Urban Revitalization That Sets an Example
Behind the remarkable charm and energy of rue du Petit-Champlain is a story of adversity. It took the determination of a visionary entrepreneur and architect in the late 1970s to impose a new approach to historical renovation in Québec in order to create a new community that attracts many thousands of visitors every year.
Crafting business success
Artisans lived in this part of town during the New France period. When Gerry Paris and Jacques de Blois came up with an ambitious project to give rue du Petit-Champlain a new lease on life in the mid-1970s, they kept its artisanal roots in mind. The original concept has changed since then, with the focus shifting more towards business, but the restaurants, performance venue, and many small exclusive boutiques preserve the special charm of this singular street.
In the early 19th century, epidemics that arrived from Europe in vessels groaning with immigrants forced the artisans to flee to Upper Town. In their place were poor Irish escaping their beleaguered homeland. Fatal landslides exacerbated the isolation of this forgotten street. Five times between 1841 and 1889, large pieces of the cliff came tumbling down, burying some 15 houses, for a death toll of 86. The authorities managed to solve the problem but “Little Champlain,” as opposed to the new Champlain Boulevard that was wider and hugged the river, was not any better off. The proof: as late as the 1920s the street consisted of wooden planks while most other streets were paved.
By the late 1960s, the squalor had spread. The City even considered bulldozing the whole area to make way for a parking lot.
A revolutionary renovation project
Gerry Paris and Jacques de Blois had a dream—revitalize a section of Old Québec in the European manner. Their goal was to create a living community and restore the buildings.
They bought a block of derelict houses and began to recruit artists and artisans interested in working and living there. The concept was very different from anything done before in Québec and elsewhere in Canada. They kept the traces of the many changes to the houses over the years, recycled as much material as possible, and spruced them up discretely so as to preserve the historical character of these buildings ranging in age from 200 to 300 years old.
Paris and de Blois were very persistent in their bid to convince those involved in the ever-growing project that their approach was the right one. At the time, this way of doing things—which would become standard practice—went against the tide.
A fruitful partnership
The work begun in 1977 wrapped up in 1980, with some 30 artisans living on rue du Petit-Champlain. The government of Québec got involved in a new phase of the project that ended in 1983. When Paris and de Blois withdrew in 1985 and sold to the artisan-residents who made up the Quartier Petit Champlain cooperative, there were twice as many residents and businesses. The government of Québec and Caisses Desjardins provided financial backing for the project from that point on.
Subsequently, rue du Petit-Champlain gradually changed to become a popular and much-loved centre for culture, business, and leisure. In 2011 it won the first Great Places in Canada competition in the Neighbourhood category. Its social and economic vitality, urban appeal, and historical and cultural worth earned it that recognition.