Trans Canada, Eh: Je me souviens du Quebec


Je me souviens is the official motto of the Quebec province. You see it throughout  government buildings and on car license plates. Translated into English, it simply means “I remember,” but paraphrased, “We do not forget, and will never forget, our ancient lineage, traditions and memories of all the past.”

Staying in Old Quebec, or le Vieux-Quebec, Frank and I felt immersed in that past —  cobblestone streets, European architecture, historic neighborhoods. Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico. Our apartment was located just inside the wall and our front window faced one of the arched gateways that divide old from new. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped down our street.

We absorbed the past that was “New France” through tours, talking with locals and a lot of walking. Visiting the Parliament building gave us historical perspective and taught us about current political processes. A Jesuit priest and an Augustine nun explained the important roles their religious orders played in New France’s academic and medical development (respectively). Quebec’s religious and military past are intertwined and, as we explored, we couldn’t help but comment on the proliferation of two seemingly opposing concepts: many, many churches and many, many cannons. Often times, they were right next to each other!

Frank and I were pleased to observe the impressive efforts made to preserve the city’s original architecture. Sixteenth and seventeenth century government buildings, homes, schools and churches are extremely well-maintained — and often repurposed as you will see in some of the photographs.

Much of the explanatory signage, brochures and websites is in French. In 1977, the Charte de la Langue Française made French Quebec’s official language. The law requires that public signage is predominantly in French and that immigrants send their children to French-language schools. Currently, 95% of the population speak French as their first or second language. Being in the more touristy areas of Quebec City, we found that most people we dealt with, in stores and in restaurants, spoke some English. And, of course, we did our best to speak some French.

So, in addition to our history lessons, the incredible sights and my feeble attempts at remembering some high school French, what else will we remember from our stay in Quebec? First of all, we rarely needed our car. Quebec is fairly compact and very walkable — but beware, some of the hills in the upper part of the Old City are extremely steep! Second, there is an abundance of restaurants but aside from buttery croissants, some yummy crepe breakfasts and a little Italian place with great pasta, we were underwhelmed by the food. Neither of us are big fans of meat pies or maple pie (and we still haven’t tried the ubiquitous poutine!). Third, I mentioned it before but the repurposing of old buildings really made an impression on me. The churches transformed into libraries blew me away! Finally, I never imagined that a city so close to home could remind me so much of Europe. I will never forget the city’s charm and beauty. Je me souviens du Quebec! We will always remember Quebec!