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Québec City divides between districts revamped with museums, cafes, bars, restaurants and all the other mod-cons of international tourism and an Old Town bristling with historic ramparts, churches, narrow lanes and former battlefields.

The city is the rather European-flavoured capital of Québec province, borrows some of its grandeur from a lofty cape and some from its broad river.

Facts in a glance

Area: 93 sq km
Population: 167,000
Country: Canada
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -5 (Eastern Standard Time)
Telephone Area Code: +1-418


History

At first, the province's vast tracts of land were the domain of native Canadian societies who are today referred to as the First Nations. There are 11 First Nations in Québec: the Inuit, Cree, Innu (Montagnais), Attikamekw, Algonquin, Micmac, Malecite, Abénaki, Mohawk, Naskapi and Huron-Wendat.

The Huron-Wendat established a village called Stadacona on the site of present-day Québec City, but their nation was almost extinguished in the first half of the 17th century, when disease and intertribal wars reduced its members, who mainly lived in the Great Lakes region, from 30,000 to several hundred. The survivors of that period eventually resettled themselves at a place called Wendake, where many of the 3000-strong Huron-Wendat population still live today.

1535: the French explorer Jacques Cartier landed at Stadacona and spent a year in the area, giving every geographical feature in sight a French name and planting crosses in the name of the King of France to further make his colonial point. He floated back six years later and tried to establish a permanent base further upstream, but failed despite a lot of toil and left with fumée billowing out of his ears.

1608: the French finally managed to lay the groundwork for today's city, when Samuel de Champlain got the native Canadian inhabitants heavily interested in the fur trade, planted some soldiers on Cape Diamond and declared the settlement of Kebec, named via an Algonquin word meaning 'where the river narrows', open for business.

Fur trade got so big that it inspired an entrepreneurial cardinal back home to start shipping hundreds of settlers (Roman Catholic) to Québec City each year to help harvest pelts and exploit the other natural resources at hand.

In 1629, the English snatched control of the burgeoning city, but a few years later signed a treaty and gave it back to the French. The conflict between England and France continued to simmer and numerous British attacks culminated in a decisive victory over the French on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, both the English general Wolfe and the French general Montcalm died in that battle.

1763: English sovereignty over Canada was formalised in the Treaty of Paris.

1791: the territory was divided into Upper and Lower Canada, with the vast majority of French speakers ebbing into the latter. At the beginning of the 19th century, Lower Canada became Québec and Québec City was selected as its capital. The city was later decreed the capital of the United Provinces of Canada, created when the Lower and Upper bits of the country were joined in 1841, but this mantle passed to Ottawa in 1867 when the Canadian Confederation, joining the provinces of Québec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia under a central government, was rubberstamped.

Québec City asserted its real tourist potential with the opening of the first Winter Carnival in 1954. It has been effectively building on this ever since, though it was distracted until 1959 by the corrupt and corporation-favouring reign of Québec premier Maurice Duplessis, and in the 1960s and 70s by the rise of a sometimes violent separatist political movement.

1995: all of Québec province voted in a referendum to decide whether it should separate from the rest of Canada and become an independent republic. The 'No' vote won by less than one percentage point.

2001: the city was the site of the Summit of the Americas, which was accompanied by mass demonstrations and protests against globalisation. Images of 6000 police and 1200 soldiers using water cannons, tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets on protesters were broadcast around the world.

2002: the new, or Greater, Québec City is nearly 100 times its original size. The city's population of 167,000 ballooned out to 672,000, due to an administrative sleight of hand. Surrounding towns and once-separate cities were fused with Québec City.

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