To many people in Quebec, Montcalm ward is synonymous with old money and big houses. It is actually quite a diverse and interesting area, with everything from cheap student flats to landscaped boulevards with mansions. The term “climbing the social ladder” takes on a rather literal meaning here—the lower part of Montcalm is more modest than the streets fronting the Plains of Abraham at the top.
Montcalm is located immediately west of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, and about a twenty minute walk from Vieux-Québec. This is too far for most tourists, which is a shame as the area has lots to offer. The few tourists who do make it out tend to come for the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Plains of Abraham, but a walk through its architecturally diverse streets is worth the detour.
In the middle of the 19th century, Montcalm was located outside Quebec’s city limits. A tiny settlement of tax dodgers sprung up on its edge, called Faubourg Guenette. Most of the land in today’s Montcalm was originally owned by wealthy English-speaking lumber barons. These gentleman-farmers built picturesque villas on large estates overlooking the cliffs, living out the romantic ideal and fleeing the cholera and typhus of the dense centre.
Traces of the old Faubourg Guenette, along Rue Crémazie
The Henry Stuart House (left) is one of many old English villas later integrated into the urban grid. The Stuart family lived in the house until the 1980s. It is now run as a heritage home with interesting visits on upper-class Anglo-protestant society in Quebec. It stands next to the Baptist Church (right).
Eventually, urbanization overtook these estates and a grid of broad tree-lined streets was laid out. Ville-Montcalm was incorporated in 1908. Arts-and-Crafts houses sprouted up next to multiplexes and eclectic terrace housing. Around this time, the Plains of Abraham were laid out as a vast urban park by Frederick Todd, a disciple of Olmsted,giving the upper part of Montcalm a Garden City feel.
Infrastructure costs soon plunged Ville-Montcalm into debt, and it merged with Quebec City only five years after its creation. Soon, the city’s first skyscrapers appeared along Grande-Allée, Montcalm’s most prestigious street. These luxury apartment buildings, like Le Claridge, attempted to recreate the glamour of New York’s grand hotels.
Avenue Cartier slowly emerged as the neighborhood’s commercial heart and centre, a distinction it still holds today. It is a nice mixture of specialty stores, excellent restaurants, and main street staples. The centre of Montcalm has the added distinction of having the city’s best bagel bakery, best pizza shop, a decent repertory cinema, and the only affordable Indian takeaway in town.
For more photos of Montcalm, click here
Tags: Exploring the City, Quebec City