[IN IMAGES] See the evolution of the shores of the St. Lawrence in Old Quebec through the ages

[IN PICTURES] See the evolution of the shores of the St. Lawrence in Old -Quebec through the ages


The shores of the St. Lawrence have changed a lot since the arrival of the first settlers in Quebec. From the estuary of the Saint-Charles River to the Cap-Blanc district, the backfilling has slowly made it possible to gain land on the shore, allowing both residential and commercial development in Lower Town.

1) The first Lower Town  

Map of upper and lower Quebec in 1660.

Upon his arrival in Quebec, Samuel de Champlain began construction of his home in what is now Place Royale. At that time, Lower Town was a limited space between what we know today as Côte de la Montagne, Rue Saint-Pierre and Rue du Marché-Champlain. 

As this is the very beginning of the colony, the Côte de la Montagne is still only a footpath. In 1618, Champlain presented Louis XIII with a project for the development of the Saint-Charles River, near Pointe-aux-Lièvres, where he wanted to build the town of Ludovica. Despite the king's interest, the project never saw the light of day. 

Throughout the 17th century, the Lower Town of Quebec developed at the pace of merchants and inhabitants, attracted by the port life. In 1660, Lower Town was more populated than Upper Town. In order to organize the space, many plots of land were granted and the first streets were laid out. 

As can be seen on the map above, Lower Town is slowly getting organized. However, it remains for the moment between the cape and the river. 

2) The second Lower Town  

Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry, plan of the town of Quebec, 1727.

In 1684, Jean Talon set up his palace on the shore of the Saint-Charles River in what was called the second Lower Town, whose vocation was more administrative, whereas the first was more Merchant. At this time, the two lower towns are still not connected, although they are developing simultaneously.

To go from one to the other, the inhabitants must go up the cape and go through the Upper Town or wait for low tide and walk on the shore of the river. 

On the map above is shown a development project for the first Lower Town imagined by Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry, the king's engineer. The project was to serve to enlarge the sector of the first Lower Town, without however connecting it to the Intendant's Palace, still accessible only by the Upper Town or the shore.

Talon also had a shipyard, which will become the first shipyard of the King, also called the Saint-Nicolas port. Towards the end of the 18th century, a basin that could accommodate up to 300 boats was built there to facilitate the transport of goods to the palace. Although this basin appears on some maps of the time, it is impossible to say with certainty whether it really existed. 

Between 1733 and 1735, Chaussegros de Léry built a dyke on the river to protect the King's shipyard from bad weather; it remained active until the beginning of the 19th century. Despite the shallowness of the river, several large tonnage ships were built there, including the Canada and the Caribou

3) Le Cul-de-Sac

Plan of the Saint-Laurent district as designated in the Act of the Corporation of the City of Quebec, circa 1830.

It was around the middle of the 18th century that the Anse du Cul-de-Sac replaced Port Saint-Nicolas as the King's shipyard. With direct access to Lower Town and the St. Lawrence River, Port Cul-de-Sac is becoming an important economic engine for Quebec City, where transatlantic ships can dock. 

Some surveyors attempted to set up landscaping and landfill projects to organize Lowertown. Due to a lack of cash, projects do not see the light of day. The merchants, more fortunate and feeling cramped, will themselves quietly fill in the banks of the river. 

We therefore see appearing, in addition to the King's and Queen's quays, many quays bearing the names of the merchants who built them. This is the case of Guillaume Estèbe, who built his house with a quay in his name and which also serves as a dike against the high tides of the river. The Estèbe house – spared from cannonballs during the siege of the city of 1759 – and its wharf are now part of the Musée de la civilisation.

The Estède house, on rue Saint-Pierre in Québec , 1944.

Throughout the 19th century, merchants gained more and more space on the river. From the Saint-Charles River to Cap-Blanc, the quays stretch along the shore for more than eight kilometres. The Cul-de-Sac cove was partially backfilled in the middle of the 19th century for fear of unsanitary conditions. Then there is the Champlain Market and the King's Store. The latter was destroyed by fire in 1950.

Neighborhood of Old Quebec and Lower Town, the Champlain Market and the Port, 1897.

4) The Royal Battery  

The Neighborhood of Old Quebec and Lower Town, the streets of Marché-Finlay, de la Place and Dalhousie, May 20, 1929.

The Royal Battery is an essential element of the landscape of Old Quebec. However, it has long been entirely buried. At the request of the Comte de Frontenac, the Royal Battery was built in 1691. It participated in the defense of the city during the siege of 1759, where it was partially destroyed. Under English authority, part of the Battery was covered by sheds and served as a wharf. It was known as the Quai de la Reine or the Quai Napoléon. 

In the 19th century, the Royal Battery was completely covered by various constructions, including boarding houses. There are also the Finlay market halls, replaced in 1906 by a public parking lot. Today, there is the Place de Paris, adjoining the Royal Battery.  

Works at the Place Royale, Royal Battery, Quebec, 1973.

In 1973, the buildings that are at the site of the Royal Battery are demolished. The archaeological excavations that are beginning confirm the repair of a section of the Battery, carried out in the winter of 1730, after part of the wall was washed away by the ice of the river. 

Works at the Place Royale, Royal Battery, Quebec, 1973.

The restoration work has enabled the consolidation of the foundations of the Royal Battery. Over the years, many historical reconstruction works have been carried out to restore the place to its former appearance. It sometimes happens, in the spring, when the snow melts, to see the river join the walls of the Royal Battery. 

Aerial view of the Royal Battery of Quebec, 1982.

5) The neighborhood Cap-Blanc

View of the Cap-Blanc district, circa 1890.

The Cap-Blanc district developed in the 19th century thanks to shipyards and the booming timber trade. Many Irish immigrants settle in this district in search of employment on construction sites. The first road, between the river and the cape, was built in 1841 to facilitate transport. Several houses are therefore destroyed or moved to organize the territory. 

In 1877, the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church was built, a central element of the district's landscape. It is built on an old quay, at the foot of the cape. The latter represents a constant threat for the inhabitants, long marked by the landslide of September 1889.  

View of Cap-Blanc, circa 1900.

Beginning in the 1850s, the drainage carried out in the St. Lawrence River enabled ships of large tonnage to continue on their way to Montreal. This is the beginning of the decline of the timber trade in Quebec. The quays will slowly disappear from the landscape. Many Irish left for Montreal in search of jobs as the Cap-Blanc construction sites closed. 

Cap-Blanc district, view taken from the Cap-Blanc staircase, around 1920 .

The railway appeared in the area at the beginning of the 20th century. The last quays then disappear. The Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church will never again be glued to the river. In the 1920s, with the development of the Anse au Foulon terminal, the inhabitants lost access to the river to the benefit of industries. However, for a few years, the inhabitants of Sillery will be able to enjoy Foulon beach. 

Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde; at Cap-Blanc in Quebec City, 1948.

6) Louise Basin  

Old Quebec and Lower Town, Louise Basin, September 1900.

It was at the end of the 19th century that the Louise Basin, named after Queen Victoria's daughter, was built at the mouth of the Saint-Charles River. The objective of the project is to revive the economy of the port, which has been in decline since the end of the export of wood and the closure of the shipyards. We are quietly trying to replace the wood industry with that of cereals, hence the installation of grain silos at the beginning of the 20th century.   

We want to modernize the port to make it more accessible to steamships. The work includes the drainage of the Saint-Charles River and the construction of the Pointe-à-Carcy wharf. The development of the basins and a lock creates a safe sector for the mooring of ships, sheltered from the strong tides of the river. 

The city of Quebec, the Louise basin and the building of the Immigration, 1925.

Bassin Louise became the new port of arrival for many Irish immigrants. To meet their needs, a building was built on the pier in 1888 that could accommodate up to 4,000 people. This building, which no longer exists today, was near the grain silos. Many of these immigrants boarded the Canadian Pacific trains, whose tracks went to the building, to head for English Canada.  

7) Saint-Paul Street in 1893

Old Quebec and Lower Town, rue Saint-Paul, 1893.

Throughout the 19th century, Lower Town underwent major changes that doubled its area. The construction of new quays as well as major backfilling work in the Saint-Charles River will allow the construction of new streets. The Lower Town became more and more industrialized.

In 1833, the Saint-Paul market was built, near Henderson and Ramsay streets, which had been created by the filling work on the river. This market allows the supply of people from Lower Town, being more accessible than the Upper Town market. 

In 1853, near the Saint-Paul market, the Quebec North Shore Railway station was built on Saint-Paul Street. This station, soon to be owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, was replaced by the Gare du Palais in 1915. The construction of the new station and the redevelopment of the tracks completely eliminated Henderson and Ramsay streets. 

As early as 1869, the Quebec and Lac-Saint-Jean Railway station, located near Louise Basin, used Canadian Pacific Railway rails to transport people who had left to colonize Lac-Saint-Jean. Although the trains today follow different routes, it is still possible to see them passing over the Sainte-Anne bridge, adjacent to the Jean-Lesage Boulevard bridge which crosses towards Limoilou. 

< strong>A text by Isabelle Blanchet, Library and National Archives of Quebec

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