Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site
- The city's walls are authentic.
- The most important element of Québec's defensive system was already in place when Champlain arrived in 1608.
- The city's current wall is the third one to protect Québec since it was founded.
- In the days when the walls really defended the town, the defensive works were over 75 metres wide.
- Yes, there is a battery in the fortification wall.
- Americans have attacked Québec.
- Québec's current enceinte fulfilled its role very well during the sieges of 1760 and 1775-1776.
- One of the reasons Québec's Citadel was built was to ward off a civil rebellion.
- The St.Louis, St.John and Prescott Gates were reconstructed.
- Dufferin Terrace, the walkway along Cape Diamond, is older than the Château Frontenac.
Restoration and stabilization work on the walls was done with the greatest respect for the original structures. In most sections of the wall, the only restoration done was to inject cement grout to fill in gaps formed over time. When stones had to be moved, they were put back exactly where they were originally. And the platform has never changed!
Among the reasons that led the founder of Québec to choose the location of his trading post, one of the most important was the presence of Cape Diamond, a true natural defence. This abrupt and rocky escarpment provided an invaluable promontory and was a practically insurmountable obstacle for the enemy. All the engineers who planned to fortify the town took this particular characteristic of Québec into consideration and concentrated on the west side of the town, the only side not naturally protected by the escarpment.
The city's first protective wall was constructed under the rule of Governor Frontenac. This was Major Provost's palisade, which was finished just in time for the Phips Siege in 1690. Three years later, to better defend the town against sieges, the construction of true fortifications was begun. The Boisberthelot de Beaucours enceinte was the last to predate the construction of the current wall by Chaussegros de Léry. This new project, which included some existing works, began to take shape in 1745 and was almost complete during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.
A true classical fortification is not just a high wall. Québec's enceinte was once much wider than it is today. In fact, the presence of a ditch, outworks, the covered path and above all the glacis (a gentle slope that concealed the walls from the enemy's sight), prevented non-military use of the lands in front of the rampart. None of the buildings which can be found right in front of the fortification wall today could ever have been constructed!
Contrary to popular belief, the fortification wall in the west of the old city does not hide a series of tunnels connecting different sections of Québec. However, there is an underground room built by the French during the 1750s. It is known as the flank blockhouse of the glacis bastion, and sheltered an underground battery at the time of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. This served to reinforce a part of the enceinte considered the weakest section because of the heights occupied by the Artigny mill (now the site of the armoury on Grande-Allée.) The underground cannons served to double the firepower of the regular artillery installed outside.Now you can see embrasures in the Citadel ditch. As for the small openings that pierce the wall at many places, they are posterns that allowed soldiers to travel to the outworks when the city's gates were closed.
At the dawn of the American War of Independence, rebels attempted to take the capital of the colony. After having brought Montréal to capitulation in the autumn of 1775, General Richard Montgomery joined forces with Benedict Arnold at Québec. On December 31, New Year's Eve, the rebels attempted an attack by the Lower Town. Montgomery was killed in the opening exchanges of fire while Arnold, wounded, was forced to retreat. The Americans tried to lay siege to the city until spring, but the arrival of British reinforcements at the beginning of May forced them to leave.
The main purpose of fortifications is to allow defenders to withstand a siege until the arrival of reinforcements.The French engineer Chaussegros de Léry's enceinte permitted those under siege to hold out until the arrival of the first boats in the spring of 1760. The irony is that later the British were the ones who turned the enceinte's protection to their advantage! In the winter of 1775-1776, that wall allowed the British and the French colonists who were still living there to resist American rebels until the arrival of a British flotilla in early May. In each case, the arrival of reinforcements put an end to the hopes of the besiegers.
The Citadel, a fortress within the fortified city, was one of the improvements made to the defensive system by the British after American independence. The construction of the Citadel allowed the British to occupy of the strategic heights of Cape Diamond and therefore keep the Americans from using them. As well, the fortress could also serve as a refuge for authorities and British troops in case of a revolt by the French inhabitants of the city. That's why it doesn't only face outwards from the city, but towards the inside as well, to show the population what they were up against if they tried to rebel.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the narrow original gates in the wall were replaced because the citizenry demanded easier movement between the old and new towns. The intervention of Lord Dufferin, governor general of Canada from 1872 to 1878, allowed the demolition of the defensive works, which had now fallen into disuse, to be stopped. According to Dufferin's plans, the construction of new gates would permit the building of a pedestrian walkway all the way around Old Québec. The gates would therefore provide passage over roads and become decorative elements in Dufferin's beautification project for the city. The current Saint-Louis Gate was built between 1878 and 1881, and Saint-Jean Gate between 1938 and 1939. Parks Canada rebuilt the Prescott Gate in 1983, wanting to extend the walkway on the ramparts over the Côte de la Montagne.
After the Château Saint-Louis (Governor's residence) fire in 1834, Governor Durham had a "platform" accessible to the public built on the same land. It occupies a strategic defensive site where the first cannon batteries were installed in the seventeenth century. The Durham Terrace was first extended in 1854 before being made part of Lord Dufferin's vast beautification project for the city. The inauguration of the Dufferin Terrace was held June 9, 1879; the six present-day kiosks were already in place. The Château Frontenac Hotel wasn't part of the Québec skyline until 1893. Today, Parks Canada is proud to welcome more than 2 million visitors to the site each year.
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