Our second day in Québec City was another busy one. We woke up a little bit later than usual and decided we would go visit the Plains of Abraham, the site of the famous battle between the British and the French in 1759—a deciding moment in Canada’s history.
We ambled along the wall again, past the provincial parliament, and arrived at the museum’s office. The clerk there told us that, if we hurried, we could make it to the nearby “Le Citadel” to see the changing of the guard. So we abandoned the Plains of Abraham for the moment and charged off to Le Citadel, along with hordes of other late-arriving tourists, hastily purchased our tickets, and squeezed through the gates to observe the ceremony.
I’ve seen quite a few changing of the guard ceremonies (London, Prague, Seoul, and so forth), but this one was the first one to feature a goat. And this is no ordinary goat, but one with golden horns!
The goat’s name is Batisse. He is the regiment’s mascot and is an integral part of the changing of the guard. The origins of the goat goes back to Queen Victoria, who in 1883 was given a goat by the king of Iran. Fast forward to the mid-twentieth century, and Queen Elizabeth II gave one of the descendants of this goat to the regiment at Le Citadel. Well, Queen Elisabeth II is still around, but the original Batisse is not. In fact, the regiment is now on the twelfth Batisse. According to our guide, the queen sent over a new goat each time one passed away . . . until number four. With that fourth goat, came a wife. So now the regiment is responsible for propagating its own line of mascots.
In any case, Batisse looked quite regal. I suppose horns painted gold will do that for you.
We really enjoyed the tour. Our guide was informative and humorous and we learned a lot about the history of the fortifications—namely, that it was built to protect the city from an attack by the Americans that never came. (They did attack Québec City, but only before the citadel was constructed.)
It was interesting to see the difference in construction between the original French buildings and the subsequent English fortifications.
The tour guide also introduced us to this twelve-tonne cannon:
According to our guide, this beast once caused the destruction of a woman’s house on the other side of the Saint Lawrence River. They fired the cannon one winter, only to have its payload strike the frozen ice, ricochet off the hard surface and bounce forward to obliterate her home. Thankfully, she wasn’t inside at the time. Recently (and by recently, I mean within the last few weeks) many of the shells for this cannon were unearthed and were lying nearby for us to see:
You can see my foot in the bottom of the photo, to show you how big the shells are. (Also, my foot is there because I didn’t know it was in the frame when I took the shot.)
Nearby was the building where they kept all the powder. There was a slot in the outside wall that most of us assumed was for use by soldiers inside to use for firing at enemies.
Actually, it’s just a ventilation shaft. It zigzags into the building so that an enemy couldn’t simply stick his own gun through, fire, and easily explode the store of gunpowder. However, our tour guide told us that attacking soldiers sometimes used animals as incendiary devices. What they would do is take a rat, dip its tail in oil, light it, then send it scampering into the shaft to ignite the entire building. Very cruel, but I suppose effective. This technique was never used at Le Citadel, but about a half hour later, I spotted a black squirrel scampering across the grounds and thought to myself that it best just keep moving in case anyone got any ideas . . .
Well, of course, they don’t store powder in that building anymore. It’s a museum where you can see plaques and relics from the Seven Years’ War, including a very cool original canon. (We weren’t permitted to take photos.)
Near the end of the tour, we got to stand on the battlements overlooking Old Québec City. The view was very impressive. Marcie and I had taken our tour of Château Frontenac the day before, but we looked upon it with fresh eyes from this vantage point—it truly is an impressive and magical building. I have to say, it’s just one of those buildings that no photo can really seem to do justice. It rises out of the cityscape like a castle.
After leaving the citadel, we returned the Plains of Abraham, but thought we better get some lunch before we ran out of steam. We found a restaurant called “Cosmos” just past the statue of General Montcalm and enjoyed some crepes. You can see Marcie’s meal. It was like fruit exploded all over her plate.
Our stomachs satiated, we returned to the Plains of Abraham and wandered across the grounds of the infamous battle. It was so verdant and peaceful that it was a bit difficult to imagine that this was once the sight of the grisly Battle of Québec, the deciding confrontation in the Seven Years’ War.
Incidentally, this pivotal battle lasted all of fifteen minutes. It resulted in the deaths of the leaders on both sides, James Wolfe and Louis-Joseph Montcalm. Whenever I think of this moment in Canadian history, I am reminded of this pair of famous paintings:
The Death of General Wolfe, by Benjamin West (1770)
La Mort de Montcalm, by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté (1902)
Just outside of the park, there is also a statue of Montcalm. I could not really get a good photo of it due to the position of the light at that time of day, but here it is anyway:
The Plains of Abraham also features a famous statue of Joan of Arc. I guess she was kind of like a patron saint for New France.
After exploring the park for a bit, we crossed down to the nature path and descended down a long staircase to the rue at the bottom. From there we gained a good vantage point of the cliff looking upwards:
It was this type of cliff that a small contingent of British soldiers had to scale in order to surprise the French garrison at top. Once they seized the garrison, the rest of Wolfe’s 5,000-strong army was able to reach the plains via a road. (Let’s just say the walk down was onerous enough and we had the use of stairs; so I can only imagine how difficult it was for these men to climb up beneath the cover of night.)
We required refreshment after our long walk in the hot summer sun, so we decided to head back to Château Frontenac, where we had seen the lovely 1608 bar the day before on our tour of that hotel. We arrived just after the bar opened at 2pm, so were able to procure a table (the bar filled up very quickly afterwards). This is a beautiful, cozy location in the hotel, affording a great view of the Saint Lawrence, if you get the right seat. We sat next to the bookshelf, since we wanted to feel like we were in the old reading room—which is what this room used to be.
Our next adventure for the day didn’t happened until later at night when we took the ghost tour through old Québec City. As I mentioned in my blog posts about Montréal, I really enjoy taking ghost tours, since it is a good way to hear about the history of a place.
This tour did a good job of trying to create atmosphere. Our guide was dressed in a cape and hat and led our way down cobblestone streets with a candle-fuelled lantern.
Marcie and I appreciated the fact that the tour took us down several streets, back alleys, and courtyards that we wouldn’t have otherwise explored. In fact, there was a great deal of walking on this tour—it had some people puffing and panting, especially when we started climbing some of the steep hills. The grande finale of the tour was at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity near the Château Frontenac. Here is my picture of it in the night:
The guide led us inside—it was pitch dark with only the lights from the streets beyond to provide us with any illumination. We then sat in the pews as she told us stories about the ghosts who apparently haunt the cathedral, her candle light flickering and adding a certain macabre ambiance. That was certainly a lot of fun!
After the tour, we headed back towards our hotel and came up through the gate on St. Jean where raucous music was playing on the festival stage. It’s the Pride Festival here this weekend, so each night they have been having celebrations. On this night, it was drag queens performing. We paused to watch a bit of it. Marcie said to me, “That looks like Marilyn Manson on stage.” It was just a look-alike of course. Afterwards, faux-Marilyn stalked through the crowd looking grim and somber and people delighted in taking pictures with him. Faux Gwen Stefani went next. Well, it was a fun way for the night to come to an end.
As usual, I’m finishing off this post with a series of photos chronicling the doors and details discovered throughout the day. Every time I turn a corner in this city, there is a new treasure to find . . .