History of Quebec City


A brief history dated back to 16th century

Indigenous tribes inhabited in the site of present Quebec City for thousands of years before the first European explorer, Jacques Cartier, set food on the land. From 1534 to 1542, Cartier conducted 3 expeditions to the Gulf of the St. Lawrence River to explore and map the interior of the river. Cartier discovered Stadacona, at the confluence of St. Lawrence River and Rivière Saint-Charles in 1535. Stadacona was a large village inhabited by Iroquoian, who survived by growing corn, hunting and fishing.

Jacques Cartier met with the indigenous people of Stadacona
Jacques Cartier met with the indigenous people of Stadacona

Credit: Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Over 70 years later in 1608, another French explorer and navigator, Samuel de Champlain, reached Stadacona to discover new inhabitants, the Innu and the Algonquins. Previous inhabitants the Iroquois had completely vanished. Champlain and his crew built a wooden fort within only a few days of their arrival on the North shore of the St. Lawrence. The Algonquins named the land Kébec which translates “where the river narrows” referencing to the narrowing of the Saint Lawrence River. Champlain established a New French settlement as a permanent trading post and kept the Algonquin name “Quebec”. From 1620 to 1626, Champlain constructed a wooden palisade named, Fort Saint-Louis on top of Cape Diamond. Cape Diamond is the hilltop where Upper Quebec town was formed. Fort Saint-Louis is a walking distance to the present site Chateau Frontenac.

Thanks to its deep-water harbor, Quebec quickly turned into a transfer port trading with French West Indies and France. It exported fur and timber, imported wine, textiles, cloth, and metal products like guns and knives, and consumer goods such as sugar, salt, and coffee. Quebec was a well-known landing destination for new immigrants from France and Ireland entering North America.

Quebec City in 1720
Quebec City in 1720

A British navy fleet, led by the Kirbe Brothers, invaded the post and captured a French supply convoy which was on their way to reinforce Quebec. Without food supply and military supports, Champlain and was forced to surrender to the British on 19 July 1629. The British reigned for only 3 years. In 1632 Quebec was returned to France by the British under the Treaty of Saint-Germain .

French Quebec survived two more attacks by the British in 1690 led by Admiral William Phipps in and in 1711 led Admiral Walker in 1711. In 1759 French Quebec was lost permanently to the British the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The battle was the culmination of a three-month siege by the British and lasted about an hour. British troops led by General James Wolfe successfully defeated the column advance of French troops commanded by General Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, on the land owned by a farmer named Abraham Martin just outside the walls of Quebec City. It was a pivotal victory that ended the dissension between France and Britain as well as New France settlements. France failed to regain Quebec in the following Spring in the Battle of Sainte-Foy. Finally, in 1763 France gave up its possessions of New French to Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris.

The Battle of Plains of Abraham

Credit: Hervey Smyth (1734-1811), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Under the terms of this Treaty, French Canadiens (today referred to as the Québécois) who decided to stay would become British subjects. French Canadiens who wanted to serve in Quebec public offices, must take an oath of loyalty to the British King and disclaim their faith in Roman Catholic. 99% of the Quebec population were French Canadiens of Roman Catholic faith. Under these political and legal environments, The British feared rebellion by French Canadiens, as learned in the American Revolution. In 1774 the Parliament of Great Britain passed The Quebec Act which granted French Canadiens their freedom to religion and language.

French tradition and heritage remain prominent until today. In 1977, the National Assembly of Quebec province passed Bill 101 in which specified in The Charter of the French Language as the only official language in the province of Quebec. By this law; education, communication, workplace, and all aspects of the economy must be in French. For example, brand names like Starbucks changed to Café Starbucks, and furniture store Crate and Barrel added “Maison” to its name.

Old Quebec Virtual Tours

Virtual Video Tour

Upper Town

Lower Town

Parliament Hill & Plains of Abraham

Inside Quebec City’s Wall

Place Royale

Quartier Petit Champlain

Old Port