Getting the lay of the land can be done in a variety of fashions. During our visit to Quebec City, we decided to forego a car rental and rely on our feet for most of the trip. Since the Old City district only covers about one-half of a square mile, walking from point-to-point is manageable. Seeing sights outside of this region required some additional planning. There was one main attraction, on the outskirts of the city, that we did not want to miss. Montmorency Falls, which sits just north of the city, offers its accessible nature for visitors to explore.
To make sure we were able to accomplish this goal, Quebec Cite Tourism arranged for us to have a guided tour. It was decided we would start our first full day with the tour. This offered a chance to gain a better grasp of the history of Canada’s oldest city. After a delicious breakfast at our hotel, we met up with our guide for a morning adventure.
We want to thank Quebec Cite Tourism, Cicerone Tours, and Parc de la Chute-Montmorency for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
Our guide, Jacques Baillargeon, was fluent in English. It is important to remember that French is the standard language you will hear in Quebec City. Most of the shopkeepers and restaurant workers are well-versed in English, as well. This makes the historic city a perfect vacation destination for travelers from the United States. Cicerone Tours is a tour operation company that offers a wide range of experiences. For our tour, Jacques had arranged a car to make access to the falls, which are about 8 miles from downtown, more manageable.
Our tour was a little different than their standard offerings since it was being customized for us. A short discussion with Jacques and he understood what we wanted to accomplish. It was decided to let him take the reins and determine the sequence of places we would visit. He wanted to make sure we saved time to take a drive around Old City, but first, we would see Montmorency Falls.
As we approached the area from the south, the falls came into view. Montmorency falls is one of the most accessible natural attractions we have visited. It is easily visible from land, as well as the St. Lawrence River. (We would view it again on our AML Cruise.) Standing over 270 feet tall, it is almost 100 feet taller than Niagara Falls. Of course, it is much narrower, but still quite impressive. After parking the car, we made our way to the visitor’s center. The roar of the falls would be a constant reminder of the power of nature.
There are a couple of ways to the top of Montmorency Falls. Cable cars are the easiest and quickest way up, and the transit choice we used. There is also a series of staircases (487 steps) that lead to the ridge on top. During research for this trip, we had watched some videos of people using the stairs. In each video, they would all get drenched by the mist from the falling waters. With a steady drizzle falling, we decided that climbing the stairs would be a soggy adventure. Jacques arranged for us to have one-way tickets, while he would drive up to the top for our return.
Once our cable car arrived at the top, our attention was immediately drawn to the palatial estate named Manoir Montmorency. This sprawling structure was used as a summer residence for English royalty. The first residence was constructed on this site in 1780. During the ate 1700s, the Duke of Kent would visit each year. In 1993, calamity struck when the manor burned to the ground. Manoir Montmorency was rebuilt as a replica of the original grand building and now houses an interpretation center, gift shop, and restaurant.
The interpretation center is contained in one gallery, so it doesn’t take long to explore. Here we found displays focused on the history and construction of the manor. There are also some informational placards that explain the historical significance of the falls in general. We also found lots of interesting tidbits about famous people who have been associated with this magnificent destination.
While the beauty of the falls is enough for us, it has also been used for commerce and recreation. In the early 1800s, the land near the base of Montmorency Falls was home to a hydraulic sawmill. Moving timber down the river was much easier than overland transportation. With more than 90 saws in operation, it could produce upwards of 800,000 feet of boards per day. In the mid-1880s, a hydroelectric generation plant would be constructed on the Montmorency River. Before the end of that century, Quebec City would become the first city in North America to utilize hydroelectric power.
The freezing cold winters may freeze the falls, but they do not hamper the adventurous spirits of Quebec City residents. Many people travel to the icy wonderland for sledding and ice climbing., and these activities have been going on for generations.
Montmorency Falls Fun
After our visit to the interpretation center, we met back up with Jacques. He led us along the path that leads to the top of the falls. As we walked along the wooden boardwalk, he unfolded more of the history of the region. At the end of the long boardwalk, we came to a staircase that led down to the Baroness’s Gazebo. This covered deck offers a better feel for the power of the waterfall. Jacques pointed our attention to a series of cables that run across the face of the falls. On the far side, we spotted a platform used to launch zip-liners across the divide.
Even with a steady drizzle, there were still people waiting in line for this activity. While I have enjoyed zip-lining across the 2nd largest canyon in the United States, I chose to pass on this particular activity. We paused long enough to watch a pair of adventurous souls enjoy the ride of their lives before we made our way to the top of the falls.
Over The Edge
A short climb up the last few steps deposited us on the suspension bridge that spans the head of Montmorency Falls. From here, we could see, hear, and feel the power of the falling waters. Looking over the edge of the bridge, we could see the swirling waters at the base of the falls. While logging isn’t an ongoing activity these days, we could still spot some logs that had passed over the highest waterfall in the Quebec region. On the other side of the bridge, we found access to the long staircase. Since Jacques had driven to the parking lot near the manor house, we didn’t have to brave the 487 steps down.
Back On Top
We returned across the bridge and made our way toward the car. In a park-like setting behind the manor, we spotted some unique statues. Jacques pointed out that these were produced by local artists. We noted that this would be a nice place to picnic, but perhaps on a day that wasn’t so wet. Time for us to continue our tour of Quebec City.
Getting a Lay of the Land
Jacques navigated back to Old Quebec, which is the historic neighborhood of Quebec City. Our lodging was located in Upper Town, so he decided to treat us to some sights in Lower Town. As he passed through the narrow streets, we were amazed at all of the art that is found in the city. In each new location, Jacques would share some key historical information, as well as some personal stories. Our time with him was such a treat.
We wish our tour could have lasted the entire day so that we could enjoy more of his stories. Unfortunately, like all good things, this too had to end. He shared a few more memories with us, as he steered us back to our hotel. Once there, we said our goodbyes to Jacques. Even though we had only spent one morning together, we felt as though we had become fast friends. This is one of those added benefits of travel. It allows us to expand our friend’s circle to encompass new destinations.
Keeping Our Eyes Peeled
Our experience with Jacques had shown us that it was important to keep our eyes peeled for interesting sights. Exploring the Old City was such an entertaining adventure. The trips we have made to New Orleans have given us a taste of European style, but Quebec City took it to a whole new level. The next few days would be filled with the wonder of the Old World, mixed with the urban appeal of a metropolitan city. This is clearly the best of both worlds.