Three Hundred Years of History
The Citadelle of Quebec City describes itself as “a fortress, a regiment, a museum”. It is an active Canadian military installation, the official residence in Quebec of the Governor-General of Canada and of Queen Elizabeth II in her capacity as Queen of Canada, part of the Fortifications of Quebec National Historical Site and the museum of the 22nd Royal Canadian regiment, the only French-language regiment in the Canadian Forces. More than 200,000 people visit the citadel and its fortifications annually, and Quebec is one of only two cities in North America still surrounded by fortifications, the other being Campeche, Mexico.
The Citadelle is located atop Cap Diamant, an escarpment or high cliff, on a promontory in the St. Lawrence River at the base of which Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec in 1608. Champlain found glittering stones in the cliff and thought they were diamonds; when brought back to France they were determined to be quartz and gave rise to the old French saying, “false as a Canadian diamond”. Champlain recognized at once that the steep cliff was insurmountable, and built a wooden fort near the location of the present Chateau Frontenac hotel. By the time of Champlain’s death in 1635, Quebec had become the capital of New France. In the subsequent decades more substantial fortifications were constructed, and were tested for the first time in 1690, when British forces from the Massachusetts Bay colony attempted to take Quebec during King William’s War. Governor Frontenac of New France had rebuffed British demands for surrender by saying that “my only reply to your general shall be from the mouths of cannons”, and cannon volleys from the top of the cliff drove off the Massachusetts Bay infantry.
As tensions in the New World increased between Britain and France, plans were made to enhance the fortifications on Quebec’s clifftop citadel by adding a 75-meter (246-foot) wall, but although approved by the government of Louis XIV this was never done on account of cost. When the fortress of Louisbourg, in what is now Nova Scotia, fell in 1745, an effort was made to enhance the fortification of the citadel, but in 1759 British forces scaled the cliff under cover of darkness and met the French on the adjacent Plains of Abraham, named not for the Old Testament patriarch but for 17th-century landowner Abraham Martin. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham meant that Canada would in future belong to Britain and not to France, and it was now British commanders who pressed to build a large fortification at La Citadelle.
After seizing Montreal in 1775, American troops led by General Benedict Arnold, later to earn infamy in America by defecting to the British, attacked Quebec and were repelled only with difficulty and the timely arrival of British reinforcements. This led to some strengthening of the defenses on the Citadelle, but the large star fort that still stands today was not begun until the War of 1812, when the unexpected successes of the American navy on Lakes Erie and Ontario prompted the governor of British North America, the Duke of Richmond, to return to the 18th- century French plans of fortification. The fort was built by the Royal Engineers between 1820 and 1850, became the responsibility of Canada on the establishment of the Confederation in 1867 and was fully turned over by the departing British in 1871.
After the British departure, La Citadelle housed two artillery batteries and became home of first the artillery and then the cavalry school of the Canadian Forces. The Governor-General, Lord Dufferin, restored in 1872 the French tradition and made La Citadelle his official residence. After 1920, Quebec’s own Royal 22e Regiment was headquartered there also. La Citadelle hosted the Quebec Conference of 1943, at which Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt devised plans for the invasion of Nazi Europe in 1944 and agreed to the joint development and testing of an atomic bomb. La Citadelle was made a Canadian National History monument in 1946, and was placed along with the rest of the Historic District of Old Québec on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1980.
La Citadelle Today
The installation is an asymmetrical star-shaped fort with four bastions that project outward from three thick curtain walls made of local sandstone. There are 24 buildings within the walls, chiefly the Officer’s Barracks, built in 1831 and now the Governor-General’s official residence and the home of the Queen in Quebec. It is built in the Norman style common in churches and castles in England, and has 153 rooms, which are mostly decorated in the later Georgian style.
When the building was converted from housing for officers to a residence and offices, additions were needed including a ballroom, sunroom and formal dining room. These were destroyed in a 1976 fire and had to be replaced, at which time a new wing was added that included a piano nobile, a “noble floor” or ceremonial level with a grand hall for receptions, as well as a terrace overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The addition was made of Quebec materials and decorated by Quebec artists, and contains furniture from the Crown Collection, some 7,000 pieces of historical objects and furnishings.
Building 15, constructed in 1750, houses the Museum of the Royal 22e Regiment and the Canadian Forces Museum. Another 11 buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, formerly used as barracks, hospital, guard house, storehouses, magazines and armories and observatory, now serve as offices for the museum and viceregal residence. The Governor-General’s residence has daily tours of its state rooms, and a noontime cannon has been fired daily since 1871 except between 1994 and 2008.
There were once two shots a day, one at noon to synchronize watches and prompt Catholic residents for the midday Angelus prayer and another at 9:30 p.m. to mark the military curfew. The noontime cannon shot was restarted in 2008, in celebration of Quebec’s 400th anniversary. Other continuing traditions are the annual reading on Remembrance Day of the men and women of the 22e Regiment who have died in the line of duty, regimental change of command ceremonies and the periodic inauguration of a new regimental mascot, Batisse the Goat, to the accompaniment of cannon fire.
A ceremonial parade with the regimental band, inspection by the officers and the goat and changing of the guard in full dress and wearing bearskin hats has occurred every summer morning at 10 since 1928, except for the war years. Modeled on the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, it is the only such ceremony in the province. On summer Saturdays at 6 p.m., the Beating of the Retreat recreates the end of the day’s service and closing of the city’s gates, as the guard, dressed in tunics and bearskins and accompanied by the band, parade and lower the Canadian flag to the sound of the National Anthem and rifle fire.
Tours of La Citadelle include the Canadian Forces Museum, which preserves items of historical military importance, and the Museum of the Royal 22e Regiment, which has a permanent exhibition titled “Je me souviens” about Quebec’s military history and temporary exhibits on historical topics. The Honour and Memory Medals Gallery assembles over 300 sets of military decorations with photographs and biographies of their recipients. A night tour explores the recesses of La Citadelle that are not usually accessible to visitors after the sun sets on summer and fall evenings, led by a British corporal from the 19th century.
There is also a religious tour, reflecting the spiritual heritage of the 22e Regiment and celebrating the chaplains who have been an integral part of the regiment since its creation of 1914; this includes a visit to the resting place of Major-General Georges Vanier, founder of the Regiment and the first French-Canadian Governor-General. Each May, there is a weekend re-enactment of a battle from the Seven Years’ War, in which Britain and France fought for possession of Quebec. A VIP Tour during July visits the Regimental Chapel and the Colour Memorial in addition to the other parts of La Citadelle.
La Citadelle can be seen from every point of the city, and is located on Côte de la Citadelle just inside the St. Louis Gate. There is free auto parking for 2 hours, Red Line bus tours stop at the fortress and the museum and RTC buses 3 and 11 and Métrobus lines 800 and 801 stop there as well. Admission and tours are CDN$16 for adults, CDN$13 for seniors and students and CDN$6 for youths 7 to 17. Family admission for 2 adults and up to 3 children is CDN$32 and VIP tours cost CDN$25. La Citadelle is open May to October from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year, except for Christmas and New Years Day. Historical books and regimental souvenirs are available at the Boutique, and Café Batisse serves snacks and beverages in honor of the regimen’s beloved goat.