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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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