As we slowly steamed up the St. Lawrence river which forms the harbour of Quebec we were reminded of some of our lessons in history whereby we learnt that this was the oldest city of America. We recalled how Wolfe and Montcalm fought their last great battle to decide the future allegiance of Canada. Here we were going past the actual spot now overshadowed by the Chateau Frontenac Hotel, which stands on the Citadel, that small fortified hill only 350 feet above the St. Lawrence which was such an important factor in the result of the battle.
It was lunch time and we were in the diningroom halfway through the meal when this great monument arrived. We left our grilled chops and I climbed halfway through a port hole with the assistance of a steward so that I could get a photo as we passed by. The heat increased as we got closer to land and when we were on the pier awaiting the clearance of our luggage we all felt that at last we had met the American summer.
No visit to Quebec would be complete without staying at the Chateau Frontenac, which is claimed to be the most magnificent hotel in Canada.
We duly arrived there and found ourselves on the 9th floor well above the rest of the city occupying two of its 700 bedrooms. Retaining the taxi which brought us up from the boat, from which we were all very sorry to part, we arranged with the driver to take us around the city to see all the sights as our time there was so limited.
We first went to the “Plains of Abraham”, that small flat area on the top of the hill upon which Wolfe and Montcalm fought. There we saw the monuments to both these men, as well as the many old cannons which are still mounted in many places around the city wall. We also climbed one of the three special gun towers which were built of stone work 14 feet thick and upon the top of which was mounted one of the old cannons.
After a brief run around the upper part of the city on the hill, which is practically all solid rock, we went down to the lower portion which is a poorer part of Quebec.
Here we saw what is claimed to be the narrowest street in North America called Sous-le-cap. The taxi driver was a very good guide and he told us much about the city which was very interesting. He informed us that 95% of the population of 148,000 in Quebec were French and of the Roman Catholic religion.
The French language is spoken everywhere and many of the people cannot speak English. Later in the evening when we went into a cafe to get a cup of coffee we were surprised to find that the waitress only knew sufficient English to deal with the menu and when I asked her a simple question she had to tell me that she could not speak English.
With regard to the religion I would have believed the taxi driver if he had told me that 100% of the population were Catholics for there seemed to be churches and convents everywhere. He showed us the oldest church in Canada which is a small building in which services are still held daily. Then we saw several new churches which have been erected within the last ten years. There was an unusual amount of evidence that the population of Quebec had spent enormous sums in the erection of churches in and around their city.
My personal impression of Quebec is that it is an old city not well kept. The streets are very bad in many places and they are also dirty. The buildings are mixed without any uniformity of size or condition. Thus a fairly recent building in good order would be spoilt through being between two old and dilapidated buildings which should be pulled down. There were far more buildings which badly required renovation generally than those which were in good order.
There were idle people everywhere lounging about buildings or on the streets without any apparent aim in life. There was no American bustle as we had expected to see and “take life easy” seemed to be the accepted motto of the people. Of course, there were exceptions to this rule, such as at the hotel, but here most of the employees appeared to have come from other parts.
The Canadian Pacific Railway Co. seemed to have a controlling interest in all of the important concerns of the city. When we left the boat the C.P.R. man took charge of our luggage. He called a C.P.R. taxi to take us to the C.P.R. hotel. We were offered a tour in a C.P.R. sight seeing bus. We passed the Electricity Department and the driver told us it was owned by the C.P.R. He showed us the well kept railway station of the C.P.R. and mentioned that their railway was one of the best in the world. The tram service of the city is owned by the C.P.R. Anything and everything in the way of transport is either owned or partly owned by this big company.
We paid off the taxi driver and I made my way to the Burroughs office per tram. It was slow and rough in riding. It cost seven cents to travel a very short distance, just about as far as I went in Scotland for a halfpenny. I spent the rest of the afternoon with the Burroughs manager and he brought me back to the hotel at six o’clock. Of course, the hotel gave us every comfort and we all enjoyed the good sleep on the soft spring mattress, notwithstanding that the night was very hot and a thunder storm awoke us in the early hours of the morning.
At 9.30 on Friday, the 29th July, we started on another taxi drive to the shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre, which is 21 miles out of Quebec. This place has some old stories attached to it which it is hard to believe. We were told that many years ago, before there was any settlement, there were some soldiers shipwrecked in a storm and their lives were saved through their prayers and a promise to St. Anne that they would live faithful lives if spared. The storm was calmed as a result and a cross now marks the spot where they landed and lived.
From that time forward the spot has developed into one of miraculous cures to hundreds of people. Pilgrims from all parts of the American continent, and indeed from many countries on the other side of the Atlantic, flock to the miraculous shrine of St. Anne and relieve them of their physical ailments. I was told it was an annual occurrence to witness men and women among the crowded congregation in the St. Ann Basilica relinquishing their crutches or their invalid chairs and walking unaided to the front of the church to offer thanks to their liberator from physical defects. I walked through the Basilica and read the testimony of many people which was written on cards attached to the sticks and crutches of all kinds. It was certainly amusing to hear of such miraculous healings.
In a piece of land adjoining the Basilica stands what is called the “Cyclorama Building”. This is a circular building which contains a wonderful oil painting, considered to be one of the world’s masterpieces, of the holy city of Jerusalem. This celebrated picture is 45 feet in height by 360 feet in length.
The building is entered by a narrow passage which takes you to the centre, where you ascend a circular stair case to a platform about 20 feet in height. No direct light shines on this platform, but beyond is one of the most realistic works of art I have seen, which just receives sufficient light from windows overhead and unseen to the visitors to make it appear like the actual scene. The perspective of the buildings is truly wonderful. The photograph is so lifelike that they appeared to stand out in relief. The sky line makes one wonder whether they are not actually looking at the sky. The canvas is over 30 feet from the platform all round and yet there are places where you feel you could put your hand out and touch the photographs.
I was particularly struck with one of the large tents. Several times I had to look at this tent to decide whether it was painted or real because in the close foreground there was real grass, stones and pathways right up to the canvas which made it very difficult to determine where the foreground finished and the canvas commenced. The scene of the crucifixion with the weeping saintly mother and the mourning apostles was, of course, the principal part of the picture which I would not undertake to describe.
The work was done by six artists from England, France and America under the direction of the principal artist, Paul Phillippotaux, who is given the credit of being his masterpiece. The work took five years to complete, one of which the artists spent in Jerusalem in studying the subject and the remaining four in doing the painting.
This picture, the visit to the Basilica and hearing all the stories about both of them made one feel depressed and I was glad when we reached the car that the chauffeur mentioned that it was lunch time and showed us where we could get a good Canadian lunch.
During the day we passed many two storied houses and in every case the stairs leading from the upper story were on the outside. It seemed strange to see these stairs going down to the street in this manner, but I was told it was the usual method adopted by the French people here.
We also saw a monument built of rough stones to commemorate the murder of the first Roman Catholic priests who were killed by the Red Indians when they were attempting to carry the message of goodwill and Christianity.
Another interesting sight was the dog carts. We passed many of these on the roadside. For a few cents you can have a ride in one of these carts and as Lois had missed her ride in a rickshaw at Colombo she considered she was due for a ride in a dog cart. After waiting for a thunder storm to cease she got her ride. The dogs are very strong and well trained. They seem to be able to pull quite a fair load and also carry out tricks such as smoking a pipe and wearing a top hat. There were two or three very good outfits with two dogs in each cart, but unfortunately we were then driving through a tremendous downpour of rain and I could not take the photos. This rain started waterfalls on the hillside in a few minutes.
Just before we reached Quebec we went to the bottom of the Montmorency Falls. They were a real sight. The Montmorency river has a fair volume of water and it all flows over a high precipice just before it reaches the sea.
At six o’clock we left Quebec and from a hot and humid atmosphere just after another thunder storm we were pleased to walk into a parlour car with most comfortable easy chairs and a cool atmosphere. We appreciated the air conditioning in this hot and sultry weather.
The journey was interesting, as I was able to sit at a writing table at the end of the compartment and write this record from the time we arrived at Quebec and at the same time view the scenery and places of special interest. One of these was the place called Three Rivers. Here I saw many thousands of pine logs almost blocking a wide river on their way to mills somewhere in the distance.
It is not a fast train, but is very quiet and smooth running. For these two reasons alone I can say it is the most comfortable train I have yet travelled in. I am pleased to be able to record this, as it is my first experience of an American train, and although others may be better or worse I entered this with a critical mind, for I recalled a conversation with a man on a steamer when I was travelling between Sydney and Melbourne. At dinner time I was opposite Mr. Gledhill and apparently this man knew he was an American citizen. In a most ostentatious manner he told Mr. Gledhill he had recently returned from a visit to the States and the railways were the worst in the world. I wonder what that man would think if he were beside me now. It just shows how little you can depend upon statements made by such people unless you know all the facts. In all probability he was travelling at the cheapest rates and expected first-class comfort.