PERHAPS we aren’t the financial centre of the Dominion, and maybe we do turn a cold shoulder to the flood of Americanization inundating the land. It is quite possible, too, that some folks up the creek consider us just a trifle slow and old-fashioned.
Yet, in spite of these handicaps, we’re satisfied.
There's a tang in the invigorating air of this old town on the rock, an intangible something that makes one feel that it's mighty good to be alive and among friends.
Thank goodness, Quebec folk don’t mind their own business à la Montreal. Here, friendship is spelled with a capital letter and the man next dr is a neighbor in the truest sense of the term. He calls on you when you’re ill, asks your advice regarding the plumbing, accepts without reservation your pet cure for rheumatism, listens politely to your idea of current politics, and almost throws his arms about your neck when you call him by his first name.
The French Canadian’s values are eternal values, and he contributes to the life of the town some of its finest characteristics. The personification of politeness, he is a good citizen and a perfect host.
Taking it any way you please, Quebec is a mighty good town to live in. There are no members of the genus homo more anxious to please than its residents, none more loyal and sympathetic than the individual whom your sophisticated Torontonian affects to despise the native Quebeçois.
An inveterate reader, he usually knows more about the vital issues of the day than his English fellow citizen. In nine cases out of ten he does what the latter frequently cannot do speak both languages. Music, politics and the professions lind him at his best; and he is usually better grounded in these than his smugly “superior” cousin from Yonge Street.
You can have your Montreal and your Toronto, your Winnipeg and Vancouver. I'm satisfied with Quebec. There’s nothing phoney or artificial about this man’s town. It’s all w)l and a whole lot more than a yard wide.
Toronto may have her University, and Montreal her McGill. Little old Quebec has within her curving ramparts of a bygone day that wise old mistress of learning, Laval. And the Laval of Quebec, if you please, is not the Laval of Montreal. There are traditions here, and historic incidents connected with every room and corridor in the rambling pile of ancient stone.
A mere decade or two doesn’t matter much to Quebec. Through her narrow portals has poured out along the years an uninterrupted stream of Taschereaus, Merciers. Gouins, Parents, Powers and Cannons. Names to conjure with, these. Names of men who have taken no mean part in the molding of Canadian hopes and policies.
That Quebec is the cradle of a mighty religion, a sparkling jewel in Rome’s crown of glory, is known to the world. Her cross-tipped spires, slanted-roofed convents and monasteries, her skirted curés, hooded nuns and mellow-tongued carillons, all announce this fact in no uncertain way. What most people particularly Torontonians find hard to understand, however, is the tolerant attitude of these people to the minority.
With a native son holding sway in the mass of grey stone at the head of La Côte de la Montagne, known as Le Palais des Archevêques, she is surely a favored daughter of a proud mother. And though I was born in Toronto, and am now a unit in a Protestant population numbering less than five per cent of the whole, I rise to remark I prefer this town and its people to any other in Canada.
Quebec is as different from most Canadian cities as day is from night. There is nothing of Toronto’s smugness about her, for instance; little of Montreal’s intolerant superiority; and considerably less of the cement and ash enthusiasm that not so long ago inveigled Winnipeg into paving many of the prairie suburbs wàth sidewalks.
You have to be yourself here. Pretension doesn’t go. And while we may hesitate a long time before launching a civic improvement, like a reservoir, for example, when we do get started we can dig as deeply and make it as costly as anybody.
There’s no question of the Quebecker’s civic pride. He fairly bristles all over with it. He exudes it. Virtually born within sound of the Basilica bells, he knows little and cares less for the doubtful fascination of having within the confines of his natal town either the biggest hotel in the world, the costliest bridge, or the widest street.
What we have simply cannot be bought, traded or grafted. All the money and brains in the world cannot reproduce a Château Frontenac setting, or breathe into a modern street a single whiff of the fragrant charm and romance lurking in the dusty comers of a Sous-le-fort or a rue St. Paul.
A Good Town to Live in
DON’T IMAGINE for a moment, though, that this pleasant old lady of the rock is content to mark time and let the rest of the world go by. Nothing could be farther from the truth and statistics. Though steeped in things of the past, and justly glorying in the historic background that is her heritage, she misses no opportunity of extending her commercial influence and flooding the markets of the world with shoes and corsets, furs and paper, glue and bricks. For here, as it happens, are located the oldest and most important retail furrier in the Dominion, a goodly percentage of the country’s shoe factories, the headquarters of more than one great pulp and paper concern, the kilns of Eastern Canada's biggest brick corporation, and the largest glue factory in the British Empire.
If you really want to find a town good to live in. a place that’ll appeal to the best that’s in you, stroll with me down the rather precipittous Côte de la
Montagne, through the canyon that is St. Peter Street, and along La Petite Rue Champlain at the foot of the cliff, There’s friendliness and goodwill in every face you meet, and you’re pretty hard-boiled indeed if you aren’t soon convinced that this must be a good town to live in.
To get back to Upper Town you don’t have to strain the old heart climbing Mountain Hill. Just step into the elevator and hold your breath while it whisks you up the face of the rock, presently to deposit you on the sundrenched planks of Duff erin Terrace.
It’s a spot in a million, this stretch of weathered boardwalk. At once, a place to fire the imagination and fill the soul with a sense of deep content, an abiding conviction that “God’s in His heaven and all’s w-ell with the world.” Above, at the very crest of a steep glacis, perches the King’s Bastion; while below, making what might be called a typical curtsey as it rounds Cap Rouge, sweeps the mighty St. Lawrence, probably carrying back to the town the English freight destined for Quebec but delivered to Montreal.
No spectacle in the world can quite match the magnificence of this picture. With all due respect to our Toronto and Montreal friends, we can afford to smile at what they have to offer in comparison.
Yes, friends, Quebec is a good town to live in, to enjoy every day of your life. Beyond the walls, in the suburbs of Limoilou and Belvedere, are miles and miles of modern streets and lovely homes, while if you hanker for those things that up to recently were considered to stamp a community with the spirit of progress, just stroll down Ste. Famille Street and Dog Hill to the Basin.
Cont'd on page 42
Continued from page 24
Mere you’ll find a harbor second to none— in spite of Montreal’s sour grapes—in all 1 America. No need to deepen the channel ! at Quebec or stir up the mud to moor a ship. Forty-five thousand ton leviathans can I slide comfortably into their berths, and in due time turn their stems for the sea and bear away without any dread of grounding.
Cross any one of half-a-dozen bridges over the St. Charles River, and take a look at the pile of masonry that is a fifteen-milliondollar pulp mill. There’s nothing oldfashioned about this plant, unless it’s the way they’re working. Built by British capital and seemingly unconscious of the reported depression, her great machines are rumbling all day long; while moored to the deep-water wharf are ships waiting to take ; into their maws rolls and rolls of paper ! destined for countries beyond the sea.
Then, farther into town, nearer St. Rochs and St. Sauveur and around the most unexpected comers, are gigantic shoe factories and the tanneries that feed them. There is no need to apologize for a Quebecmade shoe. All the world wears ’em—even if some do bear the stamp, “British Made.”
But maybe it is in ships that you are interested. In that case, will you please step with me around the base of the cliff, where Montgomery fell, to the new ocean terminal at the mouth of a two-milliondollar tunnel bored clear through the heart of the Plains of Abraham?
A magnificent structure, this terminal, a fitting berth for the cream-and-gold Queen of the Atlantic. And how the sight of ship and wharf must tear at the heartstrings of those big-hearted patriots up the creek. The Empress is in, as it happens, and her slim yellow masts, set at a destroyer’s rakish angle, tower heavenward.
What a ship! Costing millions and designed to take the place of two boats, few vessels on the Europe-America route can touch her for sheer speed and beauty. Seven hundred and sixty feet from stem to stem, j almost a hundred feet wide, she has a gross I displacement of some 42,500 tons and shears ' through the water at a speed of twenty-four j knots an hour, enabling her to make the dock-to-dock voyage in the hitherto unheardof time of four days, seventeen hours and fifty-nine minutes.
The mighty Empress is Quebec’s own ship. And all the ox-carts, Yonge Streets and grain elevators in the land pale into insignificance beside her.
A Town of Big Families
THERE is no denying that Quebec looked a trifle slow and old-fashioned when the rest of the world turned westward, and precocious towns, complaining of growing pains, threatened to burst their freshlystaked boundaries with ephemeral expansion. She had been sitting so long on the rock, it seemed, trailing her feet in the water, that she just couldn’t stir up any enthusiasm over bumper crops, Vancouver’s
spectacular progress, Toronto’s ambition, or Montreal’s declarations of omnipotence.
When the excitement had died down, however, so that the affairs of mice and men could be considered in their proper perspective again, it was a comfort to see the old town facing the uncertain future as calmly and confidently as ever.
Oui, messieurs. Quebec is a mighty fine town to live in. But there’s no place in it for the superiority-complexed Anglo-Canadian who steadfastly refuses to recognize the Quebeçois as his equal. Unless you are prepared to acknowledge that this is a French town from heredity, environment and preference, you might as well stick to Toronto and content yourself with the handicaps of a single language.
Over ninety-five per cent of the people are French — loyal Canadians nevertheless — while the laws, houses, narrow streets and street names, all are as French as French can be.
The whole family go to church of a Sunday morning—and like it. And though the law permits the small comer stores to function on the Sabbath, their doors are closed and shutters drawn till High Mass is over. The powers that be keep a watchful eye on your children’s morals, too—this is a town of big families, you know—and bar them from the movies.
Strangely enough, antipathy of one race for the other is practically nonexistent. French and British live together on the most intimate terms, and everybody in Quebec knows everybody else.
Attendance at a funeral is both a sacred duty and an expression of real friendship. The solemn walk behind the slowly moving, horse-drawn hearse is most impressive. A motor vehicle doesn’t jibe with a Quebecker’s idea of a decorous funeral. The punctilious care with which our French friends attend one is a typical indication of the kindly motives underlying their everyday lives.
Truly, Quebec is anchored to things of the soul. How could it be otherwise when many of the tombstones in her ancient graveyards date back to the middle of the seventeenth century?
There is no humbug or bluff about this many-steepled city of Champlain. She’s bred to the purple. Holding fast to many of those things which modems profess to despise, she has that rarest of tilings to be found in a city—a soul.
Endowed with precious gems of the past, Quebec guards them with jealous care, leaving the senseless aping of American architecture to others. No old wall may be tom down or ancient building demolished without a permit from the Town Planning Commission. And old walls are their hobby.
Maybe we are slow and backward and unappreciative of the delights of progress. But please be assured that, deep down in our old heart, throbs a desire to be of service to the Dominion at large, a longing to help fellow Canadians hold fast to things of the soul.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.