10 reasons why you must visit Québec
Should the province of Québec ever pursue its threat of separation from the rest of Canada, it would be the world's 18th largest country, writes Stanley Stewart
Stretching from the borders of New England northward almost as far as the Arctic Circle, Québec is three times the size of France and seven times the size of the UK. It has three climatic zones, over a million lakes, one-sixth of the world's fresh water, and a coastline 5500 miles long. No wonder that the Québecois tend to think of themselves as a nation.
In the great monoculture of anglophone North America, the province of Québec is the single dissenting voice. French in language, history and custom, it brings to North America many of the same characteristics that France brings to Europe - sophistication, élan, style, culinary delights, and political obduracy.
Its two great cities - Montreal and Québec City - represent two different provincial traditions. Montreal is stylish, funky, romantic and cosmopolitan. Fizzing with metropolitan energy, it tends to look down on Toronto, its only Canadian rival, as provincial and on New York as brash and uncouth. To Americans, Montreal is 'Paris without the jet lag'; to visiting Europeans it is a proper world class city with a sophistication rarely found in North America.
Québec City is smaller and more conservative, both bastion and guardian of Québecois nationality and culture. Founded in the early 1600's, it is the only walled city in North America. With its cobbled streets, it still evokes the atmosphere of Nouvelle France. Here it was, on the Plains of Abraham, overlooking the St Lawrence, that the British wrested control of Quebec from the French in 1759 in a battle that lasted 15 minutes, a defeat that still rankles.
But the real joys of the province are not only out of the cities, they are out of doors. This is a destination whose seasons provoke activity. In summer it is much warmer than the UK, and much drier. Québec summers are for hiking, canoeing, and fishing, for boating down the spectacular Saguenay fjord, for gazing at whales in the St Lawrence, for strolling through picturesque small towns, for falling asleep on the porch in front of the cottage.
But it is winter that really seems to get people going here. Winters in Québec are proper winters with deep snow and crystal clear skies and people in parkas with ruddy faces. There is skiing, and snowmobiling, and dog sledding, and snow shooing, and tobogganing, and making a fool of yourself on the ice rink, often well under an hour from downtown Montreal or Québec.
When it is all over, in spring, the sap rises in millions of maple trees, and deep in the woods, in sugar shacks, Québecois are busy boiling it into maple syrup. In autumn, the same trees cloth the province in a riot of brilliant colour, making it the season for scenic drives down country roads.
Of course : learn french, because the Quebec is french-speaking and will stay french-speaking when it will have obtained its sovereignty.