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Lower Town is the new hot spot, its once-dilapidated warehouses are now boutique hotels, trendy shops, chic art galleries, and popular restaurants and bars, filled with locals and tourists alike. After exploring Place Royale and its cobblestone streets, you can walk along the edge of the St. Lawrence River and watch the sailboats and ships go by, shop at the market, or kick back on a terrasse with an ice cider. Rue Petit-Champlain also has charming places to stop and listen to street musicians, and the scene near the Old Port starts buzzing as soon as the sun goes down.
But looking back in time, if there's a cradle of French civilization in North America, you're standing in it when you visit Lower Town. In 1608 Champlain chose this narrow, U-shaped spit of land sandwiched between the frigid waters of the St. Lawrence River and the craggy heights of Cap Diamant as the site for his settlement. Champlain later abandoned the fortified abitation (residence) at the foot of Cap Diamant and relocated to the more easily defendable Upper Town.
However, the area continued to flourish as a bustling port and trading center for French merchants, fur traders, coureurs de bois (woodsmen), and France's Native American allies. It was also the base from which dozens of military campaigns and fact-finding missions were launched into the heart of an unknown continent. A bust of France's "Sun King," Louis XIV, was erected in the main square, Place du Marché, which was renamed Place Royale in 1686. Destroyed by British cannons that were set up on the opposite shore during the siege of 1759, the port and buildings were rebuilt by the British, and the area quickly regained its role as Canada's leading commercial and business center.
Lower Town went into an economic tailspin in the mid-1800s, becoming a slum whose narrow streets were lined with pawnshops, rough-and-tumble taverns, and smoky brothels that catered to sailors and lumberjacks. This lasted until the 1960s, when it received a multimillion-dollar face-lift that remade it into a sanitized version of its 1700s self. Today, once-dilapidated houses and warehouses contain stylish boutiques, popular restaurants, and chic art and antiques galleries. Bounded by the Dufferin-Montmorency Highway to the west, the St. Charles River to the north, the St. Lawrence River to the east, and Petit Champlain shopping area to the south, the Lower Town is also home to approximately 850 people.
Lower Town at a Glance
- Antiques district
- Boutique Metiers des Arts du Québec
- Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (Our Lady of Victory Church)
- L'Escalier du Casse-Cou
- Maison Chevalier
- Maison Louis-Jolliet
- Buffet de L'Antiquaire
- Laurie Raphaël Restaurant-Atelier-Boutique
- Le Café du Monde
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