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June 18, 2008

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Where's Lorraine?                                          Quebec


  • Quebec Guide

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Destination: Quebec
Tag along for a trip back in time during Quebec City's New France Festival.
By Lorraine Williams

If time-travel were possible, one of the historic eras I would choose to visit would be the early days of colonial New France, when Canada was just a budding idea in history's timeline. Imagine the thrill I experienced when, for the first time, I participated in Quebec City's yearly Nouvelle France Festival, commemorating the earliest days of French settlers in the new colony of New France.

This year, the New France Festival runs from August 2nd to 5th. It's a special year as well. Quebec City is celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding -- an event which led to the establishment of Canada. The year's festival theme celebrates the old European custom of giants, when over 50 giants (mostly from Europe) will gather to celebrate the epic tale of Champlain. These Giants are more than 4.5 meters tall! You can mingle with them at the Giants Village located in the Cour des Grands of Petit Seminaire de Quebec. And this is only one of the 1,000 arts events to take place during Quebec City's big year.

Now in its 12th year, the New France Festival never ceases to amaze. When I first experienced it, my initial skepticism dissolved the minute I arrived in my historic Fairmont Chateau Frontenac hotel room. A full-length lady's costume, weighing almost five pounds, awaited me. Everyone is expected to get into the spirit of things. In fact, one in six visitors rents or sews costumes themselves. I was tempted to beg off of joining one of the three Grand Parades when I realized that my outfit added another 10 degrees to the already soaring temperatures. However, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Where else but in Quebec City could I join with so many other revelers who were completely un-self-conscious, participating in the joy of the moment? Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, 1 rue des Carrieres, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, G1R 4P5, Tel: 418-692-3861.

Choosing activities from the 62-page programme was difficult. I wanted to see everything! So for five days, I roamed the cobblestone streets of this UNESCO heritage city with my street companions. The entire Old Town Quebec was populated by citizens and visitors alike re-enacting the roles of lords and ladies from the French court, peasants, merchants, clergy, natives ... the entire motley crew that made up New France in the 17th and 18th centuries. The costumes and wigs were breathtaking.

And what delights there were in rediscovering that past! One park or festival site after another recalled old traditions. Every nook and cranny of the Old Town celebrated the founding of a new civilization in a New World. I wandered the Grande-Allee, the Plains of Abraham, Place Royale and the Parliament Square area plus many other locales where I encountered history telling, music, arts and crafts. I ate gourmet as well as peasant-inspired cuisine -- from beef bourguignon to corn on the cob. I was saluted by nobility and plain folk alike in that atmosphere of joie-de-vivre, which is the lief-motif for French Quebec.

When French Canada was cut off from communication with Europe from November to May every year, New France colonists tried to recreate French upper-class social life with salons and balls here. Hence the sight of so many levels of society represented in the festival's activities. A few of my favorites included: Watching a wood carver using ancient tools to produce an artistic product; seeing the preparation of herbal medicines by actors representing the Sisters from Canada's first hospital, the Hotel Dieu; delighting in the artistic weaving on old looms; hearing and watching old Canadien folk songs and reels; testing bread made the old-fashioned way; viewing street theatre; tempted by auctions; listening to native Amerindian tales; participating in the farmers' marketplace (formerly the Champlain marketplace in the 18th century).

When I wanted to move outside the traditional events, aware that I could never get to all of them, I took off for other sights. I explored Notre Dame Basilica near to the Chateau and its exhibition on Bishop Laval who founded Canada's first educational facility. I admired Champlain's statue (its base is made of the same material as that of Paris' Arch de Triomphe), outside Chateau hotel. He towered over the St. Lawrence, the pathway to Canada in those early days. I explored the Anglican Holy Trinity Cathedral built in 1803, with pews fashioned from trees brought over from Windsor Castle. I admired 150 varieties of perennials in the sunken gardens surrounding the impressive statue of Joan of Arc near Battlefield Park. I had coffee at a sidewalk cafe on the Grande-Allee, the Champs Elysees of North America and site of more restaurants than any other street in North America. As Barbara Walters once said, "Quebec City is the best place to lose weight because you have to walk so much."

Another highlight was a tour of the Plains of Abraham, where I learned the real story behind that event both in a film and a live narration by a costumed General Montcalm. I met "Abraham Martin", captain of the ship which brought Champlain here on one of his voyages and who owned the 235 acres where the battle was fought. Today, it's a sports field with two tracks; one for walking and one for roller-blading and skiing.

One evening, I went on a dinner cruise on the MV Louis Jolliet. After a delicious meal, I spent the evening on the open deck, dancing to La Bamba, enjoying the magic of sailing on the St. Lawrence under a full moon. Another late afternoon, I visited the Ile d'Orleans for some wine tasting at the Ste. Petronille Winery. Then I stayed for the best fireworks exhibition I'd ever seen -- The annual Loto-Quebec International Fireworks competition.

Would I go back again? Try and keep me away!

Canadian Lorraine Williams is a retired psychotherapist. Now a professional travel writer, she loves seeing the world and all its beauty in a fresh way. An author of books and short stories, her latest work is a book of memoirs - ON THE BOARDWALK - about growing up in the trendy Beach district of Toronto. It will be published in Spring 2009.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Statue of Samuel de Champlain


Fairmont Chateau Frontenac Hotel


My 5-pound costume!


Magnificent Quebec City mural


A Lord with his Ladies


Peasant serving lassie


Pretty Maidens all in a row


Rogues of New France


Wood Carver


Hotel Dieu Hospital Nuns


Traditional Music makers


Fresh bread from the baker


Native Indian drummers


The men of a New France family


Joan of Arc statue and gardens


Explaining Battle on the Plains of Abraham


New France food fare


Welcome aboard the Cruise Ship


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