The Persistence of Place

One of the challenges of being a tour guide in Québec City, or in any historic city for that matter, is that you must find a way to do justice to the sights that are no longer there, the dozens of important, long-gone buildings that once graced the city. It can be tricky business trying to get tourists excited about things that do not exist anymore. Tourists are, understandably, drawn to what they can see. A clearly visible Chateau Frontenac is inherently more interesting than the Chateau Haldimand that stood on the same site for over a hundred years. The grandiose Notre-Dame-de-Québec draws more attention than Notre-Dame-de-Recouvrance, which burned in the middle of the seventeenth century.

And yet, these buildings that have disappeared or been replaced have a very real presence in the minds of the people who know the city well. There is a persistence of place about them. They may not be visible to the tourists, but the initiated know they are there. They are a fourth dimension of the city if you will – one that can be perceived with a little imagination and a good tour guide. Together they constitute a city that might have been, and they allow us to better understand the various hazards of Québec City and the shifting priorities of its residents over the years. We refer to the historic district here as the Old City, but it is really an Old City, one of many possible outcomes, created by choices and chance over the course of 413 years.

To their credit, city authorities have done an exceptional job of giving life to these buildings that once were. Throughout the historic district, there are visible reminders of their presence. Paving stones show us the foundations of the Champlain’s Habitation. A rock pediment recalls the Jesuit College that stood for over two hundred years. A lone speaker’s chair marks the seat of nineteenth-century Canadian democracy.

Come see the Québec City of today and discover the Québec City of yesterday.

30 thoughts on “The Persistence of Place”

  1. Thank you. I really enjoy your blog. I have been doing family history searches and have found many of my ancestors came from Quebec. I thought they were only from Prince Edward Island. I guess everyone has to come from somewhere else….. some of them probably used the buildings you mentioned or at least saw them. Thank you again.

  2. Heather Edwards

    Thanks for the info, enjoy reading the hidden histories.
    That’s the best bit of doing tours with guides like yourself
    Thank you
    Stay safe hopefully we will see you in the future

  3. Well done Neil it brings back memories of 5 years ago and
    I still fly my Quebec flag on special Quebec occasions
    Thanks from downunder

  4. Very interesting post, Neil. Looking forward to easing up of travel restrictions. An Old City like Quebec is not to be missed!

  5. Beverly and David phipps

    As always we enjoy reading your stories of Quebec. Praying you and yours have been successful in navigating this past year.

    When we went to Rome they had a book of the ruins with
    A film cover over each which let you see what it is and what it

    was. Maybe Quebec could do something like that for us who have
    not great imaginations looking forward to your next bio.

  6. Sharon Reynolds-Macauley

    I love visiting Quebec and your tour was fantastic and I enjoy reading the emails. Quebec is such an interesting and romantic city

  7. Patrick Hurley

    Great post. The “what could have been” factor is spot on Neil. I always think of how amazing it would be if it were the Chateau St Louis still overlooking the lower town and river valley.

  8. Sharon Johnson

    I enjoyed your tour several years ago and enjoy hearing about the city. I hope to go back in the future.

  9. Denis Laberge

    Hi Neil.
    I’ve spent a large part of my life in Quebec City, walked the streets of Old Quebec thousands of times, and still today, I continue to discover different curiosities and I’m constantly astonished by the beauty of my Capital. Still a lot to learn about Quebec City I’m sure…this city is so rich !!

  10. Chantal Vezina

    J’aime bien la notion de 4ieme dimension qui est liée à l’imagination. J’aime bien quand un guide fait revivre un bâtiment disparu à travers la vie quotidienne des gens qui y ont habité. Salutations Neil!

  11. Roger & Kathie Mayer


    I continue to enjoy reading your tour guide discriptions of Quebec City. It has been 5 or 6 years since we were on your tour but your message from the front of the bus still rings loud and clear. I enjoyed them then and still enjoy them now.
    Thank you for continuing to email your message to me.

  12. I look forward to each one of your “publications”. Many of us forget how old that city really is in comparison to ours.

  13. Deborah Jeanne Thompson

    Thank you Neil for sharing all your knowledge and interesting photos ….and your passion for history!

  14. Neil
    Thank you for continuing to keep us informed of the many wonders of Quebec City. I’ll never forget the day when you were our guide for a morning tour. Very informative and one of two tours that stood out during our cruise around Prince Edward Island. In the afternoon that same day, you showed up again as the tour guide for our group. That tour was the other. Thank you.

  15. Mario Langlois

    Hello Neil, I always enjoy reading you. What a wonderfull way to discribe our relation to the Old Lady. Often I have this sensation of walking in a forth dimention when strolling on the streets of Québec .

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