This Week in History


Québec Fortifications Unique in North America

For the week of Monday December 4, 2000

On December 3, 1985, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee designated the Historic District of Québec a World Heritage Site, commemorating the only walled city remaining on the North American continent.

Québec, 1759

Québec, 1759
© LAC / C-43483

In the 17th and 18th centuries, during the French regime, France considered Québec , the capital of New France, a valuable possession. The French had enemies who wanted to control this major North American seaport. The constant threat of invasion led to the construction of fortifications around Québec from 1693, beginning with the Cape Diamond Redoubt. During the 18th century, the battlements were rebuilt further west, with access limited to three gates: St. Louis, St. Jean and Du Palais. Yet even these precautions could not keep the British from taking the city in 1759. The decisive battle occurred on the Plains of Abraham — beyond the eight-metre-high walls!

Louis Gate

St. Louis Gate
© Parks Canada / Louis Jacob

The British inherited unfinished fortifications, and concentrated on defending their new holding by improving and completing the barrier around the Upper City. They also built the star-shaped Citadel on the heights of Cap Diamant overlooking the cliffs, a self-sufficient stronghold designed to serve as a last defence against possible invasions. By the mid-19th century, a 4.6 km network of defences, including four Martello Towers and a number of redoubts, powder magazines and batteries, protected the city.

By the 1870s, the fortifications no longer had a defensive function and sections of the walls were being demolished in order to accommodate the growing population. Lord Dufferin, Governor General of Canada (1872-1878), however, saw their beauty, historical value and tourist appeal, and put a stop to this destruction. He developed a plan that included restoring the damaged battlements, rebuilding the gates to preserve the historic character of the fortified colonial town in a new style, and constructing a continuous walkway along the ramparts. These features are all intact today.

Old Québec's unique status as the only remaining walled city in North America contributed to its being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Walls and Fortifications of Québec, which represent over three centuries of defensive works, have been designated a National Historic Site and are among the best preserved in the world. The cradle of French civilization in America, the Historic District of Québec World Heritage Site is one of 13 Canadian sites on the World Heritage List.

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