A Dynamic and Diverse City
Many people visit Québec City for its history and beauty, but they soon discover that it is also a cultural hub where groundbreaking artistic trends are celebrated. Francophone artists, actors, singers and artisans are drawn to Québec City, a bastion of the French language on a predominantly English-speaking continent.
The founding of the Literary and Historical Society in 1824 and the Institut canadien de Québec in 1848 nurtured Québec City's burgeoning cultural and intellectual scene, where such luminaries as François-Xavier Garneau, Louis Fréchette and Octave Crémazie dazzled their contemporaries in the late 1800s. In the early twentieth century, several prominent cultural sites and institutions were introduced, such as Le Capitole de Québec (1903), Orchestre symphonique de Québec (1903), Palais Montcalm (1932) and Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (1933).
Music is a thriving international language that is fluently spoken in Québec City. One of the leading players on the musical stage is the Orchestre symphonique de Québec (OSQ), led by French conductor Fabien Gabel. Every year, the 66 full-time OSQ musicians perform approximately 40 concerts, many of which are sold out, as part of their regular program.
Québec City is home to Les Violons du Roy, a string ensemble formed here in 1985 by music students and young professional musicians. Under the brilliant direction of Bernard Labadie, they have recorded eighteen records (twelve with Dorian); performed across Canada, the United States and Europe; and won countless awards. The Opéra de Québec, which puts on different productions every year, has acquired both an excellent reputation and a loyal following.
A City Full of Surprises
This passion for music overflows into other aspects of city life. Music lovers delight in the melodious surprises waiting to be discovered in Old Québec, where it is not uncommon to see violinists, guitarists and even entire musical ensembles performing for passers-by.
Numerous venues—and enthusiastic fans—make Québec City a frequent stop on the tour calendar of many singers and bands. Dinner concerts are offered at the Capitole de Québec, where the legendary Édith Piaf once graced the stage.
Something for Every Taste
Part of the city's appeal is its multitude of cafés, taverns and nightclubs. Explore the varied nightlife of Old Québec, which ranges from jazz played in a comfortable lounge to traditional Québécois folksongs in a microbrewery taproom to rising stars performing at local bars and dance clubs.
Some of the most notable musical events in the area include Chamber Music at Sainte-Pétronille on Île d'Orléans, the Québec International Sacred Music Festival and the International Festival of Military Bands. Québec City also plays host to a number of recitals and special events that are held at churches, chapels and smaller venues across the region.
An overview of Québec City's musical scene would be incomplete without naming some of its most successful homegrown talent, such as Luc Plamondon, who wrote over four hundred songs in addition to musicals like Starmania and Notre-Dame de Paris. Another noteworthy figure was storyteller, poet and songwriter Félix Leclerc, who spent the last 25 years of his life on Île d'Orléans, an island within sight of Québec City.
A Thing of Beauty...
Québec City's cultural life extends into the realm of the visual arts. Artists are clustered in the Saint-Roch district, near Université Laval's School of Visual Arts. Some of the numerous art galleries throughout the city showcase the works of local talent, while others specialize in modern art or photography.
Located on the Plains of Abraham, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec has permanent exhibits of Québec artists. In addition, it regularly hosts major exhibits, like Rodin, which drew over 500,000 visitors, and The Louvre in Québec City, an exhibit showcasing 274 works of art from the Louvre in Paris, which was viewed by over 460,000 visitors! Other major international exhibits held here include From Caillebotte to Picasso: Masterpieces From the Oscar Ghez Collection (fall 2006) and The Baroque World of Fernando Botero (winter 2007).
Collectors prise the work of several local artists, including Luc Archambault, Claude Pelletier, Élène Gamache and Danielle April, the last of whom is known for a piece she created for the upscale boutique La Maison Simons in Sherbrooke. Internationally renowned painter Jean-Paul Riopelle lived on Isle-aux-Grues, just outside Québec City and died in March 2002. His work is on permanent display at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. Of course, let's not forget Francesco Iacurto, the Montreal artist who fell in love with Québec City in 1938 and eventually moved here. Iacurto is famous for being the only Canadian artist to have painted the Vatican gardens.
Words, Words, Words
Literature is an important facet of Québec City's culture and, for bookworms, it can even be the subject of a specialized walking tour. The best place to start would be on rue Saint-Jean in the Saint-Jean district, just outside the fortified walls. As you head towards Old Québec, you will stop at practically every street corner to visit one of the many new and used bookstores scattered throughout the area. Once on côte de la Fabrique, those with a keen sense of adventure can set out to explore the little streets winding through the Latin Quarter and visit the Petit Séminaire de Québec, a group of historical buildings that served as the campus for the oldest French-language university on the continent: Université Laval. Today, the Musée de l'Amérique francophone presents exhibitions on Francophone culture in North America. The next stop on this improvised tour would be the Old Port to go browsing in antique shops.
A major book fair, the Salon international du livre, is held at the Québec City Convention Centre every April. Hundreds of publishers, mostly from Québec and France, gather for this event, and an equal number of authors are on hand to sign their books. Over 60,000 visitors of all ages flock to the Salon, during which they can hear keynote speakers, authors, philosophers, poets and special guests give a talk on one of the four stages set up for this event.
It is worth mentioning that Gabrielle Roy, the famous French Canadian author, lived in Québec City, and the main city library bears her name. She received the Governor General's Award and the Femina Award for her first novel, Bonheur d'occasion (translated into English as The Tin Flute). The popular Québec author Chrystine Brouillet is also from Québec City, and many of her stories are set here. If you are familiar with her work, it makes exploring Upper and Lower Town twice as much fun.
Anne Hébert is another author and poet with strong ties to Québec City. Her novel Kamouraska, published in 1970, is inspired from a nineteenth-century murder. This Canadian literary classic was made into a popular movie. Author Sylvain Lelièvre is also a Québec City native, and a public square in the neighbourhood where he grew up was named after him.
A City with Dramatic Flair
In Québec City, the performing arts have a name: Robert Lepage, the internationally-renowned author, actor and producer. Ex Machina, his workshop established in the Old Port, successfully completed a dozen world-class projects in its first few years of operations. Lepage was also the hand guiding major productions in Tokyo, Stockholm and London, and was the producer for singer Peter Gabriel's international tours, Secret World and Growing Up. He drew on his incredible talent to create the Image Mill, a forty-minute audiovisual show on Québec City history for which the grain silos at the Québec Port serve as a giant projection screen.
The city, well-known for its varied and first-rate theatrical productions, plays host to a major performing art festival, the Carrefour international de théâtre de Québec.
But for all of its commitment to serious artists, Québec City does not take itself—ahem—seriously. Humour as an art form is a vibrant part of the local cultural scene, and every summer, the Festival Grand Rire is organized to celebrate comedic talent. During this weeklong event, the funniest Québécois stand-up comics garner giggles and guffaws at various indoor venues and on an outdoor stage at Place D'Youville, just outside the fortified walls of Old Québec.
The city's cultural landscape is further shaped by artists working in different media. Several have set up shop in Quartier Petit Champlain, Place royale and the Old Port. Their creative genius is reflected in their work, be it jewellery, fashion, furs, leather goods, ceramics or pewter.
Now Prepare to Be Amazed
A visit to Québec City means expanding your horizons. Here, you can admire the myriad aspects of an urban environment—history, gorgeous landscape, preserved historical architecture, green spaces and an effervescent cultural scene. Few larger cities have so enticing an offer. For your next trip, make Québec City your destination of choice!