Last Updated on December 24, 2023 by Pamela MacNaughtan
An archaeological gem, literally, in Old Quebec City, Saint-Louis Forts & Châteaux National Historic Site is an important piece of Quebec City’s history. The remains of a fort and châteaux, which played an integral role in the defense of the colony of New France and housed governors, are a fascinating archaeological crypt.
A National Historic Site the entire family can enjoy (it looks like underground castle ruins, who wouldn’t love that?!).
Long before the British victory in 1759, the Saint-Louis Fort stood atop Cap Diamant, standing watch over the colony of New France. The first fort and corps de logis (main building) were built sometime in 1620 by Samuel de Champlain, the colony’s founder and unofficial governor. It consisted of a couple of wooden buildings, encircled by a wooden palisade wall.
A defense fort overlooking the colony and the flow of ships on the Saint-Lawrence River, the Saint-Louis fort was home to a small garrison of soldiers, along with the governor’s personal guards. Around 42 men in total.
Six years later, Champlain expanded the fort, adding ramparts of wood and soil. In 1636, under the direction of Charles Huault de Montmagny, the first official governor of New France, the fort was reconstructed, and the ramparts were covered with stone. A process that took 24 years to complete (long after Huault stopped being governor of the colony).
Two years after its completion, in 1692, Louis de Buade de Frontenac, then governor-general of the colony, began the fourth reconstructing of the fort. The result of a failed attack on New France by William Phips, an American Admiral from Massachusetts.
After the Siege of Quebec in 1759, which ushered in British rule. the fort was used for about three years, then declared ineffective as a defense tool. When the American War of Independence rage from 1779-1783, the British decided to build a temporary citadelle on Cap Diamant – which is still in operation today!
First built in 1648 by Governor Charles Huault de Montmagny, the château was the official residence of the governors of New France, as well as the colony’s seat of government. Governors usually arrived with a household of 5-10 staff members; a secretary, servants, a butler, and chef, cooks, bakers, and wine waiters. Frontenac even had a confectioner.
This was where visiting dignitaries met with the governor-general. Balls were held, as well as performances, making Château Saint-Louis a cultural hub within the colony.
It wasn’t until the British took over that the colony’s military secretary, as well as several officers, took up residence at the château.
The first château was built from materials taken by the former corps de logis, a single-story stone house roughly 28 meters (92 feet) long and 8 meters (26.25 feet) wide, the château featured a terrace with a riverside view. By the 1680s, however, the château was badly in need of repair.
Under the direction of Frontenac, reconstruction of the château began in 1694. When finished, it has two stories and a slate roof. Over the years, the château was extended, and wings were added, as well as a pavilion. During the Siege of Quebec in 1759, the château took a lot of damage, and in time was at risk of running into ruin.
Over the next 60 years, Château Saint-Louis was repaired and updated several times, a third floor was added, and it took on a neo-Classical style, instead of the former French château style.
On 23 January 1834, the château was destroyed by a fire.
a national historic site
On the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec, in 2008, the Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux were opened to the public as a National Historic Site.
Declared a National Historic Site in 2001, hundreds of artifacts were uncovered during the archaeological dig which took place prior to its public unveiling. Today, you can venture below Dufferin Terrace and explore what was once the lower courtyard, outbuildings and kitchen facilities.
The Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux National Historic Site has over 120 artifacts on site, as well as interactive displays which tell of its importance in shaping Quebec City as we know it today.
Take a self-guided tour, or pay a little extra and join a 45-minute guided tour.
lgbtqia2s+ safe space
visit saint-louis forts and châteaux national historic site
Visit the Parks Canada kiosk on Dufferin Terrace to purchase tickets, or join a guided tour.
Admission is $3.90 Adult, $3.40 Seniors, Youth are FREE. Guided tours are $7.80 Adult, $7.30 Seniors, $3.90 Youth.
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