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Quebec City has a history and culture, a distinct identity, which sets it apart from any other city that I know in Canada. This summer I was privileged to experience this rich culture. I participated in a five-week summer Explore bursary program to study French-as-a second-language at Laval University. I was joined by hundreds of fellow English-speaking students from across Canada to improve my knowledge of French in the heart of Quebec City. In the program we were required to speak French at all times, in our classes in the mornings and in the various activities and outings arranged for the afternoons and weekends.
A short bus ride on the Metrobus brings one from the University to just minutes away from the fortifications that surround Vieux (Old) Quebec. In 1608 Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec. It is in the vicinity of these walls where this city’s over 400 years of history is truly apparent. The fortifications were originally made out of wood to protect the city from invasions, but were remade in stone to preserve it as a historical site.
I learned about the 1759 Battle on the Plains of Abraham when I visited the Maison de la Découverte on those very plains which now have been turned into a park. During the fourth week, I visited the Musée de la Civilisation and it was there that I realized how much my oral French had improved from all of the practice in the program. The guide spoke French quickly for a 45 minute tour through the special exposition on Rome, and I could follow just fine. However, I know that if the tour had been during the first week of the program, I would have been mystified by the Québécois accent.
Furthermore, the Catholic Church played an important role in Quebec’s development as a city. I visited various religious sites including the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame with its meticulous architecture and music, and the Sanctuaire de Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, which to this day is a popular site for pilgrimages.
In addition, I experienced the rich culture of the capital of Quebec’s majority francophone population. I appreciated the talents of Québécois artists featured at the permanent exhibitions at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Furthermore, I had a taste of the distinct cuisine. I learned how to make authentic Québécois recipes such as quiche and Pets de Soeurs (which is similar to a cinnamon roll). I tried poutine and Tart d’erable (Maple Pie) for the first time at an authentic Québécois restaurant.
I enjoyed the nature in Quebec when I visited the many parks: the rocky mountainous terrain (in comparison to the flat St. Lawrence lowlands that I am used to in Southern Ontario), and beautiful waterfalls. In my classes I learned about Québécois musicians and the language particularities that make the French spoken in Quebec unique.
I enjoyed my time in the city: attending 18 hours of class each week, touring the many attractions in Vieux Quebec, trying new cuisine, hiking, meeting new people, and simply just speaking French. After the five weeks, which went by very quickly, I can say that Quebec City, especially the old city within the fortifications, is special. I could feel the strength of the French roots, and I was pleased to be a part of this community for the five weeks of the program. The immersion was an amazing experience. Now I have an understanding of the Quebec culture that I had previously only read about in books. I have a new found conviction that the Québécois traditions constitute an essential part to the Canadian culture.
Sarah Gagliano, Mississauga, Ont.