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Romantic Canada
Chapter X Quebec

IT is in Quebec, the Old World city so curiously transplanted from sixteenth century France, and set down here on its commanding bluff, above the Saint Lawrence, that one takes the road of romantic history. Driving through the steep, narrow streets, our two-wheeled Caleche, itself the voiture of other centuries, seems a talisman, unlocking the gray, steep-roofed, admirably-preserved houses, churches, monasteries, convents, colleges, public buildings, tiny shops, all of them of unmistakably French aspect, which flank our goings up or down the steep ascents, which are the Quebec streets.

Romance clings to the old in architecture. Nowhere does she more frankly look out upon the Canadian world roundabout, than from the casement windows of Old Quebec.

But, if she only leaned from the windows, she must be a creature to worship afar off. But Romance believes in "close-ups". In Quebec she draws near, takes you by the hand, and leads you over the threshold of La Basilique—the French Cathedral.

Within, she continues to act as guide, while, paradoxically enough, she is the essence of the treasures, paintings, altars, crypt, etc., to which she points.

She steps with you into the almost holy quiet of L'Hotel Dieu, the hospital founded by Madame La Duchesse, the niece of the great Cardinal Richelieu; herself one of the most helpful and romantic figures that ever stepped into Nouvelle France. It is to her, that French-Canada owes L'Hotel Dieu, one of the finest hospitals in present-day Canada, or, for that matter, in America.

The soft-stepping Sisters, passing from one bedside to another in their picturesque robes, gently administering to the suffering of twentieth century Quebec, are the descendants in an unbroken line of the "Hopitalieres" who came here with La Duchesse in 1639.

Between the Basilica and the Hospital an old gateway opens into the quadrangle of the Quebec Seminary, founded by Monsignor Laval, the great figure of the Church in pioneer Quebec. Here, in the yard below the long, gray building with its rows of open, French windows and its thick walls, the youth of present- day French-Canada, in uniforms of blue-tailored, skirted coats, with emerald-green sashes—rush hither and thither in their games, directed by willowy figures of teacher-priests in round hats and clinging soutanes. Romance seems to linger long here, and to treasure greatly the atmosphere of Laval University adjoining. Here is youth and its enthusiasms, a miracle-play of welling human interest giving life to these old walls and halls and never suffering them to grow old in spirit despite their years.

Then the caleche sets us down at the door of the Ursulines, and there one asks to see the skull of General Montcalm. A sister brings it.

Montcalm! Wolfe! One cannot think of one without thinking of the other. And thinking of them both, from the perspective afforded by a century and a half, what do you see but the hand of Destiny gradually eliminating the players in the game for the possession of a country far greater than either side had any idea of, until only these two were left in the limelight, one wearing the Fleur des Lys, the other the Rose of England; each a true knight; each defending to the death, "the cause" he had espoused; each, poetic and romantic figures in whom a United Canada now rejoices.

But the sister is drawn out to talk of the city, of its many points of interest, and of its general atmosphere of romance; agrees with you that it is a wonderful treasure-house of souvenir and story. And then you are moved to compliment her on her fluency in English. And she laughs and says "she ought to speak it easily seeing she was born in Providence, Rhode Island."

Then, with an unmistakable flash of Yankee humour, she inquires if we do not think it strange that a "Yankee" should be guardian of the skull of Montcalm in Quebec? And we counter back: "Not so strange, as—romantic, Sister!"

In strolling along that renowned promenade, the Dufferin Terrace, which affords a glimpse of the Saint Lawrence far below in such a panorama of natural beauty as beginning at one's feet stretches away mile after mile till lost in the soft mist of distance, one looks down upon the Lower Town, whose narrow, old streets, and market-squares call to one to explore them.

And so some morning we find ourselves in Lower Champlain Street—one of the queerest old streets in the world. It leaves the markets and docks behind and doubles around the base of Cape Diamond between the river and the cliff, until all the city is lost to view and its sounds as completely obliterated as if you were miles away from any mart.

It was down here, in houses looking like rookeries under the great cliff, and facing the watered-ribbon of a street, that in the great day of Quebec's wooden shipbuilding, lived with their families the shipwrights, Hibernians and others, who came out from the Old Country to engage in the shipbuilding trade.

But the life of this street was paralyzed when the industry declined; and now many of the old, home-roofs are caving in and the old sides bulging, and only here and there an octogenarian stands in her doorway knitting in hand. Such an old orphan of a dead-and- gone industry is Mary Ann Grogan. You stop to speak with her. Her knitting needles click faster on the sock in her old hand, a-tremble with excitement that anyone should care to "hear about old times".

At first her story is an epic of wooden hulls. Through her spectacles, as it were, you look out there to the edge of the River, the River where now rides the visiting fleet of the North American squadron, and you see the low-lying keel, the up-standing ribs, and men everywhere. And the picture calls up other craft a-building at Levis, and on the banks of the Saint Charles. And so great is the power of suggestion, that you even include in the vision the three long ships of Jacques Cartier putting in that "first winter". "Surely, this is a wonderful old face," you think.

From the ships, she goes on to the street itself, the picturesque little church, the Sisters' little school, where the youngsters of the remaining families struggle with the three R's. But her story becomes more dramatic, when she tells of the great landslide of the cliff itself, the historic landslide that carried such loss of life and destruction of property in its wake. One might read about it forever and yet not visualize it as one does when Mary Ann tells you that "the noise of it", still lives in her. old ears; "that she was born here and lived here, but never before nor since, has she heard or seen the likes of that morning."

The habitants of rural Quebec cling as tenaciously to the life and atmosphere transplanted here from rural France more than three centuries ago, as the inhabitants of Quebec city cling to the atmosphere of ancestral French cities.

Here are the wayside ovens, the wayside crosses and shrines, the old grist-mills, with water-wheel and upper-and-nether mill-stones. Here are towers and windmills descended from Seigneurie times. Here are century-old wool-carding mills with the ancient sign "Moulin a carde" over the doorway.

Here are the little maisons with whitewashed sides and steep curving roofs whose birth-certificates date back to the days of the first settlers. Hundreds of years old are these little habitant houses, but because of the tender care they have received, they are, to-day, as clean and fresh, within and without, as though built but yesterday. Canada is rich in having in her possession such a sweet type of architecture as these dear little farm-houses of the Province of Quebec. She is rich, too, in the quaint French villages clinging to the straggling, long highway, which as street culminates in I'eglise, or the Parish church.

Quebec is especially rich in its atmospheric landscape, a landscape so dear to the habitant heart that outstanding features have become personalities. Thus, Montmorenci Falls is called "La Vache"—the Cow. A landscape too, where peaceful church-spire is seldom out of sight of church-spire. And all are within hail of some river—Saint Lawrence, Richelieu, Saint Francois, or the Saguenay.

In the matter of place-names Quebec is not behind Newfoundland, except that her taste runs to figures of the church rather than to figures of the sea. Every Saint in the calendar must, we think, have a village namesake in Quebec. On the north side of the Saint Lawrence, L'Ange Guardien, Saint Anne, Saint Joachim, Saint Gregoire, strike a balance with Saint Henri, Saint Fabien, Saint Hilaire on the south.

And if the villages be strung together aerially by church-spires, no less are they united by the quaint roads, whereon oxcart and dog-cart are as frequent as that of le cheval—roads flanked by the roof-curving, French farm-houses homing the crafts of carding, dyeing, spinning and weaving.

The spinning-wheel and the loom are not "has-beens" in the Quebec home, bygones relegated to the attic—but intimate pieces of furniture actively a part of everyday life. And so when you step over one of these thresholds, it is to find madame spinning—her clever fingers feeding so fast from the distaff that the wheel flies around in a blur of motion; or, to find her in the room under the eaves sitting at her loom, in her hand the flying-shuttle, about her, everywhere, on chairs and boxes and overflowing to the floor, balls of yarn of all sizes and colours.

And when Madame is not weaving her "converts" or "tapis", she is toying with wool in some one of its preparatory stages from the sheep's back to the finished homespun. Or she may even be caring for the home sheep, bringing up a lamb by hand or something of that sort. The habitant women are never at a loss for work.

And when Madame is not thus engaged one may happen upon her in the shade of some dooryard-tree, sitting before a homemade quilting-frame, busily quilting her hand-pieced coverlets of artistic, original designs. On these occasions she is accompanied by her little daughter of six or seven years, daintily tracing the thread-line with her little fingers in imitation of "Mama".

In these habitant homes, Grandmere's busy fingers take much of the knitting for the grand famille in hand. Grandmere it is, too, who moulds the high-coloured peaches, grapes, apples, plums, "hands", and what-not figures, from the wax that is the by- product of the honey-making, home-bees.

Whenever one turns in to these country yards, the geese, that are the watch-dogs of the habitant farm-yards, herald your approach; but the work of the day is not stopped, although M'sieu, Madame, the children, one and all welcome the visitor, taking it for granted that the life and industries connected with the running of these self-supporting farms should prove entertaining to anyone.

Thrift is the keynote everywhere, but the habitant apparently never hurries. Life has not changed much in the centuries, except that with the growth of the times the habitant farms have increased in wealth, represented in part by a larger stock. Cows, porkers and sheep are everywhere. But behind the split-rail fences are the same little pocket-handkerchief patches of growing tabac in cup-like shields of white birch bark as M'sieu's father and grandfather planted.

The passage of Time makes no radical changes. M'sieu is as handy a craftsman as ever. Nor is there any appreciable line of demarcation as to who shall do this or that, but all members of the family work helpfully together. Madame goes into the fields with the children and helps her husband to get in the hay. And, in his spare moments, M'sieu picks over and lightens up the wool a-drying on the little balcony.

On Sundays the entire family gets into the roomy carry-all and drives to Mass at the church. The weather must be bad indeed, which causes the pious habitant to fail in his attendance at La Messe.

In keeping with his deep regard for the spiritual, one is not surprised in Quebec, in more or less every household, to find, in a corner of the living-room, on a neat, little handmade shelf, a large or smaller figure of Christ, Mary, or Bonne Sainte Anne, with a tiny lamp burning before it. The same figures give distinction to the little grocery-shops and boulangeries of the towns and villages, each figure lighted by its little candle or incandescent bulb, smiling down, as in sweet benediction, upon merchant and customer.

The demand for holy figures of this type creates a rare personality of the Quebec gallery of genre in the "Sculpteur".

Strolling along some morning, one may chance to come upon the "sculpteur" at work, at the window of his little shop in the outskirts of some St. Lawrence town, the white figure of the Saviour with extended arms in his hand, and on the table row after row of smaller figures, in various stages of completion.

The use of the religious figure is not confined to the indoors of Quebec, but over the barn-doors of the farms throughout the Province, the carved figure of some guarding Saint sheds atmosphere upon the churn, the wooden shoulder-yoke for bringing water or pails of maple-sap in its season, or on milk-pails glistening in the sun, on the fence-posts.

In travelling in Quebec, one cannot help but be struck by the harmony between artistry and toil. This, doubtless is a French trait, curiously and happily preserved through centuries of pioneer life. Seldom indeed, if ever, in Quebec, is the most trifling thing wrought that is not made in some simple way to have its own art character. If Madame knits a sock she combines some little thread of colour to give it character. The rag mat, which the little daughter tresses in a long braid around the back of a chair, though it may be put to hardest wear eventually, is made a symphony in colour. It is the same when M'sieu chooses to paint the little maison, he has a way of painting the ends of the house one colour and the sides another, yet effecting by a combination of two harmonious shades a whole that is—vhnrmant.

In passing out of Quebec City the romantic road of history is not left behind. Few villages of rural Quebec but have been the stage of some outstanding historic event or personage. Beauport knew Montcalm. Montmorenci found the Duke of Kent so enthusiastic over "la vache" that he has a villa built almost immediately on its banks. Cape Rouge knew Carrier and Roberval. Tadousac knew the Basques and Bretons who came to fish and to barter with the Indians for furs, received some of the earliest missionaries, and to-day boasts a tiny chapel founded by them in the early years of the seventeenth century, one of the earliest Mission chapels in Canada, and dedicated to Sainte Anne. To this little church Anne of Austria gave a bambino, still among the church's treasures.

Scattered here and there over the northern end of the Province one happens on some old Hudson's Bay Company trading post. A house of more pretentious dimensions with steeper roof than its neighbours, usually remains as mute evidence that the great Company was once here. Such a house stands at Baie St. Paul, behind a sentinel-like line of Lombardy poplars and carrying over a door the date 1718.

Quebec is a piece of fine tapestry, in which multitudinous threads combine to form the warp and woof of the perfect whole, a whole, wonderfully woven under the hand of Romance.

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