Quebec (French: Québec) is a province located in eastern Canada, the largest in size and second only to Ontario in population. Predominantly French-speaking (French being the provincial government’s official language), Quebec is situated east of Ontario; to the west of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island; to the south of the territory of Nunavut, and finally bordering the U.S. States of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to its south. The provincial capital of Quebec is Quebec City, the province’s largest city is Montreal, the second largest city in Canada.
Quebec is unique among North American tourist destinations. Its French heritage does not only set the province apart from most of its English speaking neighbors, it is also one of the few historical areas in North America to have fully preserved its Francophone culture. Its European feel and its history, culture and warmth have made Quebec a favourite tourist destination both nationally and internationally.
Montreal and Southwestern Quebec (Montreal, Montérégie, Eastern Townships, Laurentides, Lanaudière)
The culturally rich and lively city of Montreal plus its suburbs. South of the St. Lawrence River, there are small towns, farmland, lakes and hills. Parts of the area were settled by Loyalists from the American Revolution giving the area a bit of a New England feel. The mountains north of the river are Montreal’s playground.
Québec City and Central Quebec (Quebec Region, Centre-du-Québec, Chaudière-Appalaches, Mauricie, Charlevoix)
This is the heartland of Quebec. Quebec City is the capital of the province with a European feel and charming Old Town. To the southwest is the prime agricultural region of the province.
A very distinctive region of Quebec with its own culture, accent, and mountainous geography. The region is highlighted by one of the few fjords on the east coast of Canada.
Southeastern Quebec (Gaspé Peninsula, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Îles-de-la-Madeleine)
The rugged coastal region of Quebec east of Quebec City and south of the St. Lawrence River with small towns and villages hugging the coast. The Gaspé is considered particularly scenic.
The rugged coastal region northeast of the Saguenay River on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, famous for whale watching.
Northern Quebec (Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Baie-James, Nunavik)
The sparsely inhabited north and northwestern region of the province, with logging and mining towns and hydro electric projects, as well as Inuit and other Native communities.
There are four distinct seasons in Québec—spring, summer, fall and winter offering a wonderful view of the nature and variety of activities.
The official language of Quebec, however, is French. Provincial government signs (highway signs, government buildings, hospitals, etc.) are generally posted in French only. Tourist information is offered in English and other languages. The visibility of commercial signs and billboards in English and other languages is restricted by law (except for English-language media and cultural venues such as theatres, cinemas and bookstores). Most businesses will not have signs in English except in tourist areas and localities with a large English-speaking population. Language is a very sensitive subject politically, particularly in Montreal. If you cannot read a sign in a store or restaurant, most sales people will be sympathetic and help you find your way. Most restaurants in tourist areas will supply English menus if asked.
82% of Quebec’s population is francophone, but English is also commonly spoken, particularly in the province’s major cities such as Montréal where the percentage is 24%. For French-speaking people from elsewhere, the French spoken in Quebec is often difficult to understand for French people from France. Books have been published on Quebec expressions, and these may be worth consulting if you are planning to stay in Quebec for any length of time.
Isolated from France for centuries, and unaffected by that country’s 19th-century language standardization, Quebec has developed its own accent of French similar to the one in France in the 16th century, a kind of time capsule. The continental variety–called “international French” or français international here–is well-understood, and something closely approximating it is spoken by broadcasters and many businesspeople. While Quebecers usually understand European French, European tourists may feel lost until they grow accustomed to the local accent(s).
There are a few main differences between Quebec French and European French. One is that in Quebec it’s relatively common to tutoyer (use the familiar tu second-person pronoun instead of vous when saying you) for all, regardless of age or status (though there are common exceptions to this in the workplace and the classroom). In France, it would be considered impolite. The unrelated interrogative particle -tu is used to form yes-or-no questions, as in On y va-tu? “Shall we go?” Finally, there are a number of vocabulary words that differ, particularly in very informal contexts (for example, un char for a car, rather than une voiture or une auto), and some common expressions (C’est beau [literally It’s nice] for “OK” or “fine”). Overall, however, pronunciation marks the most significant difference between Quebec French and European French. For example, the word pas is pronounced “paw”, the word fête is pronounced “fight” etc.
Probably the most puzzling difference in Quebec’s French is that one will often sacrer (blaspheme or swear) rather than using scatological or sexual curse words. Terms like baptême (baptism) or viarge (deformation of vierge, virgin) have become slangy and taboo over the centuries in this once fervently Catholic culture. Hostie de tabarnac! (“communion wafer of the tabernacle!”) or just tabarnak! is one of the most obscene things to say, and more polite versions like tabarnouche or tabarouette are equivalent to “darn” or “fudge!”
Although sacre may seem funny, be assured that Quebeckers, particularly the older generation, do take it seriously. Don’t sacre any time you don’t really mean it! But be sure that younger Quebeckers may be fond of teaching you a little sacrage lesson if you ask them.
English-speaking Quebeckers are generally bilingual and reside mostly in the Montreal area, where 25% of the population speaks English at home. Aside from the occasional borrowing of local French terms (“dépanneur” as opposed to corner store or convenience store), their English differs little from standard Canadian English, including the occasional “eh” at the end of the sentence; accents are influenced heavily by ethnicity, with distinct Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Greek inflections heard in Montreal neighborhoods. Conversations between anglophones and francophones often slip unconsciously between English and French as a mutual show of respect. This can be confusing if you’re not bilingual, and a look of puzzlement will generally signal a switch back to a language everyone can understand.
Although English-speakers will usually greet strangers in French, it is considered pretentious and overzealous for a native English-speaker to continue a conversation in French with other English speakers (though two francophones will easily converse together in English when in a room of anglophones). Local English-speakers may also refer to street names by their English names as oppose to the posted French names, but this is getting rarer (for example, Mountain Street for rue de la Montagne, Pine Avenue for avenue des Pins).
Some French-language radio stations, including those with classic rock formats may play English language music.
There are flights to Québec from major cities in North America, Europe and Asia. Montréal is a 70-minute flight from New York and is less than 6 hours and 45 minutes by air from London or Paris.
Quebec has two major international airports: Montréal’s Trudeau International Airport, which has direct flights to most major Canadian, Mexican and U.S. cities as well as selected European destinations (including daily flights to Paris, London and Frankfurt), is located in the suburb of Dorval, about 30 minutes from downtown. Quebec City’s Jean Lesage Aiport is much smaller but also serves several Canadian and US destinations (including Toronto, New York (Newark), Chicago and Detroit), as well as Paris (Air France and Air Transat). Jean Lesage Airport is located in L’Ancienne-Lorette, about 25 minutes drive west of downtown Quebec City.
Montreal’s former Mirabel International Airport is no longer in use.
The days when immigrants arrived in Québec by boat are long over, but visitors with a bit of time can enjoy any one of the many cruises available along the St. Lawrence River.
Numerous cruise lines offer routes that sail the Saint Lawrence. Cruise companies include these routes in their Canada & New England destinations. The port of embarkation and debarkation for most of these itineraries are New York, Boston, Montréal and Québec City. Depending on the individual cruise, their itineraries include stops in Montréal, Québec City, Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Baie-Comeau, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Sept-Îles, the Gaspésie, and the Îles de la Madeleine.
C.T.M.A. operates a daily cruise-ferry during the summer (and less frequently at other times of the year) from Souris, P.E.I. to Cap-aux-Meules, Qué. Labrador Marine operates up to three ferries daily (no service January through April) from St. Barbe, Nfld. to Blanc-Sablon, Qué.
From the US, the Amtrak “Adirondack” runs from New York City once a day, with stops connecting to bus routes serving upstate New York, terminating in Montreal. The trip is a scenic 6 hours along the Hudson River, but be prepared for delays at the border that can range from 30 minutes to 3 hours.
VIA Rail Canada, the federal passenger railway, operates numerous trains daily from both Toronto and Ottawa to Montréal, with multiple connections to Québec City. They also run a daily train from Halifax, Nova Scotia, stopping in Moncton, New Brunswick into Montréal. A more scenic route follows the Gaspe Peninsula. Significant discounts are available to youths and to university students carrying as ISIC Card (International Student Identity Card).
Tshiuetin Rail Transportation operates two trains weekly from western Labrador (Newfoundland) to Sept-Îles, Qué. and Schefferville, Qué.
Adirondack Trailways and Greyhound Lines operate frequent motorcoach service from New York. Vermont Transit and Greyhound Lines operate frequent motorcoach service from Boston.
Coach Canada operates frequent motorcoach service from Toronto into Montréal. Voyageur, an affiliate of Greyhound Canada, operates hourly motorcoach service from Ottawa into Montréal. There is also limited transportation service from Ottawa into Grand-Remous, Que. via Voyageur, as well as from North Bay, Ontario. into Rouyn-Noranda via Autobus Maheux. For more structured bus trips around the central and east coast region, there is also Out Here Travel a backpacker focused hybrid bus transport / tour company which picks up passengers in the Laurentians and Montreal.
From Toronto, there is only one option: highway 401 (six hours by car). From the United States, visitors can arrive from New York City (six hours by car), or from multiple points of entry in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Acadian Lines operates two trips daily by motorcoach from Halifax, N.S. and Moncton, N.B. into Rivières-du-Loup, Qué., and then continuing onward to Québec, Qué. and Montréal, Qué. Orléans Express operates two trips daily by motorcoach from Campbellton, N.B. into Rimouski, Qué., and then continuing onward to Québec, Qué. and Montréal, Qué.
Using air transportation to travel between the different cities in Québec is not recommended. But air travel is indispensable for getting around northern Québec (except for the Baie-James region, which is served by a paved highway), because there are no highways or railways serving these remote areas.
VIA Rail Canada (www.viarail.ca) is Quebec’s only intercity passenger train carrier, while AMT (www.amt.qc.ca) runs Montreal’s commuter trains to the suburbs. Trains run infrequently (compared to Europe). Tickets are typically far cheaper in advance than on day-of sales. There are no high-speed trains in Quebec. Busses are usually cheaper, with more daily connections. Note however that east of Quebec City, the main Via train (Ocean) is very rickety all the way to New Brunswick, and may lurch frequently at night. It is recommended to bring Gravol (anti-nausea medication) if travelling on this train.
The main way to travel between cities is by bus. The bus network is very well developed, particularly for connections between Québec City-Montréal, Ottawa-Montréal and Toronto-Montréal. Montreal’s main bus station is located at 505 De Maisonneuve East. Buying tickets and making seat reservations is a good idea, particularly for Friday evening or holiday travel, but same day ticket purchase is also possible.
Renting a car and driving around Canada poses no particular problem, even in the cities. However, it is best to arrange the rental from where you are coming. Read the rental contract carefully, particularly the section on insurance. Often, you can rent a car in one city and return it in another without prohibitive costs. Car rental companies are Discount (Montréal and the province of Québec), ViaRoute (Montréal and the province of Québec), Viau (Montréal), Enterprise.
Québec has a good network of toll-free highways connecting all the main cities and surrounding areas. In Québec, the highway speed limit is 100 km/h, with the speed of traffic generally being 120 km/h on the highway.
Drivers should be aware that on the Island of Montréal, one cannot turn right on a red light. Many urban areas also have restrictive signs on intersections in this regard.
Police enforcement is rather rare. Radar traps, however, are not uncommon on major highways during highly-travelled weekends. In most towns and cities, you’ll sometimes encounter speed traps in school zones but they are not very common. A result of the police’s slim presence is that Quebec drivers are rather undisciplined as they know that they are unlikely to get caught for most traffic violations.
The Québec highway code is similar to that practiced in most of Europe. A couple of differences are that traffic lights are often located across the intersection, not at the side, and you are not allowed to turn right at a red traffic light on the Island of Montréal or where otherwise indicated. At stop signs, every one advances in turn, based on the order in which the cars arrived at the stop sign. Roundabouts are very rare.
Road Signs in Quebec are mostly in french language. Be sure to know what they mean even though most signs are easy to figure out.
One oddity of Quebec signage is at intersections, where the default signage practice is to indicate with arrows bounded by green circles what movements you may do, as opposed to the rest of Canada, where arrows with red circles around them indicate what movements you may not do. In other words, if that arrow in a green circle points straight ahead and also has a branching arrow pointing left, but not one pointing right, it means you can’t turn right, but you can go straight or turn left.
When you come to an intersection in many cities, you may often be uncertain as to which lane you are authorized to use for left or right turns. While it is customary in many countries to display such information on signs placed on traffic lights, Quebec often displays it using arrows painted on the ground. As a rule, only the leftmost lane allows for left turns and the rightmost lane allows right turns but there are exceptions at some large intersections. Be on the lookout as many locals do not obey these rules; this is especially true when there is relatively heavy traffic, some drivers wanting to get ahead and others following suit.
Québec’s regions boast an impressive network of bicycle paths, totalling more than 3,400 km (2,111 mi). This means you can visit several regions by bicycle and find local accommodations near the bike paths.
Numerous cruises are also available on the St. Lawrence River, one of the world’s biggest waterways.
For people travelling in small groups and wanting to keep their costs down, Pop Rideshare and AmigoExpress are a great alternative to any of the transportation methods mentioned above. AmigoExpress is a ride-sharing networks serving Québec’s major cities, while Pop Rideshare covers British Columbia, Ontario and Québec. To access these services, simply register online, pay the small membership fee (for example, AmigoExpress is $7.50, while Pop Rideshare has no membership fee), and create a profile. AmigoExpress even has a free membership for students. Then you can reserve your spot in a car belonging to someone who is travelling to the same destination as you—sometimes for up to half the price of the bus. AmigoExpress charges you a fixed $5.00 fee for every ride you book, while Pop Rideshare has a 15% fee (a ride at $15.00 would cost $17.25 while a ride at $20.00 would cost $23.00). The only inconvenience with this system is that it doesn’t serve every city, so some areas are not accessible using this method. The advantage of ridesharing is that you can arrange pickup of dropoff location with your driver, but a bus may not be able to drop at a certain town or exit on the way.
Québec’s winding, scenic secondary roads are ideal for a motorcycle ride. However, in southern Québec, the best season for travelling by motorcycle is limited to between May and October. In remote areas, the nicest season is two months shorter than that, running from June to September. In the last few years, taking to Québec’s roads by motorcycle has become increasingly popular. The province boasts several motorcycle clubs , and visiting tourists can rent motorcycles.
Québec’s motorcyclists share a special fraternity and team spirit. If your motorcycle breaks down, you certainly won’t remain stranded on the roadside for long before another motorcyclist stops to help. So don’t be surprised to see other motorcyclists wave to you on the road or spontaneously engage in conversation at a rest stop.
VIA Rail offers train service along the St. Lawrence river, up the Saguenay and in the Gaspé Peninsula.
Within cities, public transit tends to be good by North American standards, though showing the signs of funding cuts in recent years.
“La route verte” comprises 3,600 kilometres of bikeways linking the various regions of Québec.
There are many sports and outdoor activities in Québec that can be enjoyed summer and/or winter:
Québec has a number of sites and attractions.
Quebecers are known for their festive spirit and taste for celebration. This explains the close to 400 festivals held each year in Québec. Québec’s events are varied, from sports to cultural events and festivals, and attract visitors from around the world.
Around the Province
To truly get a feel for the authentic Québec, take one or several of the tourist routes that run alongside the St. Lawrence or criss-cross the countryside not far from the major axial highways. Clearly indicated by a series of blue signs, these routes are designed to showcase the cultural and natural treasures of their respective regions.
Quebecers’ favourite alcohol is beer given the high taxes on wine. The province boasts several very good microbreweries. Here is a list of the best brew pubs in Québec by region. In Montréal, there is Dieu du Ciel!, L’Amère à Boire, Le Cheval Blanc and Brutopia. In Québec City, there is La Barberie and L’Inox. One of the best is Le Broumont in Bromont, near the foot of the ski hill. If you visit Sherbrooke, be sure to stop in at the Mare au Diable. In the Mauricie region, there is Le Trou du Diable (Shawinigan) and Gambrinus (Trois-Rivières). For anyone wishing to visit the stunning Charlevoix region, there is the Charlevoix microbrewery in Baie St-Paul. Liquor and wine are sold mainly at Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) stores, but beer and wine (often of a lesser quality) can also be found at supermarkets and convenience stores. In the country, good quality wine and liquor can be found at the grocery store. The sale of alcohol is prohibited after 11:00 p.m. at convenience stores and supermarkets, and may not be sold to anyone under the age of 18. Bars are open until 3:00 a.m. (except in Gatineau where they close at 2:00 a.m. to avoid an influx of partiers when the bars close in Ottawa).
Beer and a so-so selection of wine are available at most grocery stores and depanneurs (corner markets), but by law distilled spirits are only available at provincial stores called the SAQ (pronounced “ess-ay-cue” or “sack”). The SAQ also has a higher-quality selection of wine, mostly European, Australian, or South American– there’s a peculiar blind spot for California vintages. Canadian wines are woefully difficult to find even in the largest SAQs, unlike in neighbouring Ontario. Although closing time in bars is 3AM, most SAQs close between 6 and 9PM (some Express SAQ may close at 10 or 11PM) , and sales of other alcohol are banned after 11PM.
Quebec is blessed with some of the finest beers on the North American continent. As in the rest of Canada, they are higher-proof than in the US; alcohol content starts around 5-6% but 8-12% is not unusual.
If you are coming from Ontario late at night hoping to buy some beer, best to save your gas money and remain in Ontario because the sale of alcohol is also prohibited after 11p.m.
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