Place Royale | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Place Royale

  By bringing a bust of the king to Québec in 1686, Champigny was acquiescing to the request Louis XIV made of his intendants the previous year to create "places royales" in his honour in the various provinces of his kingdom.

Louis-S.-St-Laurent building overlooking Place Royale. Photo Credit: Yves Tessier, Tessima
Place Royale, 17th Century Roofs
Roofs of the classical era (late 17th century) reconstructed on the Place Royale (photo by Luc Noppen).
Place Royale Reconstruction
Examples of urban dwellings in New France (18th century) reconstructed on the Place Royale, with Notre-Dame de la Victoire to the right (photo by Marc Robitaille, Centre de production multimédia, Laval University).
Located in Québec City's lower town, along the St. Lawrence River, Place Royale burgeoned alongside the second habitation built by Samuel de CHAMPLAIN between 1623 and 1626. On a plan showing Québec City in 1660, Jean Bourdon identified the area as a parade ground (place d'armes). In 1685 Robert de Villeneuve called it a marketplace, which was essentially its main purpose from the 17th to the 19th century. This public square, with its houses for the most part rebuilt following a fire in lower town in 1682, became known as Place Royale in 1686 when Intendant Jean Bochart de CHAMPIGNY had a bust of King Louis XIV erected at its centre. Today, the name Place Royale not only refers to the square itself but also to the surrounding urban area. However, some historians contend that there was never really a "place royale" in Québec since, contrary to those built in France during the same period, the marketplace in Québec's lower town was never the subject of a well-thought-out and coherent architectural plan. Former names for the area are just as conflicting. In a map of Québec drawn by Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin in 1688 the area is indeed called Place Royale. However, this name was not the current name in use at the time and, to understand why Franquelin called it such, it should be noted that he had specially prepared this view of Québec for a map he was presenting to Louis XIV in the hopes of securing himself a well-paid official position. This royal map even bore Louis XIV's coat of arms in the upper left hand corner. Other maps and plans of Québec dating back to the late 17th century are also ambiguous in their naming of the square. In 1692 Robert de Villeneuve simply identified the area as La Place. In 1693 Beaucours resorted to an expression far too complicated for everyday use: "The place at the centre of which is a pedestal with the bust of the king."

By bringing a bust of the king to Québec in 1686, Champigny was acquiescing to the request Louis XIV made of his intendants the previous year to create "places royales" in his honour in the various provinces of his kingdom. In all likelihood, Champigny intended to take advantage of a project designed by the architect Claude Baillif in 1685. The aim of this project was to transform the marketplace into something comparable to the Place Royale de Paris (today Place des Vosges). Champigny was most certainly aware of Baillif's project since he had in his possession, along with the instructions he received in France, a document from Louis XIV authorizing Baillif to use part of the public square to carry out his project. Baillif called the project "Place de Québec," but the new intendant surely seized upon the opportunity to create his own "place royale" and in so doing to make himself look good in the eyes of the king at the very start of his mandate as intendant. Baillif's project did not materialize, however, due to the fierce opposition of lower town merchants who were against having part of the market space disappear. Champigny cancelled the project when he realized the tension it had caused in Québec, but did nevertheless install the bust he had brought with him. In 1686, and for a few years afterwards, there was indeed a Place Royale in Québec. But, the bust cluttered up the market, and so it was first moved to the front of a riverside house, then subsequently removed and kept at the Intendant's Palace.

As these events were unfolding, and since 1680, Monsignor François de LAVAL had been asking for the site on which the "king's storehouse" sat so that he could build a chapel next to the square. It was his successor, Monsignor de Saint Vallier, who undertook the project and built a small church in lower town in 1688. Around 1690, the lower town square could therefore be thought of as a "place Royale," a market square or a church square.

The general appearance of the square at the end of the French Regime is known because of an engraving made in 1761 from a drawing by Richard Short. Gradually rebuilt after the end of the SEVEN YEARS' WAR, in the 19th century the square would become part of an urban complex that included two other markets, various warehouses and streets lined with quite an array of businesses. Throughout the 19th century and in the early 20th century, the houses around the square underwent the same kind of transformations as those of the nearby streets - the adding of a storey often topped with a flat roof, the redesign of openings and the building of storefront windows on the ground floor. The 1688 chapel - renamed Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire in 1690 and Notre-Dame-des-Victoires in 1711 - was completed with a new facade in 1723. The church went through major reconstructions from 1762 to 1766 (by Jean Baillairgé), and in 1816 (by François Baillairgé). (seeBAILLAIRGÉ FAMILY). A new belfry and a parvis with an ornamental fence, both by Joseph-Ferdinand Peachy, were finished in 1861.

Following an economic downturn brought on by a decline in activity at the port, the area underwent preservation and restoration work starting in the 1960s. The bust of Louis XIV that currently adorns the square was donated by France in 1931 and installed as a reminder of the one erected in 1686. After restoration work done here and there - the Chevalier hotel, the Maison Fornel, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church - the Government of Québec, seeking to recreate the ambience reigning in the 18th century, launched a major initiative aimed at giving the square the appearance it might have had at the end of the French Regime. Several buildings were renovated between 1970 and 1979. The result has a certain pedagogical value for illustration purposes, but very little historical value (according to the definition of this term by Alois Riegl, which is "the value of an object which can be studied scientifically as an artifact of an era"), at least when it comes to the 18th century. Today's historians consider this work as a product of Québec's cultural policy in the 1960s and 1970s and, in terms of historical value, as a reminder of this period.

The portion of the square that runs alongside Notre Dame street, yet to be restored, was the subject of a contest in 1997 that resulted in the creation of the Place Royale Interpretation Centre. The project, which has preserved the vestiges of the home belonging to the merchant François Hazeur and includes the Smith home next door, was carried out in 1999. Designed by the firm Gauthier, Guité, Daoust and Lestage, the glass, concrete and steel building houses a public staircase linking Place Royale to Côte-de-la-Montagne street just above. Because of an approach that respects the vestiges of various bygone eras, the project has given a new and welcome impetus to the way architectural heritage is dealt with in Québec.