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Visiting the Citadel, Quebec City: keeping watch for centuries over the St. Lawrence River

Updated on February 5, 2012
Flag of Quebec
Flag of Quebec | Source
Quebec City's Citadel overlooking the St. Lawrence
Quebec City's Citadel overlooking the St. Lawrence | Source
With the Chateau Frontenac in the background, WL Mackenzie King, FD Roosevelt, WS Churchill and their host Canadian Governor-General the Earl of Athlone, at Quebec City's Citadel in 1943
With the Chateau Frontenac in the background, WL Mackenzie King, FD Roosevelt, WS Churchill and their host Canadian Governor-General the Earl of Athlone, at Quebec City's Citadel in 1943 | Source
1906 map of Quebec City
1906 map of Quebec City | Source

Impressive Monarchic fortress

Quebec City's Citadel certainly has a very scenic location. Included among the commanding views available from the walls of the Citadel are the Château Frontenac , the Quebec Parliament building (Hôtel du Parlement) and a wide panorama of the St. Lawrence River (le fleuve St.-Laurent).

It is possible to walk along some of the Citadel's walls, which, together with the Fortifications of Quebec, and the nearby St. Louis Gate, make Quebec the most fortified city in Canada.

A residence of The Queen and of the Governor-General of Canada

The Citadel is an official residence of The Queen and of Canada's Governor-General, The Queen's representative in Canada. One of the noteworthy high level — and far reaching — gatherings at the Citadel occurred in 1943, when Governor-General The Earl of Athlone hosted Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King , British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President F D Roosevelt . (This meeting notably discussed planning for the Normandy Landings which took place the following year.)

Interestingly, The Queen's Lieutenant-Governor is the representative before the authorities of the Province of Quebec, with the National Parliament of Quebec being situated less than 1 km away from the Citadel (see below). It is fair to say that the nuanced distinction in the roles of the Governor-General and the Lieutenant-Governor is not always understood very precisely, but it is important in Canadian constitutional terms.

History of the Citadel's construction

The main fortifications of the Citadel were built in a star shape, date from between 1820 and 1830. The work was undertaken by the Corps of Royal Engineers, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Elias Walker Durnford . The (at the time) poor relations with the United States gave rise to the official desire to strengthen the military defences at Quebec City.

The current structure incorporates part of earlier fortifications built in 1745 by French military engineer Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry . Previous plans for fortifications included those by French military engineer Jacques Levasseur de Néré , supervised by the legendary Vauban (Sébastien Le Prestre ,Marquis de Vauban, French King Louis XIV 's leading military engineer.

Subsequent, developing role

The Citadel's status as an official residence of the Monarch and of the Governor-General of Canada dates from 1872. This association with the Governors-General of Canada began with the 3rd Governor-General, Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who also took initiatives in the preservation of the fortifications.

In 1920, the Citadel also became the headquarters of the Francophone Royal 22e Régiment. In English, this important regiment is colloquially known as The Van Doos. The regiment distinguished itself in both World Wars, the Korean War and other crises, and in 1940 mounted the King's Guard at Buckingham Palace; highly honoured former soldiers include Lieutenant Jean Brillant , Corporal Joseph Kaeble and Captain Paul Triquet, all of whom won the Victoria Cross (la croix de Victoria).

Orthographic note

Unambiguously, the French for 'Citadel' is 'la Citadelle '. Some Federal Government of Canada sources insist that 'Citadelle' is correct usage for both French and English documents. Other Federal Government sources use 'Citadel' in English to refer to the Governor-General's residence in Quebec City. I do not propose to become significantly identified with any controversy which there may be on this matter, but I have simply retained the usual English dictionary spelling.

Also worth seeing

The other outstanding historical and cultural sites worth visiting in Quebec City are too many to mention here, but a few of these include:

Hôtel du Parlement (Parliament Building; distance: 0.7 kilometres); this gracious 1886 building which houses the National Assembly of Quebec (Assemblée National du Québec), is described as exhibiting Second Empire style, designed by architect Eugène-Étienne Taché .

Château Frontenac (distance: 0.8 kilometres); this mainly pre-World War 1 building on a huge scale is sometimes known as the most photographed hotel in the world, overlooks Old Quebec (Lower Town) - le Vieux-Québec (Basse-Ville) and, like the Citadel, the St. Lawrence River.

Montmorency Falls (la Chute Montmorency; distance: approx. 13 kilometres) are a spectacular sight, on a scale which is higher than Ontario and New York's Niagara Falls.

Louis S. St.-Laurent Heritage House (Maison patrimoniale Louis-S.-St.-Laurent; distance: 1.2 kilometres); the Right Honourable Louis St.-Laurent, Prime Minister of Canada (1948-1957) lived in this house, now a museum, until his death in 1973.


How to get there: Air Canada flies to Quebec City (Aéroport international Jean-Lesage de Québec ) from Montreal and Toronto, with wide connections. VIA Rail maintains regular services with Montreal, Toronto and Windsor. A number of car rental companies offer service at Quebec City airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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