October 18th, 2006

Quebec City Tour: Lévis

Posted in Architecture, Canada by Patrick Donovan

I was planning to make it to Montreal last weekend but my financial situation could only take me as far as Lévis, a short ride across the river. I fancied myself in faraway Hong Kong as I boarded our gros-village equivalent to the Star ferry only to face the brutal reminder that Lévis is nothing like Kowloon. Most of its 100,000 people live in sprawling suburbs. Still, there’s a nice central area that feels like a proper urban neighbourhood.

Rue Bégin, Lévis’ main street

Levis blossomed in the Victorian era, first as a shipbuilding port, then as a major railroad junction before trains made it to the north shore. Much of the architecture dates from this period of late-Victorian eclectism and is consequently quite ornate and picturesque.

Late-Victorian Architecture in Vieux Lévis

Like Quebec, it lies on an escarpment, and many streets lead to dramatic vistas of the Chateau Frontenac across the river. It’s a sleepy place, with a few nice shops along its semi-revitalized main street, including the busy café Les Petits Oignons. The most impressive place in town is Levis’ incredible library in a recycled church building.

Pierre-Georges Roy library, originally a Catholic chapel built in 1891

Levis’ most famous son is Alphonse Desjardins, founder of North America’s first socialist alternative to banking: the credit union. The site of the first caisse is now a small museum on the town square, and the Desjardins name is plastered all over town.

Still, it’s not a place most people (flâneurs aside) would explore—it’s off the radar of most locals, and tourists generally don’t make it too far beyond the ferry port.

So here’s your chance to see more of Lévis.

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