Enjoying the Summer Heat

Enjoying the Summer Heat

Peter Stuart with a different take on a Quebec City summer:


So, are you folks enjoying this gorgeous summer we’re having? We haven’t had a summer like this in almost a decade. I can remember recent summers in the last ten years where July was a washout, and August wasn’t much better, and we got a couple of nice weeks in the last two weeks of August, and early September, once everybody was back to work and school.

Yes, this has so far been a fantastic summer weather-wise, which has allowed most people, including yours truly, to get outside, and enjoy what the city has to offer during summer festival season. I’ve been staying out late on my days off, during the warm, humid evenings, and have seen such things as the Elton John concert (well, just outside the fence on the big screen, can’t afford 60$ for one of those bracelets!), and the Moulin à Image.

Being in the tourism racket, and member of the tour guide association, I got a special VIP pass to sit in the VIP section in early July to see Robert Lepage’s now-annual masterpiece, this time in 3D. It was awesome, as usual, albeit a bit noisy at the end, what with a section highlighting an electric guitar segment which comes across as very dissonant. The 3D gimmick was cool, and apparently, the images are blurred without the free handout glasses.

You still have to arrive 30-45 minutes ahead of time down by Quai St. André in the Old Port to get a good spot, but it’s well worth it.  The show, which, by the way, for those not familiar with what I’m talking about, is a sound and light show about the history of the city, which uses the giant grain elevators in the port as a movie screen. This has been going on since 2008 for the 400th anniversary celebrations.

As for Elton John, it was a great show. The sound was actually pretty decent, all things considered. It wasn’t over amplified like a lot of hard rock and Heavy Metal shows I’ve been to in years gone by and you could pick up a lot of the lyrics in the songs that Elton John was singing. His vocal range has diminished somewhat after 40 years, but no matter, he had some excellent female back up singer to hit the high notes.

The crowd was very appreciative, especially when he spoke French, and wished us all peace. Everybody left the Plains of Abraham peacefully, and it took about an hour and a half to get out of town on the bus and back home, which was what the people on the radio had warned us it would take, so we knew what to expect. The RTC transit commission put a lot of extra buses on and they were all full, so people have gotten the message about leaving their cars at home and taking the bus, which is what I and my friend did.

But all things considered, after all the festivals will be over, and the fall chill comes back over the city, and the kids are back in school and our politicians come back from the BBQ and Jacuzzi circuit, what then? Our dearly-beloved Mayor Labeaume is still going to have to deal with entrenched opposition from some very narrow-minded people at City Hall and the National Assembly concerning the private members bill that an opposition member wants to put through the Assembly.

It basically would make it much more difficult for anybody to litigate against Pierre Karl Péladeau’s exclusive control over the management rights of the yet-to-be constructed new arena, which he won the right to manage, by the way, in an untendered bid, being virtually the only organization in our province who’s so far publically expressed an interest in putting up any private money to run this new venture, and understandably wants to protect his investment against any potential hostile or mercenary and litigious influences.

At some point, the people who’re opposed to the expenditure of public monies to build this new and crucially-important project for our city’s economic, social, cultural, and even spiritual prestige and diversification, will have to be put in their proper place using the juridico-legal coercion of the state’s power, seeing that there will be no other way possible to overcome the entrenched powers of narrow-minded parochialism which seems to dog this ‘small big city’, or ‘big small city’.

The spectre of Québec city remaining saddled with the label of ‘Grand Village’ is very real. We’ve always been half turned outwards towards the world, and half turned inwards, with an insular, navel-gazing, ethno-linguistically and culturally parochial attitude towards outside influences, and economic development.

During the French Régime, trade flourished with the mother country, as Québec and Montréal were the main centres of commerce for the fur trade. Immigration flourished until about the early 1690s, when it tapered off. The colony began to stagnate in the early part of the 18th century, after French commercial influence peaked around 1701. After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, France’s fortunes in North America began to wane.

In 1763, after the British took over, the economy took off again. Québec city became a major hub of immigration from the British Isles, and Napoleon’s blockade of the Baltic countries in the early 19th century created a lumber boom in Québec city. Lumber from the Ottawa Valley was floated down river to Québec, loaded on ships made right here, and shipped over to Britain, and loads of stone or immigrants came back on the return voyage.

Commerce in the Port of Québec was booming in those roughly 50 years, and the population grew tremendously, not to mention giving our city much-needed economic diversification. After the tariff structure on wood was changed mid century, and Montréal began developing because of the channel on the St. Lawrence River being dredged further upriver towards Montréal and the completion of the railway from Lévis to Montréal mid-century, Québec city lost a lot of ground to Montréal. We also got hit by a lot of major fires in the working-class parts of town in the 1860s, which caused a lot of people to lose hope and give up on living here, and move out west or to the USA.

We then settled into being a bit of a sleepy, backwater provincial capital, as Confederation rolled around, and the provincial capital was restored to Québec city, after getting bumped up and down the river from Québec, to Montréal, Kingston, and Toronto, during the period of constitutional gridlock after the Act of Union in 1840 which had locked the two provinces of what are now Québec and Ontario into one political unit, which couldn’t agree on having a single capital, seeing that each side had governed itself for most of each other’s existence, and were keen to keep it that way.

The precursor of the Chamber of Commerce (Québec Board of Trade), struggled valiantly to keep economic activity going in this cold and often forbidding fortress of a city, perched up on top of Cape Diamond, a vestige of colonial military and commercial imperatives, which had long outlived their utility, and where we now found ourselves in the era of the railroad, needing access to foreign and internal markets, and no rail link to be had.

It took until the early 20th century for the Québec Bridge to be built to give us rail access to outside markets for our goods produced on our side of the river, but not before the bridge fell twice before it finally stood up. A pragmatic union of French and English-speaking business leaders kept trade, industry, and commerce alive and well until after the second world war, when nationalism became a big issue, and rising wage demands in our low-skill, labour intensive clothing, textile, footwear, and brewing industries, caused most of them to close by the 1960s.

By this time, the rising tide of Québec nationalism was in full swing, and state-building was all the rage. The size of the state sector in the 1960s and 70s increased exponentially, and we became a city of heavily unionized civil servants, teachers, health care workers, and social services employees, with a firmly-entrenched unionized, civil service mentality of entitlement to go along with it all.

All of this only began to change in the 1980s and 90s, when the neo-conservative backlash occurred, and both referenda on secession were lost, cooling peoples’ passions for a state-centred independence panacea. Industrial parks sprang up in the outlying areas. We began developing areas of expertise in pharmaceuticals, optics and photonics, high tech materials, medical research and so on. Our University (Laval) became much more research-focused, with lots of links to the private sector, as well as government.

We began to market ourselves as the second ‘pole’ of economic and social development in our province, having obtained partial control over immigration in the early 1990s, the province then began to have more of a say as to who they wanted to pick and choose to come to our town. We started to focus a lot on the French-speaking countries of Africa and the Middle East, as well as Latin America, seeing these people as being more susceptible to integrating into a French environment.

But it’s still been a tough row to hoe in many respects. Whenever it comes to any major economic development project, the entrenched naysayers, and multi-layered technocratic interests of various regulatory agencies all unleash the full brunt of their bureaucratic filibustering, all marshalling arguments as to why the project should not go ahead. If we listened to these people all of the time, nothing would get built here and we’d remain a placid, backwater provincial capital with no infrastructure, no sports teams, no transit system, populated almost exclusively by retired and semi-retired civil servants, teachers, and other sundry functionaries who’d like nothing better than to spend the rest of their days puttering around in the Québec/Sillery/Ste-Foy/Cap-Rouge corridor, going to the park, or out to brunch, or to their pottery or art class at the local community centre, or to their classical choir practice and drink a glass of wine and have some cheese and crackers while the rest of the proletarian constituency of the citizenry would still have no suitable venue to go and eat their hot dogs, poutines, and drink beer out of plastic cups whilst they cheer on their favourite team of 200lbs gladiators on skates as they re-create some sort of post-modern Romanesque version of the ‘bread and games’ adage, which as we all know is crucial to the maintenance of civilization as we know it.

Well, I feel better now that I’ve got that one off my chest. I wish Misters Labeaume, Charest, and Péladeau, speedy deliberations and resolution of this most Byzantine of conundrums. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer, and go see some more festival stuff: The hockey headaches will be back to haunt us soon enough!!!


About the author:

Peter Stuart is a freelance journalist and writer based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. He has a degree in Canadian Studies from the University of Ottawa.
He has written Op-Ed pieces for the last ten years for publications including: Le Soleil, La Presse, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph and Impact Campus.
Peter writes in both French and English, and is currently working on the publication of his first book. 
You can read more of Peter’s work by visiting his blog.

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