Two Centuries of Commercial Activity
The history of rue Saint-Paul is closely linked to the development of the Port of Québec. Laid out in 1861 on embankments constructed along the Saint-Charles River, this road helped link the city’s oldest district to the new, expanding suburb of Saint-Roch. For many years it was home to a large number of warehouses and wholesalers. Today you will find quaint boutiques and fine restaurants.
From wholesalers to antique dealers
Rue Saint-Paul has maintained its commercial vocation and remains a very busy Old Québec street. Since the 1960s, antique dealers and restaurant and gallery owners have replaced the many wholesalers—the only one remaining is Renaud & Co, founded over 100 years ago by Jean-Baptiste Renaud.
A street where wharves once stood
In the early 19th century, what is now rue Saint-Paul was nothing but shoreline. Area residents hauled their boats up on the shore to deliver firewood, vegetables, poultry, and cattle to the city markets.
With the growth of port activities, more and more wharves and warehouses were built along the shores, down to the high tide line. The Dumas, Morrison, Hunter, Wilson, and Corbin wharves, and those of two other merchants, soon formed a continuous line that served as the basis for the new rue Saint-Paul, which opened in 1816. Shortly after, the north end of the street welcomed the new Saint-Paul Market for heavy and bulky goods, such as lime, hay, and stray.
A bustling commercial centre
The district became a choice site for wholesalers and merchants selling grain, flour, and other foodstuffs. They took advantage of new spaces to build near the wharves, where they constructed vast warehouses. Jean-Baptiste Renaud, Québec City’s biggest food merchant, was among those who opened stores in the area. His business was known for its flour, salt pork, smoked ham, and cheddar, sought after from as far away as England.
The Drouins, Kirouacs, Letelliers, Riouxes, and others also exported food products and dry goods to Europe or sent them to general stores in the towns of eastern Quebec and the Maritimes. Up until the 20th century, these wholesale businesses made rue Saint-Paul a bustling commercial centre.
The new road also became a preferred transport corridor between the city’s old commercial centre (the current Place-Royale area) and the new, fast-growing Saint-Roch neighbourhood. Previously it had been necessary to climb côte du Colonel-Dambourgès and go through Upper Town to get to Saint-Roch. The new rue Saint-Paul provided a direct link.
The route’s importance was confirmed in 1863 when the city’s first horse-drawn tram was commissioned. It went from rue Saint-Pierre to rue Saint-Joseph via rue Saint-Paul.
Rue Saint-Paul today
Many warehouses disappeared in 1939 when rue Saint-Paul was widened. By mid-century the wholesale businesses were gradually being integrated into the distribution networks of large retail chains. One after the other the warehouses closed.
Today rue Saint-Paul is a great place to dine, shop, and stroll in a 19th-century atmosphere.