Quebec City Tour: Saint-Roch

In recent years, Saint Roch has seen more changes than any other neighbourhood in Quebec City. Once a bleak slum/parking lot, it is now home to the second-largest Hugo Boss store in North America (after New York). Needless to say, this has led to some friction between new and old residents.

Fifteen years ago, most of this was a parking lot.

Faubourg Saint-Roch lies at the bottom of the fortified escarpment of old Quebec. Originally a working-class neighbourhood where newly-arrived Chinese and Jewish communities settled, it became a deserted slum when an expressway linking the old city to the suburbs was built above it in the 1960s. Many of the old buildings were torn down to make way for parking lots. Ill-conceived urban renewal projects, such as building a cheap roof atop the main commercial street, ended up creating a bleak depressing shopping mall (not unlike Plaza Saint-Hubert, only worse). In the 1980s, Saint-Roch inspired fear in the hearts of suburban parents: “Don’t go there,” my mom would say, “You’ll get shot. It’s full of bums and prostitutes.” Even if I had wanted to defy authority, there really was no reason to go down there.

Things started changing in the late 1980s. The first step was moving the central library down to Saint-Roch. Then, the city transformed part of a kilometer-long expanse of parking lot into a beautiful public park surrounded by new buildings. The faculty of fine arts moved down to Saint-Roch, with city-subsidized artist lofts popping up around it. Two more schools, the ENAP and the INRS, followed. A few years ago, part of the roof that had turned the attractive 19th-century main street into a third-rate shopping mall, was removed. The rest is slated to go next year. Many people think Saint-Roch will soon become Quebec’s central business district, something this city does not currently have.

The removal of the roof on Saint-Joseph street a few years ago allowed residents to rediscover 19th-century buildings that many had never seen, such as these.

The neighbourhood’s older residents cannot afford the new shops, lounge-resto-clubs, or “appartements tendance” that have appeared in Saint-Roch.

As with all cases of rapid urban change, there are those who praise it as a wonderful revitalization and others who talk of gentrification: older residents being pushed out by rising rents. On the one hand, something needed to be done to bring a bit of diversity into this bleak monolithic area, to spruce up the old buildings that were falling apart. On the other hand, the current mix of welfare recipients and Hugo Boss suits seems a bit tense and polarized. They don’t interact much. Some argue that the changes benefit the older population while others argue the contrary. I tend to think that anything is better than boarded-up buildings and empty parking lots.

For a chronological tour of Saint-Roch’s history, click here.

This entry was written by Patrick Donovan , posted on Saturday November 04 2006at 08:11 pm , filed under Architecture, Canada, Demographics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “Quebec City Tour: Saint-Roch”

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    As you said, St-Roch is the closest thing Quebec City has to a real downtown. (Place D’Youville has that feeling, but it dissipates after a couple of blocks.) Its transformation is pretty remarkable and I really have to say that it isn’t a bad thing. Even if it was an historically working-class district, there’s no excuse to waste its potential. Parking lots and half-empty malls are good for nobody.