It’s no secret that I loved France. When I started looking through pictures of Montreal and Quebec, I realized that it’s entirely possible to step into a little piece of French culture and history here in America. I’m more than excited for my next opportunity to cross the Atlantic but my budget is very tight since I left my 9-to-5. I was looking for somewhere that was different from the culture I’ve grown up with while also being affordable. That’s not to say there aren’t amazingly well-priced flights to Europe constantly because there almost always are options available. I took into account the time of year I was going and booked my flights.
I always knew that a portion of Canada still maintained its historically French roots, but never imagined it was so strong, especially in the old portions of Montreal and Quebec City. I started researching things that I wanted to see and do in both cities and almost everything fell within the old city limits and most were based on food, architecture, and museums. I was very surprised at just how much of the colonial history remained and was very excited to experience the mixture of European and North American cultures that was so vividly alive in the province.
I felt right at home when it came to conversing with the locals. Though the French I had learned was definitely not the same as the Quebecois dialect spoken in Canada, I had no problems adapting. Until I started planning this trip, I had no idea that the entire region had gone through what was named the “Quiet Revolution” in the 1960s. French became the primary spoken language in education, business, and government in Quebec. Luckily for English speakers, a high percentage of the locals are bilingual.
The food is another area where European roots hold strong in North America. I talked about traditional Quebecois meals last week as there are a handful of dishes that originate in the region. However, much of the food has heritage stemming from France and Ireland. I enjoyed the fact that there seemed to be so many French restaurants located in both Montreal and Quebec City. I even got to try a spin on my favorite French dish, magret de canard.
Both of the cities we visited were full of museums that were extremely educational. Pointe-à-Callière was by far my favorite museum we had the chance to see. The foundations of buildings dating back to the settling of Montreal are visible in the different wings. Between this and the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City, I learned so much about Canadian history that we were never taught in school. Much of what I knew only consisted of the fact that Canada was settled by the French, then taken by the English and that was about the extent of my knowledge. The Quebecois are extremely in touch with their history and make it very easy for outsiders to learn about it and love it too.
The thing that really made the province feel like we had stepped into Europe though, was the architecture. Despite the fact that Montreal is a sprawling metropolis and actually felt surprisingly like New York City, many of the buildings still held a distinctly European style. As soon as we had entered the old city limits, I felt like I had stepped back into some of the European villages I’ve visited. So many of the buildings that still stand date from centuries back and rather than having been knocked down, they were repurposed and renovated. Parts of Vieux Montréal, though they looked a bit different in style, felt like I was back in Bordeaux, especially the buildings lining the old port.
Old Quebec is the only remaining walled city in America north of Mexico, which made it really neat for me. It reminded me a lot of Avignon. To top it off, right in the heart of the old city is a massive hotel that was built to resemble a French château, complete with a main wing that looked like a renovated medieval keep. Adjacent to the walls lies a citadel turned museum which looks to be straight out of Europe. The streets of Old Quebec are narrow, cobbled, and in some places, pedestrianized. Almost anywhere you go in both the upper and lower cities, the colonial era ramparts are visible.
I absolutely loved visiting this province. I think for anyone who may be a little weary or anxious about traveling far from home, Quebec and Montreal give a good feel for what visiting Europe may be like. Though I don’t suggest just stopping with Canada, these cities are a really great way to step out of our American bubble and experience some of the histories of the New World in a way we don’t see much otherwise.