Quebec can seem very familiar to those who have been to France. Dominated by the impressive Chateau Frontenac, often described as the most-photographed hotel in the world, Quebec City has even stood in for its European cousin in movies such as “Catch Me If You Can”.
There is an abundance of churches and museums, shop signs in French, and restaurants and bistros that spill out onto the pavement in European style. With the only remaining city walls in North America, Old Quebec is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Parliament Building is inspired by the Louvre in Paris and furnished with a recently imported French fountain. An annual Culture Day, begun in Quebec, is starting to stretch out across the country. There are statues, installations and public art projects across the city, part of the deal whenever someone completes a new building.
French is the language I hear on the streets, and see on the currency, and it is no surprise to find that around 98 per cent of the population are French, or of French ancestry. The province’s blue and white fleur-de-lis flag, displayed more than the Canadian Maple Leaf, is another sign of its roots. “The Grand Théâtre de Quebec and other arts centers have been central to keeping the French-Canadian culture alive,” says Natalie Portas, who manages the theater.
However, Bernard Crustin, a local historian, tells me only 30 per cent of people in Quebec province are hardcore separatists. “The majority don’t have strong feelings,” he says. “When things aren’t going well economically, there tends to be more call for separating, but when everything’s good, less so.” And the number of separatists is getting smaller because the population of Quebec is growing, but the French-Canadian population isn’t.