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     IN THE STREETS OF OLD QUEBEC white & black logo
STORY BY ROBBIE McBRIDE PHOTOGRAPHY BY KAREN AND ALANNA McBRIDE
Bill Stain's TRACKS AND TRAILS as seen and heard in American Public House Review
As
you peruse this article by Robbie McBride, enjoy a poignant piece of music by New England native and master
singer-songwriter, BILL STAINS as he performs IN THE STREETS OF OLD QUEBEC from his recording:
TRACKS AND TRAILS

Audio files are offered courtesy of the artist with the understanding that they may not be copied, republished, or redistributed in any format without the  
      express permission of the performer and/or their recording label.  Large files may take a few moments to load
A street in Old Quebec as seen in American Public House Review
A STREET IN OLD QUEBEC CITY



Statue of Samuel De Champlain in Quebec City as seen in American Public House Review CHAMPLAIN MONUMENT
Like all great cities, Quebec has a history that encompasses all the elements of epic drama: iconic characters, battles for power, the majestic, and the mundane. Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain and this year celebrating its 400th anniversary, it is North America’s oldest fortified city. The Vieux Quebec quarter of the Haute-Ville, the upper village with its winding cobblestone streets and 17th century stone houses, sits high above the St. Lawrence River on the cliffs of Cap Diamant, almost regal in its position, still proud of the role it once played as guardian to the riches of the New World and the gateway for its profits.

It was this geography that made Quebec City an almost impregnable trophy over which to wage bitter and relentless warfare. A part of New France since the reign of Louis XIV, it was laid siege by British troops during the Seven Year’s War, culminating in a battle fought on the plateau just outside the walled fortress known as the Citadelle. During the fight, both sides lost their leaders to mortal wounds: the defender, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, the Marquis de Saint-Veran, and the British commander, General James Wolfe, neither of whom witnessed the French surrender.

Although lasting but twenty minutes, the outcome of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was monumental: within four years, all of France’s possessions in eastern North America, with the exception of Louisiana and the tiny islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off the south coast of Newfoundland, came under British control. The actions of the combatants from both sides, likely the consequence of error and chance as much as bravery, have been elevated to the heroic, and are commemorated in a 50-foot stone obelisk built in 1828 that overlooks the St Lawrence River from the Parc des Gouveneurs, bearing the name Montcalm on one side and Wolfe on the other, and engraved with the words “Courage gave them a common death, History a common fame, Posterity a common monument.”



Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec as seen in American Public House Review

Quebec City street with Le Chateau Frontenac in background as seen in American Public House Review
LE CHATEAU FRONTENAC OVERLOOKING THE ST LAWRENCE

LE FRONTENAC RISES ABOVE

 

Yet it was a conflict that almost never happened; more than a decade earlier, as a young aide-de-camp at Culloden, the battle in Scotland that marked the final defeat of the nearly triumphant troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Wolfe refused a direct order from the Duke of Cumberland, the King’s son, to shoot a wounded Highland major, offering instead to resign his commission rather than kill a unarmed man, risking in the act his own death for disobedience.

The dominion of British in North America was itself threatened during the American War of Independence. Under the command of Colonel Benedict Arnold, some 1,100 American troops marched to Quebec through the wilderness of Maine in one of the most astounding military expeditions of all time. Fighting starvation, poling inadequate bateaux against the current of the Kennebec River through the late autumn, with many of the troops succumbing to smallpox and fatigue, about 600 soldiers arrived in November at the shore opposite the fortified city. After futile attempts to encourage surrender, and reinforced by additional colonial regiments from Montreal under command of General Richard Montgomery, the American troops crossed the St. Lawrence on the eve of the new year of 1776, their assault under cover of a severe blizzard.

But it was all in vain, the months of hardship and cold endured by the men, with little but rags to cover themselves against the Canadian winter: with Arnold wounded, and Montgomery killed by grapeshot set off in futility by a retreating British sailor just as the American general and his men breached the barricades, the colonial army withdrew, fighting a rearguard action through the spring as they retreated toward Montreal, Lake Champlain, and the sanctuary of northern New York.

And though Quebec returned to its peace in the years following America’s independence, it was not immune to an appalling tragedy.



A Quebec City street with the Fanicula cable railway in the background as seen in American Public House Review
red roofed shop in Quebec City as seen in American public House Review
THE FUNICULAR RAILWAY
ASCENDS IN THE BACK GROUND

A BIT OF HISTORY AMONG THE EVOLUTION PROVIDES
A POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHIC SUBJECT




Grosse Isle is a small island in the middle of the majestic St. Lawrence River, some 30 miles east of Quebec. It is one of the islands of the 21-island Isle-aux-Grues archipelago, with shrub-lined bays ringing its coast, the grass a brilliant emerald in the northern spring, its fields sprinkled with a spectrum of colors from the wildflowers that grow abundant, a haven, a fairy scene that masks its legacy as a quarantine station to protect British North America from the cholera and typhusbrought by European.

In the year 1847, at the height of An Gorta Mor, the Great Famine of Ireland, during which over a million of its poor died of starvation and disease, ships carrying refugees from that blighted land spread out over the Atlantic. News of the famine in Ireland, and the diaspora that would ultimately send over a million Irish across the globe, had reached Quebec, and a hospital was set up on the island, equipped to service 200 patients. Yet the most vigorous response by the citizens of Quebec to the impending disaster and the plight of the people who would soon arrive, a response born of their contempt for the Irish and their prejudice against them, was utter disregard.

The first ship, the Syria, arrived in May, just after ice-out, carrying over 100 passengers ill with the fever, and the hospital and its single doctor were soon overwhelmed. Over that summer, hundreds of ships lay at anchor in the St. Lawrence River, in a line extending some 12 miles northward from Quebec City, awaiting permission to disembark its cargo of human suffering on the shores of Grosse Isle: those who had survived a sixty day crossing of a turbulent Atlantic, those who had died en route, and those thousands who in a few short weeks after setting foot on this redemptive shore, would die, alone and un-consoled, in the fever sheds built to quarantine them, on the ground outside of them, or in the holds of the ships that had brought them, of the same typhus that had killed their relatives, their friends, their ship mates.

In a wooded valley on the island, there is a monument that commemorates those who died. Its inscription bears subdued testament to their memory:



In this secluded spot lie the mortal remains
of 5,294 persons who, flying from pestilence
and famine in Ireland in the year 1847
found in America but a grave



Of the more than 100,000 Irish emigrants whose destination was British North America, the records show that some 17,000 died during the voyage, and another 20,000 in Canada itself, in Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, and Toronto. Yet, the number of deaths was much higher than that, perhaps as much as twice-fold; many of the dead, in some cases entire families or neighborhoods, were interred in open pits, going nameless to their graves, their life’s end passing unrecorded and without ceremony.

Those who survived the ordeal of Grosse Isle made their way to America, such as one John Ford, who carved a farm out of the wilderness of Michigan, raising a family in the Great Lakes that included his grandson, Henry, the automaker. But many stayed, especially those children orphaned by the ravages of the fever and adopted into Quebecois families. Today, the Irish constitute the second largest ethnic group in the province of Quebec, after the French-Canadians themselves, and as many as 30% of the Quebecois have some Irish ancestry, most of whom are the descendants of the survivors of Grosse Isle.



St. Patricks Pub in Quebec City as seen in American Public House Review
ST PATRICK PUB IN QUEBEC CITY



Guinness sign on St Patrick's Pub in Quebec City as seen in American Public House Review
HOLY ICON ON THE WALL

On the Rue Couillard, a narrow side street just below the city hall in the old section of Quebec, a shamrock, the enduring symbol of the Irish, hangs high on the wall of a building that dates back to 1749 and was once used to store the ammunition for the town’s fortifications. Below the shamrock is the entrance to the Pub St Patrick, its presence standing as witness now to the city’s Irish heritage, a heritage that began in the shadow of the Grosse Isle tragedy.

But it is hardly a tragic place. At one time a photography studio, then a pharmacy, it opened in 1993 under the ownership of the Barre family as a tribute to their ancestors, and greets the visitor now with the same spirit of hope and resiliency that brought the Irish to these shores over a hundred and fifty years ago.

There are six rooms in the pub. The main room sits under a high ceiling, brightened in the day by the skylight above it. Five other rooms branch cave-like into the interior of the pub, with thick stone walls and ceilings that form an arch overhead. Fireplaces stand ready for the boreal winter, and scenes of a more pastoral Ireland hang against the stone. A mural, celebrating the lives of the early settlers, the voyageurs and traders, fills a room with the pleasures of the feast. And of course, there is much testimony to the undeniable benefits of stout to general well-being.



cozy nook at St Patrick's Pub in Quebec City as seen in American Public House Review

Romantic Arch at St. Patrick's Pub in Quebec City as seen in American Public House Review
COZY NOOK

ARCH SHAPED DINING ROOM



But it is the bar in which the visitor finds the most welcome. Chairs and tables huddle together, inviting the exchange of conversation and craic that whets one’s thirst. And it is a thirst that can be quenched with the brews of Canada such as La Fin du Monde, St. Ambroise Pale Ale, and Blanche de Chambly.



The bar at St Patrick's Pub in Quebec City as seen in American Public House Review
THE LIVELY BAR AT ST PATRICK PUB



But it would be best perhaps, in the shadow of the spirits of Grosse Isle, to raise up a glass of the same beers that have for centuries given solace to the souls of the Irish: Guinness, Smithwick, and Kilkenny.



Robbie McBride at Pub St Patrick in Quebec city as seen in American Public House Review
 THE AUTHOR'S SMILE SAYS IT ALL


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