Story by Mark Sissons
QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC — Three tunes into Metallica’s two hour set on North America’s largest outdoor concert stage overlooking Quebec City’s historic Plains of Abraham it suddenly occurs to me – how appropriate that here on this infamous field of battle where Canada’s fate was decided in 1759, another invasion is underway.
I’ve never been remotely into metal, much less its even more frantic auditory subsidiary, thrash metal, of which Metallica is a founding member, along with Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. Too loud, too proud and played with aneurysm inducing intensity by professional philistines who keep trying to top Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. All that over the top Teutonic teeth gnashing, feathered hair tossing, tattooed fist pumping and macho crotch rock posturing cranked up to eleven, delivered by middle-aged white men who shriek like they’re itching to invade Poland.
Valhalla, I am coming!
So why am I enjoying watching messieurs Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo deliver a full frontal ear drums assault upon over a hundred thousand of their most adoring, loyal fans? Because I’m in Quebec! And the Québecois LOVE Metallica. And Metallica LOVES the Quebecois. I’m witnessing a bi-cultural musical bromance par excellence that’s been brewing here for over thirty years. Enter Sandman. Exit les sceptiques.
During the three nights I’m in town for Quebec City’s hugely popular Festival d’Ete de Quebec, I catch sold out mainstage shows by Metallica, Gorillaz and Muse, along with spirited hometown performances by popular Quebecois artists at ancillary venues. Pink, hip-hop Kendrick Lamar, Lady Antebellum, Flume, Pierce The Veil and the Backstreet Boys also perform over the course of the festival’s July 6th – 16th run. Arriving at the tail end, I just miss The Who. By all reports, Pete is still windmilling till his fingers bleed and Roger can still nail his legendary Baba O’Riley scream.
This year, Festival d’Ete is celebrating fifty years of bringing music to the masses, drawing an average of over 1.5 million festival-goers who attend hundreds of eclectic performances spread over a dozen venues within walking distance of each other in the downtown core. Over the past two decades it has established itself as a major player on the music festival circuit. The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Keith Urban, Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Tiësto, Bon Jovi, The Black Keys, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Sting, Charles Aznavour, Rammstein and Elton John have all headlined here.
Over 140,000 completely transferable festival passes were sold for the 2017 edition, making Festival d’Ete one of the top music festivals in North America. For an incredibly low $95, an all-access pass gives you eleven days of wall to wall music, including all of the big mainstage shows. “It’s the lowest price you’ll find anywhere for that variety and level of content, says Festival d’Ete Director General, Daniel Gélinas, adding that the the volume of passes sold provides enough money to pay all of the acts, including the big stars. “It’s fantastic for the people of Quebec City to have such a huge show,” says Gélinas “The Plains of Abraham has become a mythic location in the music industry, like Central or Hyde Park.”
France on the St. Lawrence
While Festival d’Ete is certainly the highlight of a summer visit to Quebec City, Canada’s oldest metropolis has plenty of other attractions to keep visitors busy. From my base in the historic Fairmont Château Frontenac, I venture out during the day to explore Old Quebec. Designated a World Heritage treasure by UNESCO, it’s the only walled city north of Mexico. And as the cradle of French civilization in North America, it’s a living history lesson with a remarkable mix of architecture, heritage, art, and culture.
Read “Picture-perfect Château Frontenac” on Vacay.ca
Particularly fascinating is my visit to the Musée de la Civilisation à Quebec, located in the Old City’s Lower Town near where the cruise ships dock. Among its popular exhibits are People of Quebec…Then and Now, an interactive journey into the heart of Quebec’s history and rich culture, and Facing Champlain, a 3D film that explores the life of the founder of Québec, Samuel de Champlain, through his dreams, his projects and the lands he explored 400 years ago.
No visit to Quebec City would be complete without a scenic cruise along the St. Lawrence River, which is where I find myself on my second afternoon in town, aboard a guided two-hour sightseeing outing from Cap Diamant to Montmorency Falls. A terroir tour of Île d’Orléans, popularly known as the ‘Garden of Quebec’ for its abundance of freshly grown produce, takes up most of the following morning. Located in the Saint Lawrence River just a fifteen minute drive from downtown Quebec City, this timeless rural island was one of the first places in Quebec colonized by French settlers in the 17th century.
Today, some of the original stone settler homes on Île d’Orléans are still occupied by their descendants, many of whom farm the same narrow plots of land laid out by Champlain’s surveyors. Organic apple, potato and berry farms dot the island, which is also home to several award-winning wineries and sugar maple stands. If you don’t have a car, a great option is taking a half-day taste trail bus tour. Returning to Quebec City, I stop at le Marché du Vieux Port — the farmers market at the Old Port – where much of the fresh produce grown on Île d’Orléans is sold. A new space is in the works that will be 3 times the size of the current market.
Where to eat
In 2014, Condé Nast Traveler ranked Quebec City ranked among the 20 World’s Best Food Cities. With one restaurant per 369 residents, a number much higher than Manhattan’s with 450 per capita, it’s a foodie’s delight. For visitors, the bistros and eateries lining the Grande Allée behind the Plains of Abraham offer great food and even better people watching during Festival d’Ete. Popular eateries like Le Louis – Hébert (668, Grande-Allée Est/418-525-7812), named after New France’s first settler- farmer, and Bistro l’Atelier (624 Grande Allée E/418-522-2225), a bustling hipster-friendly gastropub, are solid choices, as is classic Italian favourite Bello. In the Lower Town, the Auberge Saint-Antoine’s (8 Rue Saint Antoine/418-692-2211) newly rebranded Chez Muffy (named for the ownership’s matriarch) serves upmarket European farm-to-table fare served in a historic warehouse. Its menu sets a twist on classical French and Canadian cuisine, focusing on savoury flavors and ingredients plucked from the hotel’s own farm on Île d’Orléans. And lovers of classic Quebecois health food will love Le Chic Shack (15 Fort St/418-692-1485), located near the Chateau Frontenac (1 Rue des Carrières/418-692-3861), which specializes in tasty burgers, milkshakes and designer poutines.
Where to stay
The default choice for anyone wanting to stay inside the walls of Old Quebec is the iconic castle on the hill, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, which recently underwent a major restoration. Another exquisite option is the nearby Auberge Saint-Antoine, an award-winning luxury boutique hotel with spectacular views of the nearby Old Port. A member of Relais & Châteaux, this family owned gem was built on a major archaeological site, and hundreds of artefacts from the French and British colonial regimes are displayed throughout its lobby, hallways and meeting rooms.
MORE ABOUT QUEBEC CITY
Quebec City Tourism
Festival d’été de Quebec
Upcoming Dates: July 5 – 15 2018