Quebec City, Canada
Quebec, capital of the province of the same name, is the only true walled city in North America, and one of the greatest fortifications in the Western hemisphere. Founded in the early 17th century, the city walls were erected in an age where such defenses were quickly becoming obsolete. In fact, Quebec City is among the very last walled cities to be planned and built anywhere in the world. Located on tall bluffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the ramparts are a site to see. They are a huge draw, and help to make Quebec one of the most visited tourist destinations in Canada. The city walls are part of the Historic District of Quebec UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Quebec is one of the oldest cities in America, and for over a century and a half was the capital of New France, the largest and richest French colony in the New World. An early fort was founded here in 1535 by Jacques Cartier, primarily as a base to explore the region. This early fort was soon abandoned due to the threat of surrounding native tribes and harsh weather conditions. Despite the excellent strategic value of the site, the promontory overlooking the St. Lawrence River remained neglected for many years afterwards.
In 1608 the French took a renewed interest in the place and re-founded it, this time pouring resources in. Under the leadership of Samuel de Champlain, Quebec City was established as the colonial capital of the enormous territory of New France. The earliest city wall was built at this time, and by the mid-17th century enclosed a sizeable area and populace, including one of the first true hospitals in the Western Hemisphere. By 1700 Quebec was one of the largest cities on the Eastern Seaboard.
Throughout the 18th century, relations between rival imperial powers England and France deteriorated. A number of wars of increasing virulety occurred, often spreading to the colonial territories. This was especially true in North America, where the settlement of New France was increasingly at odds with New England and New York. Hostilities came to a head in 1756, when the Seven Years War broke out. Also known in North America as the French and Indian War, the American-Canadian frontier became a major theater of the conflict.
Naturally, the highly strategic city of Quebec was a major target of the British forces. Several major battles were fought in and around Quebec City, most notably the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, where fabled generals Wolfe and Montcalm were both killed. During the war the city changed hands several times, ultimately being ceded to the British at the end of the war. Quebec City became in turn a bastion for the British, and it endured a siege by American forces under the command of Benedict Arnold in 1775. Fearful of future American assaults, the British overhauled the wall and constructed the Citadel. Never attacked again, the fortifications of Quebec City have remained intact for nearly two centuries.
The Walled City of Quebec is a site to behold. Constructed on a great promontory overlooking the beginning of the narrows of the St. Lawrence River, it is easy to appreciate the city’s strategic importance in colonial times. The walls stretch nearly four miles around the Old City center. Designed and built to withstand powerful gunpowder weapons, the fortifications nevertheless look more like traditional medieval defensive works. This gives Quebec City a much more fairytale appearance than other North American fortresses of the period.
The centerpiece of the city’s fortifications is the Citadel of Quebec. Located at the southwestern corner of the old city, the citadel is a more traditional colonial-era star fort. Two thick walls enclose the citadel, which includes various barracks, armories and so forth. Also within its walls is the residence of the Governor General of Canada. Although no longer regularly used, it is still an official residence of the British royal family. Finally, the citadel is home to the Royal 22nd Regiment Museum, which showcases a large collection of Canadian military artifacts.
The Walled City of Quebec is located at what is effectively the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, approximately 165 miles northeast of Montreal. The city walls are an open site. The citadel is open November through May from 10:00am-3:00pm, and June through September from 9:00am-4:00pm. The cost of admission is C$6.00. Web: www.lacitadelle.qc.ca (official website).
The Saint Lawrence waterway was France’s historic gateway to Canada, and subsequently it was heavily fortified during the colonial era. Two of the most important and best surviving fortresses guarding the area are Fort Chambly and Fort Saint-Jean which once protected the approaches to Montreal. Also of note is Fort Beausejour, a French-built fort close to the Isthmus of Chignecto in New Brunswick.