Back to the River
Long used only for business, Québec’s Old Port is now a big hit with tourists and locals. With its river, fresh air, and panoramic scenery, it’s like an oasis of calm. Travellers from all over the world spill from cruise ships docked in port, as others relax or take in a show. And it all started with the Tall Ships…
Back to the river
When the Canadian government launched an ambitious project to reclaim the Old Port, the main objective was to give the population access to the river again. The project came at the right time, just as Québec was marking the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada. A series of celebrations were built around a visit by dozens of Tall Ships from around the world.
The customs house and old cross dock were restored, the wharves at Pointe-à-Carcy were redone, and a marina came to Bassin Louise. The Old Port was also given its own interpretation centre—which has since become Espace 400e, a versatile exhibition venue—and a boardwalk by the water just for pedestrians. Everything was in place in time for the 1984 celebrations.
Cruise ships once more
In the 1990s the port authorities sought to diversify the port’s activities. Ocean cruises were growing in popularity thanks to bigger, more comfortable ships with plenty to do on board, and were a promising market. Plus the St. Lawrence River had an ace up its sleeve: boats could travel down it within sight of shore, a particular treat in fall when the leaves turned all kinds of fiery hues. And to top it off, Québec City was a premier tourist destination, renowned for its beautiful natural setting and storied past.
Cruises had regularly plied the St. Lawrence ,in the 19th and 20th centuries, sailing for the Saguenay from Québec City and Montréal. But new roads and leisure opportunities saw their demise in the 1960s.
Something for everyone
In 2002 an old hangar was converted into a new high-capacity terminal to welcome the growing numbers of travellers starting their cruises in Québec City or hopping off ship to visit for a few hours. International cruise liners were back in force, and Québec City was back to being the busiest passenger port on the St. Lawrence.
There was also renewed interest in short boat tours: trips to Montmorency Falls and Pont de Québec and back, visits to Grosse Île, and themed cruises. Suddenly the Old Port had come back to life.
A lively, welcoming port
For Québec City’s 400th anniversary celebrations in 2008, the wharves at Pointe-à-Carcy were once again given a makeover. Green spaces were created for the public to enjoy, and locals and visitors can now have a meal, go for a stroll, hop on a bicycle, take in a live show at the modern new agora, or buy their groceries at the public market—all at the water’s edge.
Over the summer the Old Port plays host to a succession of popular events, including the Bordeaux wine festival, the Festibière craft beer festival, Salon des métiers d’art (an arts & crafts fair), the Transat Québec Saint-Malo yacht race, and Rendez-vous naval, an event organized by the Naval Museum of Québec. The years 2008 to 2013 also saw Robert Lepage’s ever-popular Image Mill projected onto the huge grain silos in Bassin Louise.