Quebec – The Fortress City

THE Indian made a stronghold at Quebec before the white man came. The white man has been building forts there in five different centuries already. And he is still building forts there today.


Jacques Cartier was the first of the whites in fort-building, as he was first in everything else. His first fort was a mere stockade beside the St. Charles, where he and his men spent the miserable winter of 1535-6. Overlooking this stockade was the Indian town of Stadacona, on the Quebec cliffs of the valley of the St. Charles. Cartier took possession for the Crown of France, sailed home with Donnacona, the Indian Chief, and left a cross standing, to mark the French claims, with the inscription—



Five years later Jacques Cartier built another fort, this time at Cap Rouge, nine miles above Quebec. The next year Roberval wintered here, as miserably as Cartier had beside the St. Charles.


Two generations passed before the French again took possession and began another fort. In 1608 Champlain built his famous Abitation de Quebecq on the narrow piece of flat ground under the present Terrace. This tiny fort could hardly hold a hundred men, women and children, even as a tenement house. And it probably never had a fit-for-duty garrison of more than twenty men. But twenty men with muskets and a few small cannon could hold out well against mere bows and arrows. For the Abitation de Quebecq had some pretensions to scientific construction. Champlain was a naval officer and knew what he was about. The guns were well placed at the salients, and, as a gallery ran round the upper story, two tiers Of fire could be brought to bear.


In 1620 Champlain began his Fort St. Louis in the Upper Town, on the site of the present Terrace, and overlooking his old Abitation. For six years he persisted in making the little Colony work at this fort in order to assure its safety. Like many a leader of far vaster numbers he found plenty of Colonists ready to be content with much less than real safety. In his own account he says “J’établis cette demeure en une situation trés bonne, sur une montagne qui commandait le travers du fleuve Saint-Laurent et qui est un des lieux les plus étroits de la rivière ; et tous nos associe’s n’avaient pu gouter la nécessité d’une place forte pour la conservation du pays et de leur bien.” After discussing a possible attack from hostile whites as well, he adds significantly, “Il n’est pas toujours a propos de suivre les passions des personnes qui ne veulent régner que pour un temps: il faut porter sa considération plus avant.” How very like these “personnes ” are to some disarmamentarians of a much later day.

In 1621 there was a little hard feeling between the old Company of Rouen and the new Company of Montmorency. Champlain then put an officer and some men into the fort as a garrison. Thus M. du Mai can be justly credited with the honour of being the first Fortress Commandant of Quebec —though he was his own adjutant as well and probably never had a permanent officer’s party in barracks, all together I In 1624 a hurricane “en-leva la couverture du bastiment du Fort Saint-Louis plus de trente pas par dessus le rempart, parce qu’elle était trop haulte élevée.” The same year Champlain began to replace his old Abitation by a sort of ” fortified place” occupying the whole of the point of land now traversed by Sous-le-fort Street.


On his return in 1626, after an absence of two years, Champlain was disgusted to find his forts exactly as he had left them, except that they were out of repair. He immediately knocked down the fort of 1620 and began a much larger and better one. This new fort was the Fore St. Louis which surrendered to the Kerkes in 1629, which was held by Charles I in pledge for the dowry of Henrietta Maria, which was restored to the Crown of France in 1632, and which was used by Champlain him-self from 1633 till his death there in 1635.


In 1636 Montmagny—(whose Latinized patronymic, Mons Magnus, translated by the Missionaries, made the Indians call him, and all succeeding French Governors, Ononthio)-rebuilt Fort St. Louis in stone. Before that it was only in ” fascines, terres, gazons et bois.”


In 1647 a fortified residence for the Governors was begun, very much in the same place, and named Château St. Louis. Under this name, and in the same place, stood the Governor’s residence, both in the old and new régimes, down to 1834. “The Castle of St. Louis” was used as the English equivalent. But the old name persisted locally. In 1694 this first Château was demolished. In 1784 a stone belonging to it, and bearing a Maltese Cross with the date 1647, was dug up and set into “the cheek of the gate now building” for “le château Haldimand. This stone is now (1911) over the footway main entrance to the Château Frontenac Hotel.

It must be understood that the Château stood within the Fort, and, though forming part of it, was yet a separate building. So that, up to the time of Frontenac, the fortifications of Quebec consisted of a fortified Governor’s residence inside of a stone fort, situated about where the Terrace and its immediate hinter-ground lie to-day, and also of a “strong place” in the Lower Town, beside the St. Lawrence, and occupying the ground on each side of the present Sous-le-fort Street.


In 1667 the great Colbert recommended the re-fortification of Quebec. But in vain. In 168 Frontenac wrote home to say that the Château was in a deplorable state and that the walls round it were literally tumbling down. In 1690 the Quebecers of the day became so alarmed that they proposed building walls on their own account. The authorities in France at once seized the opportunity of overworking the willing horse, with the usual disastrous results. There was no ” frowning citadel ” and only the worst of walls when Phips came thundering at the gates.

It was only in 1692 that Frontenac’s great scheme was put in execution by the dilatory Government at home. Frontenac’s walls were the first that ever encircled the Upper Town. They crowned the water front for nearly three-quarters of a mile. They started from the present Frontenac Hotel, along almost the whole length of which they ran. Then they crossed the top of Mountain Hill and followed the present Ramparts to Palace Hill, where they stopped in the westward direction. On the landward side, starting again from the Hotel, they ran westward between Mount Carmel and St, Louis Streets, crossed Haldimand Hill, and then curved into St. Louis Street on reaching the corner of Ste. Ursule Street. Thence, running north-westward, or down, inside the line of Ste.

Ursule Street, and trending slightly in a northerly direction, they ran nearly through the intersections of Ste. Anne and Ste. Angèle Streets, and thence down to the lower end of St. Stanislas Street, whence they curved towards Palace Hill, where they joined the circuit again. The total circuit was about a mile and a half. The area enclosed was about half as much as is enclosed by the present walls, exclusive of the Citadel. The landward faces were weak but the seaward ones were fairly strong against the armaments of the time.

Frontenac was a born soldier and leader of men, brave to a fault, yet of consummate skill in action and the necessary preparation for it. He threw himself heartily into the great work. But he was absolutely incorruptible-and the contractors were not. From this time on there is one long tale of growing corruption, which eventually culminated under Bigot and hurried New France to her ruin. The great commanders, Frontenac and Montcalm, and indeed all the leading soldiers and military engineers from France, stand out in honourable contrast to the whole vile brood of jobmasters in the Civil Government. The deviosities of Public Works in Canada can claim a quite respectable antiquity—not quite, perhaps, “from the earliest times,” but certainly down ” to the present day.”


By 1703, when Frontenac’s scheme had been finally carried out in a perverted and dishonest way, new walls were beginning to be required. But it was not till 172o that another scheme was put in operation under the malign influence of bad engineers and worse Intendants. The works were done badly and bit by bit. They never provided for any real “citadel,” but only for a citadel redoubt. And, as already stated elsewhere in this book, they never extended to the up-river face of Cape Diamond. The cliff faces followed the lines of Frontenac’s scheme ; naturally so, as there was no other line to follow. The land faces were extended beyond Frontenac’s line, and eventually reached, in many places, the extent of the walls that are standing to-day. But not one French stone remains in place. The work was too badly done for that, even if there had never been any wars at all.


Patchwork went on till 1746, when both the French Government and the people of Quebec got tired of expensive works that were of no earthly use, except to the pockets of the contractors, engineers and administrative middlemen. An order came out to discontinue everything. Then the Canadian Government, with its middlemen, contractors and engineers, returned to the charge and contrived to get several estimates passed, which were moderate in amount, but exorbitant with respect to the work which resulted from them. Franquet, a good French army engineer, came out and saw at once that the Canadian engineers were almost as great fools at their work as they were knaves in charging for it. Later on, after the war which ended with the conquest of Canada had been raging for some time, Pontleroy, another excellent French army engineer, came out. But the works of the Canadian engineers, bad as they were, had taken shape too definitely, even in Franquet’s time. And all that he and Pontleroy could do was to put the best finish possible on bad works made with bad material by bad and corrupt engineers, who were on the side of Vaudreuil, the spiteful owl of a Governor, and Bigot, the knavish fox of an Intendant, and who consequently were against Montcalm, the ablest hero that ever drew sword for France across the sea. On the very eve of 1759 Montcalm wrote home in despair :-” Les fortifications sont si ridicules et mauvaises qu’elles.” seroient prises aussitôt qu’assiégées.


Murray had no more faith in the French walls than Montcalm had. But the British Home Authorities were almost as dilatory as their rivals were before them. So from 1759 to 1782 Quebec had to stand a French and an American siege with temporary British works thrown up well outside of the old French ones. Lévis in 176o and Montgomery in 1775 both thought a siege would be an easy affair. And so it would have been, had they not been far more stoutly opposed by flesh and blood than by the rotten walls.


After four years’ work a British scheme of re-fortification was finished in 1783. But it was by no means complete. The citadel was only a makeshift, and some parts elsewhere could not be thoroughly done for lack of funds. This was the time at which the so-called “old French works” on the Cove Fields appeared.. Their remains are easy to make out to day, following the contours of the up-river face of Cape Diamond. They entirely disappear from the great permanent plan of 1823.

13TH FORTIFICATION. 1790-1803.

After a complete survey in 1790 some more patchwork was done, but nothing of much con-sequence.


During this period the Martello Towers were built. Nos. 1 and 3 were not finished till 1810, No. 2 till 1818 and No. 4 till 1823.


But meanwhile the Imperial Government were preparing for the immense works which still stand today, which were approved by the Duke of Wellington, and which cost over seven millions sterling, or $35,000,000.00. And it should be re-membered that this sum represents only a small fraction of the more than a hundred millions sterling which were spent by the Imperial Government at different times to keep Canada both British and Canadian. Not a shot has ever been fired against the present walls, and they are now quite obsolete. But on at least two occasions they played a principal part as a deterrent in preventing any idea of attacking them from being converted into deeds.

All that is best in Quebec, in Canada, and in-deed in the whole Empire, takes pride in these splendid monuments of watch and war. They have the priceless advantage of making Quebec absolutely unique among the cities of America, where sameness and tameness are only too common. And yet there are people mean-spirited enough to want to throw them down ! It may be that if Quebec were to lose all claim to be the one walled city of this New World she would still remain a queen among her sisters. For she was throned here in beauty by Nature, ages long ago. But it was Man who came and crowned her. So it would be a double desecration to discrown her now. Her walls are more than meets the eye. They saw no mighty wars themselves but they serve to recall great deeds and the great men who did them. And their own mute appeal is more eloquent of living honour than all the vain words that could record them after they had gone for ever.


With the progress of military science it was found necessary to begin building much further away from the central point to be defended. Three large forts were therefore built on the South Shore, facing south and east. They have a magnificent natural glacis for many miles ; and they were good forts in their day. They were the last legacy of the Imperial Government. When they were finished and paid for Canada undertook her own defence, got them for nothing, and has left them unarmed ever since.


Forty years later military science has changed still more. Now, instead of rising above the ground, the engineer tries to burrow into it. There are excellent new works down at Beaumont, on the South Shore, eight miles below Quebec, and they would, if properly manned and armed, command the South Channel of Orleans in a way which would make it exceedingly hard to pass, even if the enemy was in great force, well handled, and trying to run through at night.