Le Petit Champlain – Quebec City
By Jessica Lee
Evolve Tours travels to Quebec City all the time on student trips. When there, make sure to visit my favourite place in Quebec City and also the oldest commercial street in North America, is Le Petit Champlain. This brightly-coloured quaint, European-style cobblestone pedestrian street featuring knick-knacks and artisan crafts has a fond place in my heart because though it is the “best street in Canada” as named by vacay.ca, when you walk by it while exploring the city, it feels as if you’ve discovered this hidden little corner yourself.
Quebec City is characterized by upper and lower parts, and Le Petit Champlain is located in the lower area. Above the charming street in the higher parts of the city are the much-touted-about Plains of Abraham, Citadel, Chateau Frontenac, Notre Dame de Quebec Cathedral and the lookout towards the St. Lawrence River. These attractions are breath taking when considering the historical significance (and you should take the time to learn more about them) behind how Canada was established, but does not compare to the charm of Le Petit Champlain.
Quebec City is the capital of the province of Quebec, one of the earliest European settlements in North America and the second largest city, after Montreal. Due to being one of the oldest established cities, there is a lot of history in Quebec City including a seven-year war and a scattering of other battles over the course of establishing the city. The city is characterized by the fortified stone city walls, which are a UNESCO Heritage site and the name Quebec comes from the Algonquin word “Kébec”, which means “where the river narrows”, in reference to the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River in proximity to the city.
To get to Le Petit Champlain from the upper part of Quebec City, take the Breakneck Steps, which also happens to the oldest set of steps in Quebec City. They were renovated several times throughout the years and were given their name initially due to their steepness (which are not so steep now after the renovations). Another way into the Petit Champlain Quarter is through the Funicular, built in 1879 and only $2.50 a ride.
Le Petit Champlain is named after Samuel Champlain, a French explorer who founded Quebec in 1608. The cozy corridor was established in 1985 when fifty artists and merchants banded together to purchase real estate in the area to prevent American investors from buying the buildings. Since then, the quarter is known as one of the liveliest streets of Quebec City filled with cafes, restaurants and boutique artisan shops. To keep the local, cultural feel of the neighbourhood, the Petit Champlain board restricts large chain businesses from opening in the quarter. However, artistic enterprises such as local buskers or painters on the street are a normal sight in Le Petit Champlain. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon or evening watching local musicians entertain a crowd as many are incredibly talented. There is a large variation in musical styles and genres from gypsy jazz to traditional French folk music to even contemporary pop. Depending on your budget for entertainment, in the middle of the Le Petit Champlain, there is also a small 200-seat theatre that features both local and international musicians year round, you can take a look at show postings to figure out what you would like to see.
Though the entire quarter is charming, of all the fancy diners and upscale restaurants, my favourite is Le Lapin Sauté, a French Canadian diner that serves traditional Quebeçois meals of rabbit with different garnishes. The restaurant boasts a beautiful patio where you can watch musical performances in the enclave next door.
Speaking of traditional French Canadian cuisine, while in Quebec City, make sure you try poutine, tourtière (meat pie) and maple desserts such as Grand-Pères which is pastry cooked in maple syrup. While in the area, also grab a “Beavertail”, which is a Canadian-created donut-like pastry with various toppings such as Nutella or cinnamon sugar. Another experience to try is to go for a traditional sugar shack meal.
Le Petit Champlain encompasses all that is valued in Quebec culture such as history, arts and culture, as well as its rich traditional cuisine. The key to enjoying all of Quebec’s charms is to not rush your visit and to take your time in appreciating a sidewalk busker, an afternoon dessert break and the spectacular architecture that adorns the streets. If you ever happen to be in French Canada, reserve a little pocket of time for Le Petit Champlain; this little neighbourhood is well worth the visit.
Written by Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a photojournalist and world explorer born and raised in Toronto. She has swam in the Great Barrier Reef, travelled by camel through the Saharan Desert, climbed a mountain in Indonesia and photographed the Northern Lights in Iceland. When she is not capturing moments or sorting through them in a coffee shop, you can find her climbing on rock or sailing at sea. Follow her on her adventures atwww.jessicawritesatravelblog.com