A Royal Promenade
Two million people a year stroll along this boardwalk named for Lord Dufferin, a governor general of Canada who fell madly in love with Québec. For many years this extraordinary site was the exclusive haunt of a privileged few. But after its public inauguration in 1838, the boardwalk was such a hit with Quebecers and tourists alike that it had to be extended twice.
Champlain, the founder of Québec, built his new residence on this site in 1620. His successor, Governor Montmagny, enlarged it and added a boardwalk for his guests. Throughout the French Regime, the boardwalk of the residence called Château Saint-Louis would be open only to a privileged few.
After the conquest of New France in 1760, Château Saint-Louis was the official residence of British governors. The private boardwalk was reserved for the highest dignitaries until it and the residence were razed by fire in 1834. Four years later, the new governor, Durham, had a first public boardwalk built on the ruins.
The little project that could
This first boardwalk—Durham Terrace—was opened in September 1838. The 50-metre-long by 15-metre-wide structure followed the contours of what was once Château Saint-Louis. A wooden railing was installed riverside. The site was an immediate hit, and the dirt surface was soon replaced by planks. It was a place where people gathered, went to be entertained…and came back. So much so that the boardwalk had to be lengthened by 35 metres in 1854. Streetlamps and an iron railing were also added.
A favourite of strollers, Durham Terrace was already boosting tourism in Québec. However, twenty years later, Lord Dufferin had even bigger plans.
Lord Dufferin arrived in Québec in 1872 to take up the job of governor general. He was immediately smitten with the city and managed to halt the demolition of the fortifications undertaken by municipal engineer Charles Baillairgé and other decision-makers with a view to modernization. However, Dufferin liked Baillairgé’s idea in 1869 to extend Durham Terrace.
The two men spearheaded Durham Terrace’s expansion from 85 to 430 metres in length. The iron railing was kept and made to run the length of the boardwalk. Five green-and-white-roofed gazebos went up along the cape, as well as a music gazebo on the city side. Lord Dufferin would lay the first stone before leaving Canada in 1878. The new boardwalk, renamed Dufferin Terrace in his honour, was officially opened on June 28, 1879. It has not changed since.
A lively spot
A major North American first occurred in 1885—the first electric streetlamps ever to illuminate a public venue were switched on here. In 1898 the statue of Champlain erected at the far end of the boardwalk was unveiled with great pomp. Ten years later the festivities for Québec City’s 300th anniversary kicked off here, as did those for the 400th in 2008.
For years the music gazebo was the site of concerts. Today buskers entertain the crowds in summer while a 250-metre toboggan slide created a century ago delights visitors in winter. There are firework displays and, for the past few years, the remains of Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux have been visible underfoot. What’s more, people never tire of the spectacular view from Dufferin Terrace.