Morning fog clears like the powdery discharge of an antiquated musket, bringing the facade of Quebec City’s illustrious Chateau Frontenac into view. A long standing hobnob hub for high society, the hotel has seen the comings and goings of generation upon generation of political power players, moneyed movers and chic shakers all the while offering a lively layover in the lap of Canadian luxury. The Frontenac, a veritable icon of the city’s Old Town, represents a bygone era of Canadian society when the country was young and history was being written over railway tracks. Back in 1893 the stately structure was brand new, the toast of the town, and significantly more affordable by today’s standards (as any christened Evolve Tour Leader can attest, upon revealing the original cost of a night’s stay to many a middle-schooler on their year end trip, said student’s eyes widen to the size of the antique breakfast saucers on which once might have sat a batch of modelesque sausages lounging indulgently in a pool of Canada’s finest maple syrup.) Years later the Frontenac still stands like a stalwart sentinel keeping watch over majesty and grandeur in the Great White North.
To this newly minted Evolver, the enduring appeal of the hotel lies in the zeitgeist it represents, not just as a monument to luxury tourism, but as a centerpiece amid a vast spread of the finer things in life, for which Quebec City is famous. As a born and raised suburbanite turned aspiring jet setter, with several stints in some of Europe’s most famous cities to my credit, I appreciate an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, wherein the character of a place is as rich as that of any travel companion. Hearkening back to my own experience as a youngster in this fine land, Quebec City was my first taste – quite literally in syrup drenched beaver tails among other gustatory delights that would turn me into a culinary connoisseur for years to come – of the exotic that hinted at a cultural flair I had yet to fully appreciate. In drawn breaths and exclamations of awe from the current set of first-time visitors to Canada’s most European city remind me of how important it is to savour the sweet life from time to time.
The sweet life of Quebec City is intrinsically tied to its historical roots. When I hear Quebec’s motto, je me souviens, it speaks volumes to me of a cultural continuity that not only maintains a strong sense of provincial pride, but also reminds the lucky ones who inhabit this city to daily relive its heritage and to become part of its story. Whether with a glass of wine and a slice of tourtiere on a sun-bathed patio along the Grande Allee during an afternoon reprieve, a peek into a corner shop at the bottom of the steps to the Lower Town peddling confections and artisan handicrafts, or a promenade along the boardwalk overlooking the sagely St. Lawrence, life rolls along with a little extra something here. It is an echo of the ages that have been built into the city’s very foundations, relics of history and monuments to the spirit of the people who made Quebec what it is.
The sweet life is more than sensory indulgence; it is the tie that binds a people to their land and to the events that made it great. It is the countless generations of Quebecois who have appreciated the land and the life that bred them and pondered the link between what was and what will be. You can taste it in the food and drink, contemplate it in the cobbled streets and old neighbourhoods, hear it in the street music and feel it in the air. It is the je ne sais quoi that ignites modern day romantics with the fire of the sublime, the siren song that lures the untamed heart to write their own lyrical epic, and the call to become a true cosmopolitan in this rich and diverse world of ours.
Through the tides of time, ever increasing globalization and the constantly quickening pace of the North American lifestyle, a stay in Quebec City is a reminder to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, to appreciate the hardiness of the human spirit that forged a legacy and to pay attention to the connecting force of culture. These lessons are well suited to the younger generations among us, whose lives are increasingly wired in, yet who rarely have a chance to step back and experience a pure embodied connection to the wisdom of the past.
As the sun sets over the grand Chateau and the St. Lawrence laps lazily in the background, I embrace a moment of serenity. I think back to the first time I stood in this place and I imagine when I will next return. Though I have changed, I carry with me the same fascination with cultural heritage that spurred me to the life of exploration and appreciation that I have cultivated ever since. Some may say they can’t pinpoint the events that shaped them into who they are or the precise experiences that led to a love of travel and cultural exploration, but me, je me souviens.