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A Guest of Honour at the Cradle of Quebec

For the week of Monday December 31, 2007

On December 31, 1687,  French architect Claude Baillif was contracted to design and build la chapelle de l’Enfant-Jésus, the first permanent place of worship in Quebec City’s lower town. Many of Quebec’s best-known architects and artists would contribute to the building and restoration of this church over the next three centuries.

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, James Cockburn, 1800
© Musée de la civilisation, dépôt du Séminaire de Québec

This new place of worship was built on the newly named Place Royale, replacing the ‘magasin du Roy,’ a once integral part of Samuel de Champlain’s Habitation, the earliest French settlement at Quebec City. Baillif actually used stones from the old storehouse to construct two walls and the apse of the church. Although dedicated and opened for services in 1688, a lack of funds and the high cost of land forced Baillif to reduce the size of the church. His larger church, as originally designed, would not be completed until 1723.

For more than three centuries, while this simple stone church underwent many changes in name, construction and artistic style, it remained a constant, if silent, witness to several major events in French Canada’s history. In 1690, the church was renamed Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire, to commemorate Governor Frontenac’s “mouths of my cannons” victory over William Phips and his invasion forces. Then, in 1711, the church was renamed Notre-Dame-des-Victoires to celebrate the withdrawal of Admiral Walker’s British invasion fleet, which had been ravaged and dispersed by wind, fog and poor seamanship before reaching the city.

View Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, Richard Short, 1760
© Library and Archives Canada / 1970-188-17

Québec residents were not as fortunate when, in 1759, 60,000 cannon shots and firebombs rained down on the settlement. Well before Montcalm faced Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, the lower town had been evacuated and most of the buildings had been destroyed. Notre-Dame-des-Victoires had but a few walls left standing. Afterwards, despite the impoverished state of the parish, the people began to slowly rebuild the lower town, Place Royale and their parish church. It is fitting that Notre-Dame-des-Victoires – the early hub of social and economic activity in the settlement – survives to this day.
Québec. Place-Royale, Marc Robitaille, 2003
© Gouvernement du Québec

Through its long periods of construction (1688-1723), and ongoing rebuilding and renovation (1761-1817, 1930s, 1960s), Notre-Dame-des-Victoires continued to be an important centre of French-Canadian worship, life and culture.

By virtue of its strong associations with the development and the people of Québec and as a symbol of the French presence in Canada, l’Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires was declared a National Historic Site in 1988.

For more information on Place Royale and l’église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, select Historic District of Old Québec, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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