|iPhone shot of Old Québec & St. Lawrence River taken from the Citadel|
There I was on the Citadel atop a rocky bluff overlooking Vieux-Québec, stunned by the view of Saint Lawrence River cutting a huge swath on the land. A little over 400 years ago, French navigator Samuel de Champlain sailed across the Atlantic ocean and into the same river, setting foot right somewhere below where I'm standing. On July 3, 1608, a French colony for New France arose on the riverbank to become the Old Québec we now see - a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It's quite obvious why de Champlain chose the site. The ease with which boats could travel from the ocean and the fact that a promontory offered a great defense made it easier to establish a French settlement in North America. As with all acquisitions during Europe's Age of Exploration however, greed for land led to battles after battles. The British came along, seizing the city in 1759 which led to a protracted war until the French has had enough and gave up in 1763.
Even under British rule, Québec wasn't totally hands off from another invasion. The simmering American Revolutionary War in the south led the Continental Army to set it sights on its northern neighbor. The Yankees were hoping to gain military control of the land and earn support from French-speaking locals for its much bigger objective. Which is something like a merger against the Brits. The Battle of Quebec - as it's called - was a big loss for the Americans.
To counter future American attacks, the British improved on original French ramparts atop Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond), turning it into the solidly-built star-shaped Citadel. This took them more than a decade to complete. The strategic location of this stronghold is so important that even today, the Citadel remains an active military garrison, currently home to the Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Forces. While threats of wars are long gone, an invasion of a more peaceful kind has assaulted the soldiers stationed there - tourists.
Being a military property, visiting the Citadel is only possible with a guide. A guided tour is 10 CAD per person. Going there early afternoon, without any shade or cover, the summer sun was roasting us as we toured the windswept fortress along with other guests. Within the walls are 24 buildings, including the Governor General's residence. There are cannons and artillery guns and other reminders of wars past. We entered what used to be a gunpowder room to view displays of artifacts and various military uniforms. Once done with the tour, we exited the Citadel grounds through the same gate we entered at the Dalhousie Gate.
While we're mostly left to imagine the horrors of war each time we visit old fortresses, we always leave impressed with formidable defense systems built at a time when most depend on tedious manual labor. The Citadel is no exception. It helped Québec from invasions and destruction. Even helped cement the city's reputation as "the Gibraltar of North America".