military men to do their rounds and bring supplies to the guardrooms.
A huge sigh of relief
For many residents living in the fortified city and area, passing from one side of the ramparts to the other—through one of only five tiny gates—was a major inconvenience. When British troops left the city in 1871, the call went up to demolish them. The walls around Montréal had been knocked down 50 years earlier, and those surrounding Québec City were deemed to belong to a bygone age. The City engineer, Charles Baillairgé, wanted to make Québec a modern city and believed the walls were curbing its growth.
A man of influence
In 1872 the arrival of Lord Dufferin, Canada’s new governor general, turned the situation around. He was appalled to see the fortifications being torn down and believed they were a valuable part of the city’s military past that should be preserved. They would appeal to tourists, he said, giving Québec the charm of a medieval city.
His plan to save and embellish the walls was an astute one. Not only would new, wider gates be built to ease traffic congestion, the walls along rue des Remparts would be lowered to once again offer strollers and residents views of the river.
Thanks to Dufferin, rue des Remparts regained its charm and appeal and quickly attracted new residents, who had beautiful new homes built. Many of them owned the wholesaling businesses just below on rue Saint-Paul.
A scenic spot
Rue des Remparts is a popular street with local residents and visitors alike, a great place to take in the natural sweep of Cape Diamond and admire Québec’s most famous distinguishing feature as the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico. With buildings typical of so much of the rest of the city and one great view after another of the river and Lower Town, it certainly is one of the city’s most scenic spots.