Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was selected due to its historical significance as a European settlement in the Americas. The heritage of the city as a fortified colonial town is incredibly well maintained. In fact, it’s the only city in North America, north of Mexico, to be surrounded by fortified ramparts, a citadel, and other defensive structures. When we visited Quebec City, we explored this area and walked along Canada’s “Great Wall”. Although we didn’t walk along the entire wall (it spans 4.6km!), we discovered a good portion of it. Come along for the journey as we detail our experiences at the Fortification Wall of Quebec City!
The fortifications were developed between 1608 and 1871, erected under both French and British regimes. The English began fortifying the existing walls after they took command of Quebec City from the French following the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. At the heart of the Fortifications lies the Citadel, the largest British fortress in North America. The Citadel, a star-shaped fort, is located on Quebec City’s highest point, Cape Diamond. After narrowly defeating the American invasion of Canada during the War of 1812, the British decided to construct the Citadel (from 1820 to 1850). While the Citadel was originally occupied by British troops, it remains an active garrison today. It is home to the Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Forces – the only sole French-language regular force infantry regiment. If you’re really into military history, you can take a tour of the Citadel and its museum.
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We’ve highlighted the fortification walls for you in purple, and you can see the Citadel in the bottom left of the map. As you can see, the walls completely surround what we now call the Upper Town of Old Quebec, built fully around the city to the edge of the hill. We started our journey at Porte Saint-Jean, one of the rampart gates. Porte Saint-Jean was originally built back in 1694 and has been rebuilt on a couple of occasions over the years. The present gate was reconstructed in 1939. We climbed the stairs to the top of the gate at Porte Saint-Jean and began walking south towards the Citadel.
The views from the top of the fortifications were amazing; you could look over the wall or through the strategic spaces in the walls, making it a very unique experience. We could truly sense the military’s dominating presence during war times and the defensive measures taken to protect the city.
The one thing that I did notice that left me only slightly dismayed was the graffiti on the walls and towers. It is unfortunate that vandals have spray-painted the walls in this manner, and we only really noticed it when we were on top of the walls. I’m not sure to what extent the city does clean up the graffiti or if anything can be done to prevent it from happening, but it would be nice to see such a historic place kept free of vandalism.
We continued our walk along the walls, taking in the city views. Some of the grassy paths on top of the walls were quite wide, showing us just how thick these fortified walls really were!
The next gate we reached was Porte Saint-Louis, spanning over Rue Saint-Louis. It was built also back around 1694, and reconstructed over the years with the present gate being established by Lord Dufferin in 1880. There are pedestrian tunnels on either side of the road, and one central tunnel over the street.
From there, we continued our walk along the wall down towards the Citadel. We were able to walk into the Citadel’s main front gate and along the fortress walls without paying any sort of admission. For a tour of the Citadel and its museum, the cost is $16 for an adult, $6 for a child, and there are discounts for students, seniors, and family rates. The price also includes the Changing of the Guard ceremony during the summer months at 10:00am. We did not see the Changing of the Guard ceremony or look inside the museum, but it would definitely be worth checking out if that interests you.
We did see two guards at the Citadel entrance on duty in their regimental dress. We arrived on the hour, and watched as the two guards marched across the wall and back into place. These guards reminded me of the type you would see at Buckingham Palace – people kept running up beside them and snapping pictures of themselves with the guards, and the guards wouldn’t even flinch! We took our pictures from a bit of a distance and chose not to disturb them in their duties.
From the Citadel, we were right beside the Plains of Abraham Park and one end of the Governor’s Promenade boardwalk, which was where we walked next!
We recommend checking out the Fortifications of Quebec as they are a valuable part of the city’s history. The walls allow you to see the city streets and buildings from a different perspective. It was convenient for us to begin our walk at Porte Saint-Jean as we were already walking along Rue Saint-Jean, but you could walk around the entire perimeter following the map posted above.