Intendant's Palace Archaeological Site | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Intendant's Palace Archaeological Site

The site of the Intendant's Palace is in the Lower Town of Québec City below the Côte du Palais.

Intendant's Palace Archaeological Site

The site of the Intendant's Palace is in the Lower Town of Québec City below the Côte du Palais. In 1971 an exploratory survey confirmed the presence of ancient remains under the buildings of the Dow Brewery, which had just been demolished. Nevertheless, it was only in 1982 that a sustained longer-term research project was undertaken at the site in partnership by Québec City and Université Laval. Excavations conducted during a field school offered by the History Department of Université Laval extended from 1982 to 1990, and they are ongoing since 2000. Teams of archaeologists from Québec City also worked at the site in 2006 and 2007, in preparation for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec in 1608 and the construction of an archaeological interpretive centre.

After several campaigns of excavation and laboratory research, the knowledge obtained from material remains and written and oral documentation is impressive. The site of the Intendant's Palace appears as complex strata of occupations, which are generally in a good state of preservation and clearly recognizable. These occupations are not only related to different periods of the city's history, but they also give evidence of trade relations with the metropolis of France and England, and of the sphere of influence of the weak French empire in America. Archaeologists have identified at least 8 superposed occupations that extend over more than 3 centuries: indigenous occupation; first Euro-American occupation (1666-1668); Intendant Talon's brewery (1668-1675); first Intendant's Palace (1684-1713); new Intendant's Palace and the King's Stores (1716-1760); abandonment of the site and reoccupation by soldiers and civilians (1760-1852); Boswell-Dow Brewery, Bisset Smelter and civilian occupations (1852-1971); archaeological interpretation centre, fire station and green space (1971-).

Ancient Occupations
There are only traces of the 2 older occupations. A few chert flakes indicate that stone was chipped there and tools, including a ground stone adze and a chipped-stone point, confirm an indigenous presence, probably during the prehistoric period. Similarly, the first Euro American occupation is revealed only by wood chips and sawdust, which give evidence of on-site manufacturing of wooden parts that, at first sight, look like parts used for crafts. Analysis of the material continues and, if their link to naval construction is confirmed, it might be that they belonged to Intendant Talon's maritime shipyard. Written documents indicate that it existed in this area in the 1660s.

The Intendant's Brewery
Archaeologists identified several elements that belong to Intendant Talon's brewery (1668-1675). They are related to the main steps of beer production: the germinator with its flagstone floor, its 2 hearths that ensured a favourable temperature for oats to germinate and its drain that rejected wastewater; the kiln in which germinated oats were heated before being passed through the mill and transformed into malt; and the ovens in which the beer was cooked in large copper cauldrons. It was also possible to determine the dimensions of the building, which was about 45 m in length; it was therefore a large industrial building. The brewery was probably too ambitious as a project for this period - Québec City counted fewer than 1000 residents at the time, which would explain the brewery's short period of activity.

First Palace
Starting in 1684 the Intendant De Meulles, whose residence had been destroyed by fire, settled in what was then called the "maison de la Brasserye" (the Brewery House). De Meulles obtained the necessary credits to transform this large building in a place worthy of his position in the colony, which made him at least the equal of the Gouverneur. While the governor took care of political and military affairs, the intendant was in charge of administering justice and economy. It was he who chaired the Sovereign Council, which included dignitaries from the colony, in addition to the governor and the bishop of Québec. It was therefore at the Intendant's Palace that justice was served, that edicts and laws were made. Also there were the King's prisons, the bakery where bread was made for the troops and the warehouses or stores that contained material intended for the soldiers or the fur trade.

Excavations allowed archaeologists to identify the additions made to transform the brewery into a palace for the Intendant; these increased the length of the building to 67 m. The 4 large storerooms found in the cellars revealed a rich material culture mixed with debris from the building, which was destroyed by a terrible fire during the night of 5-6 January 1713, including gun parts, remains of storage casks and a collection of trade knives and religious medals, which were found as well at French and indigenous sites located as far away as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. Elements of fortifications erected in the 1690s as protection against a possible attack by New England colonies were also exposed.

New Palace and Civil Occupation
Following the destruction of the first palace, a new, larger one was built a little north of the original. The ruins of the old palace were transformed into large detached stores. The excavation of the new palace has contributed to defining the precise outline of its foundations and to recover, from the latrines, a rich deposit of items dating from the 18th century. In the cellars of the King's Stores were found large deposits of trade gun ornamentation beautifully incised with rococo designs, glass beads, knives and building hardware. As in the case of the first palace, almost identical trading material was uncovered in the colony's outposts.

The detached stores were destroyed in the spring of 1760, when the Chevalier Lévis attacked Québec City, which had been taken by the British the year before. They were more or less abandoned, and the same happened to the new palace during the American invasion and the siege of Québec in 1775-1776. This period is therefore characterized by the first use of the detached stores' ruins as a dump, followed by installations related to occupations by civilians who bought pieces of land from the British government. Remains of a malt factory and the Clearihue bakery were found, among other things. In 1846, a big conflagration destroyed the neighbourhood and forced the inhabitants to escape hastily, leaving behind their goods, which were transformed into a layer of ashes and charred debris that archaeologists can identify and date easily.

Doswell-Bow Brewery
In 1852 Joseph Knight Boswell, a brewer already settled in Québec, bought the free parcels of Saint-Vallier Street in order to enlarge his brewery. He settled right on the old archaeological levels and started a new period of intensive occupation that was to leave deep imprints. In fact, at the end of the 19th century the Boswell Brewery was considered one of the most modern factories in Canada. Through the interpretation of the traces left by the successive rearrangements required by the industry's transformation, archaeologists have identified 4 different phases ranging from 1852 to the cessation of beer production in 1968 and the demolition of part of the plant in the following years.

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