A giant spider crawls on the side of an office building. A sailing ship has run aground in front of Québec City Hall. Halloween decorations set the tone for our family visit to Québec City, with grandchildren in tow.
Ships have a lot to do with the history of this city: It’s built on a promontory on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Still, I question our tour guide-driver about the unusual “Halloween ship.” He says that it’s Samuel de Champlain’s, as if it really was. “He founded the city in 1608, and because he came by ship, we like ships here!” His enthusiasm reminds me that I do too: I will get on a cruise ship in Québec to see the famous seasonal foliage of the East Coast.
In any season, the capital of la belle province shows off its historic landmarks. In the Fall, Halloween puts a new twist on how Québec revives its past.
In Your Bucket Because…
- History and legends are a good match for some Halloween fun.
- October is also the time to enjoy the colorful Fall foliage.
- Old-Québec is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
- For anyone, 5 years and older, who enjoys spooky encounters.
We start our ramblings with a visit to the “beautiful house” — Fairmont’s Château Frontenac. On the Citadel built on Cape Diamond, the children straddle canons, conquer tunnels, and lead a charge up the steps and mounds of the grounds. Fake skulls and other mortuary décors put them in “treat or trick” state of mind.
Later, we head to the Plains of Abraham. The Québec City neighborhood was named after the former landowner. It was the site of many battles between French and English armies. In autumn, the city’s famous garden, dedicated to Joan of Arc, becomes a Halloween venue.
Halloween at the Joan of Arc Garden
The sunken garden looks as if it caved in under the might of the female warrior. I am puzzled by the statue of Joan of Arc, which has nothing to do with Québec’s history. I can’t think of any connection between Halloween–a pagan festival–and the divine voices she said she heard.
But Halloween is anyone’s game. As for the imposing equestrian statue, a Francophile American couple gifted it to the city of Québec, in 1930. No strings attached.
The rectangular garden combines a French formal design and English-style flowerbeds filled with some 150 perennial and annual plants. It’s October, so pumpkins brighten the “haunted” grounds.
It’s time for the children to enjoy the grisly displays, with adults in tow…
Halloween Tales Tells Historic Truths
A fake convict stares at us behind the bars of his fake cell door. In the olden days, at 8 o’clock sharp, onlookers would have watched the execution until the body had dropped into a coffin below. Today, the former prison of the Plains of Abraham houses the soul-filling Québec City Fine Arts Museum. Some say there are ghostly noises and moving objects in there, even when it’s not Halloween.
Next, we come upon a display called The Widow’s Walk. The children are unimpressed by a ghost dressed in black. I am intrigued. The Widow’s Walk is the name given to a platform built between the roofs of townhouses. Was it a viewpoint for hopeful widows waiting for their seafarer husbands? Was it a place where single women could enjoy fresh air at night other than on the undignified streets? Or, was it an access to throw sand into a chimney on fire? The interpretive boards by each display are part information, part guessing-game.
Blending with the white anemones that surround her, the bewitching White Lady of Cape Diamond is also a trickster. The sparkling stones deceived hopeful prospectors when they turned out to be rock crystals, not diamonds.
Next, a witch cooks a mysterious potion for the next sabbat, a common witchcraft practice in medieval times. Nearby tombstones reveal the names of doomed Québécois. Meanwhile, phantoms dangle from elm trees while our grandchildren run from one display to the next, rest on a seemingly unearthed coffin, and smile at grinning skulls.
Halloween truly comes alive when the torches of a guided tour glare in the darkness of the night.
Québec City: A Bastion of French Resilience
In 1759, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham settled Québec’s fate. James Wolfe’s well-trained infantry defeated the Marquis de Montcalm’s untrained militia. Both leaders were killed in the battle. The English won the day, but not the heart of the Québécois: Their resistance to integration is still evident in this example: Instead of the English word “Stop” (which is used at street corners worldwide — and even in France), Québec still uses the French word “Arrêt.”
The colonial fortifications of Old-Québec are the only ones left in North America; I ponder 400 years of history as I look at the stone-built church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires and observe the whimsical mural of The Place Royale. Above all, I enjoy the vibrant culture, fashion flair, traditional cuisine, and the friendly demeanor of the Québécois.
- The Joan of Arc Garden entrance is located at Taché and Wilfrid-Laurier Streets. Free access. Self-guided tour. Accessibility for all visitors.
- Halloween nightly guided tours are suitable for children over 5 years old.
- Some tours are conducted in French only.
- Children at play on the Citadel require supervision. Play structures are located on the grounds, close to the Porte Royale area.
- Popular is the morning Hop On Hop Off city tour combined with an afternoon regional tour.
- If you take a cruise from Québec, don’t miss the wonderful sight of the city as you sail off.