The streets and alleys of Place-Royale have a special kind of magic, it is an area of Quebec City where you can feel as though you are travelling through a time vortex (without the aid of the TARDIS of course). Cobblestone streets and 18th-century fieldstone buildings with different coloured pitched roofs, quaint shops and one of the oldest churches in North America, Notre-Dame-des-victories.
It is in this area of the city, Place-Royale, where the first settlement of New France (Nouvelle France) was established by Samuel de Champlain in 1608, and where the church now stands, was the Champlain’s habitation and trading post.
Imagining life in New France in the 17th & 18th-centuries is challenging. What did the colonists wear and how did they make a life for themselves? What did they eat? These are all things we can learn by visiting museums, taking walking tours and reading books.
Or by attending Les Fêtes de la Nouvelle France, an annual historic festival which takes place every August.
Making its début in 1997, Les Fêtes de la Nouvelle France (New France Festival) gives locals and visitors an opportunity to experience life in 17th & 18th-century Québec (then New France). The streets are lined with wooden stalls where local artisans and producers sell their wares and public spaces are turned into interactive historical activities. Visit a cooper (an Old English word) and watch wooden barrels being made. Wander over to Place des Canotiers to peak at a mock encampment and watch the firing of muskets. Relax on a bench under a large tree and admire the vendors and locals who walk around in costume. Listen to live music or enjoy a cold glass of beer or wine on a patio.
In our opinion, the costumes are the best part of the festival.
One of the most popular festivals in Quebec City, the crowds at Les Fêtes de la Nouvelle France can be quite large at times, especially in the afternoon and early evening. Be prepared to walk busy streets, and if possible, remember to bring water as well (especially on a hot day).
Begin in the square of Place Royale before walking down rue Notre-Dame to rue Sous-le-Fort. At the end of rue Sous-le-Fort, you’ll find Batterie Royale, where you can visit a blacksmith and a broom maker. Walk past the stalls on rue Saint-Pierre (there of plenty of things here to catch your eye) towards Place de Paris. This is where you’ll find a stage for live music, as well as several food vendors.
If you feel like splurging, wander inside to BBQ D’Antan where they serve large BBQ turkey legs ($13.50 CAD), grilled corn ($3.50 CAD) and poutine served in a sweet potato ($12 CAD). Visit a sausage maker or a fromagerie stall.
Parc de l’UNESCO should be on everyone’s list as this is where you’ll learn more about the Huron-Wendat people, an aboriginal people who have (and continue to) play an important role in Quebec.
It is a crowded and intense festival, but one that will leave you with a deeper understanding of the history of Quebec, its people and culture. It is a chance to ask questions and experience a little of what the colony of New France was like all those years ago when the Chateau Frontenac didn’t exist and the cannons were not used for decoration.