National Treasure #20: Quebec City

“I knew there were some French people in Canada, but this is all French.”

The woman behind me in the breakfast-buffet line is from Australia. She and her husband had landed in Los Angeles and driven across the US of A before popping across the border into Quebec City.

Coming from Alberta, living in Ottawa, I knew what she meant: It is “all French.”

Quebec City – or the old part of it, anyway – is as close as Canada gets to having a European city. And it’s a city with a long history, by Canadian standards.

Moreover, its charms aren’t limited to the infrastructure. Everyone in the service industry seems to be perfectly bilingual, and perfectly happy to interact with us in either language. Do I want to practice my pathetic French? Where folks in Ottawa and Montreal immediately switch to English, Quebec Citiers play along. Is my brain too tired to even try? They respond in flawless English with no hesitation.

And they have bridges . . .

Pierre Laporte Bridge

Quebec Bridge

View of Chateau Frontenac and Old Quebec City from the water.

View from the St. Lawrence ferry.


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2 Responses to National Treasure #20: Quebec City

  1. John Whitman says:

    You seem to have developed a fascination for bridges recently, but did you know that the Iron Ring worn by Canadian-trained engineers, as a symbol and reminder of the obligations and ethics associated with the engineering profession, is associated with a Quebec City bridge collapse. That collapse occurred in 1907 and 75 construction workers died in the collapse, which was attributed to poor planning and design by the overseeing engineers.

    The first Iron Ring ceremony took place in 1922. The Iron Ring is worn on the little finger (“pinky”) of the working (dominant) hand. There, the sharp facets act as a reminder of the engineer’s obligations while he/she works, because it can drag on the writing surface while the engineer is drawing/drafting or writing. This is particularly true of recently obligated engineers, whose rings bear sharp, unworn, facets. Eventually the facets get worn down with age and hopefully experience.

    Many incorrectly believe that the rings are made from the steel of a beam from the collapsed bridge, but that is not true. In the Maritimes for example, the first Iron Rings were made from the baseplate of the first steam engine to be put into service at the coal mines in the New Glasgow area and later replaced by internal combustion engines. Eventually the baseplate got used up. Nowdays the rings are mostly all made of rust-proof stainless steel. Even so, they still wear away over time.
    John W

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – I have recently acknowledged my fascination with bridges, but I did not know the connection between bridge design/failure and the iron ring. It’s good to remember the implications of failure at, or inattention to, one’s job. Nevil Shute (an aeronautical engineer) wrote a novel with that as (one of?) its themes: Around the Bend. I note that Wiki thinks it’s Round the Bend, but my copy is clearly Around the Bend. Under either name, a great read.

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