Quebec: European style living in North America

From the quaint cobbled streets of Quebec City to the architecture of historic buildings such as the Chateau Frontenac, drawn from Medieval and Renaissance European architecture, to the European style highway system and French national language, Quebec offers striking similarities in feel to Old Europe. Nicknamed “La Belle Province,” Quebec supplies a vacation experience unique in North America.

 

Getting in, out, and about

 

In order to get into Quebec, you need to provide proof of citizenship and proof of identity. Your valid passport or passport card is sufficient for these requirements. There are no entry fees or limitations on how much cash you have on hand. For an expedited entry process, consider joining the NEXUS trusted traveler program. A NEXUS card also satisfies entry requirements, but it has the added benefit of putting you in a much faster moving line at a customs or border checkpoints.

 

If you are a minor or you are traveling with a minor and you’re not their legal guardian, you may have to supply a notarized affidavit of consent from the minor’s legal guardians. If you are coming into Quebec via a private boat, you must present yourself to the Canadian Border Services Agency. If you drive into Quebec, you will need to have a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance. You should check with your auto insurance company about getting a Canadian insurance card before you come to Quebec.

 

Although Canada has an excellent national health care system, and that includes Quebec, it is for Canadians. Even if you’re traveling to Quebec for a short visit, you should purchase traveler’s medical insurance. If you do have to see a doctor, be prepared to pay cash and pay in full otherwise. The Canadian health care system does not accept Medicare, Medicaid, or most US health insurance.

 

In addition to the common vaccinations against measles, tetanus, and whatnot, you might want to vaccinate against Hepatitis A and B and rabies, although this depends on your planned activities. Always consult with your local doctor to determine which additional vaccines are appropriate for your needs.

 

The traveler’s tongue

 

The official language of Quebec is French, although the pronunciations are much different than French as spoken in France, resembling French as spoken in the 16th and 17th Centuries more so than its European counterpart. Over 90% of the population speaks French either as a first or second language. Much of the population speaks a survival level of English at the very least. You will find the highest concentration of English speakers in the larger cities, Montreal and Quebec City. Outside of these locales, it is hit or miss. Even if your French uses more of the European style pronunciation, most Quebecers will understand you.

 

Quebecers are very proud of their unique culture, which is as different culturally from the French as Americans are from the Britts. They think of themselves as Quebecers first and Canadians second if they do so at all. Even though ballot measures to separate from Canada have twice failed in the past four decades, many Quebecers still hold to a dream of sovereignty. You may notice more Fleur de Lis symbols than maple leafs, and the Quebec flag is frequently flown higher than the Canadian flag in some places.

 

While discussions about politics and religion are usually taboo when traveling and meeting new people, this is exceptionally so in Quebec, particularly religious discussions and discussions about Quebec’s sovereignty. Quebecers are private about their religious beliefs. There was even an attempt to ban public officials from being allowed to wear religious items when acting in an official capacity. This stems from a shift during the 1960’s Quiet Revolution from a Roman Catholic society to one that is more secular and agnostic, and in some places even hostile toward religion.

 

Similarly, discussions about Quebec’s status as part of the rest of Canada versus splitting off are also touchy. Quebec is very split on this issue and passions can run hot on the subject, so it’s best not to bring it up.

 

Outside of the more touristy places, businesses, street signs, and other signs are entirely in French. Quebec uses the metric system as well, so be prepared for distances to be given in kilometers rather than miles and weights in grams and kilograms.

 

Things to do

 

Quebec offers a wide variety of activities for vacationers. Here are some of the highlights:

 

  • In the wintertime, you can enjoy free ice skating in Parc La Fontaine. When it’s warmer, this park in the Plateau region of Montreal features beach volleyball and tennis as well as free performances.
  • The Biodome in Montreal is the only one of its kind in the world. It features habitats from North, Central, and South America inside of a giant dome previously used for the Winter Olympics.
  • Explore the myriad cultures of the original First Nations with powwow activities, cultural museums, and guided treks into Quebec’s beautiful wilderness. Learn how people living in their land for millennia have gone about it since before Europeans got there.
  • Quebec City features the only walled city north of Mexico in North America, cobblestone streets, and authentic 17th Century architecture, marking its Old Town section as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Try your luck at any of the four casinos in Quebec, including one in Montreal.
  • Cruise the St Lawrence River and watch for the many species of whales that migrate into the river from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. If you go north far enough, you might even be able to spot walruses and narwhals.
  • The massive Jardin Botanique in Montreal covers over 190 acres and features different styles of gardens including a Chinese garden, a Japanese garden, and representative gardens of the First Nations. If you’d like to learn about poisons, there’s a poisonous plants section along with numerous other varieties of plants and gardens.
  • Hike along the Appalachian Trail. The trail begins in the southern US, but extends through Canada. In fact there are thousands of hiking trails all over Quebec, a fine way to take in the breathtaking scenery.
  • Another way to enjoy Quebec’s gorgeous wilderness is to tour the area on a motorcycle. The best time to do this is from June to September because the roads are safer.
  • Enjoy the open air markets and picnicking in the Charlevoix region along the St. Lawrence River.

 

Driving in Quebec

 

Quebec is bordered by US states, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, to the south. Consequently, driving into Quebec is an easy way to get there. If you do drive there, be aware that the roads can get icy, particularly in the winter time. Although it is customary to pass on the left, Quebecers don’t always observe this and might pass on the right as well. In Montreal, all right turns during red lights are illegal unless otherwise specified.

 

Keep in mind that the speed limit in Quebec is a bit slower than you’ll typically find in the US as well. On the highways outside of the cities, it’s 100 km/hr (just above 62 mph). In and around the cities, the maximum speed drops to 80 km/hr (approximately 50 mph) on the highways, and 50 km/hr on the other streets (approximately 32 mph).

 

Unique cuisine

 

Quebec cuisine is hearty and much of it is flavored by maple syrup, which is a huge product in this area. Not only do they put it on pancakes and waffles there, but use it as a glaze for meats and mix it in with stew. Each spring places around Quebec celebrate the newly produced maple syrup at a cabane à sucre (sugar shack). Take your entire family and enjoy the myriad sweets that commemorate the beginning of the season.

 

Another dish unique to Quebec is poutine, and you absolutely must try this hearty delight. A plate of French fries is covered in white cheddar curds and gravy. Some varieties add different kinds of seasoned meats and vegetables. It’s an entire meal in itself.

 

Regardless of how you get to Quebec, start planning today for a vacation unique in North America. Don’t forget to practice your French.