The Old Québec © Parks Canada, Bernard Pelletier
Close to half the buildings in the Historic District of Old-Québec were built before 1850. Although the city itself has grown into a modern metropolis of some 600,000 people, the historic district, covering 135 hectares (about five percent of the city total) remains among the most coherent such areas in North America. Moreover, Québec is unique among cities on the continent in having retained almost all its fortifications, and la vieille capitale may claim for itself the honour of being the only walled city in North America.
Champlain built his original habitation on the shore of the St. Lawrence River, near the site of the former Iroquois village of Stadacona, at the foot of a great promontory called Cap Diamant. Settlement grew first along the river, and later, following the lead of military and religious institutions, on the promontory itself. The river bank, or Lower Town, remained residential and commercial, and Upper Town became the seat of administration and religion.
In the 1820s, when Québec was Canada’s leading seaport, the British army built a substantial citadel atop Cap Diamant and improved the wall around Upper Town. In the 1870s, Governor General Lord Dufferin, in an early example of urban heritage conservation, persuaded the city not to demolish the fortifications, by then strategically useless, thus defining the historic character - and tourist potential - of old Québec.