Best Museums in Québec City

Posted Feb 19th 2011 12:00 PM

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Best Museums Quebec

Luc-Antoine Couturier/Québec City

The only remaining walled city in the Americas north of Mexico, Québec City is like a museum within itself. One of North America's oldest cities, Quebec City is perched atop the cliff-like Cap Diamant and overlooks the scenic St. Lawrence River. With its split level landscape, the town reflects four centuries of history. It was founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain who established a colony in what's now the Lower Town, but the French colony later fell to the British in 1759 following a fierce 20-minute battle on Upper Town's Plains of Abraham.

That prominent history comes to life in Québec City's best museums. Several of the museums are housed in 18th and 19th-century buildings spread out within both landscapes of Vieux-Québec. Lower Town is home to Musée de la Civilisation, for example, while Musée de l'Amérique Francaise and Musée du Fort sit within the Upper Town.

Musée de l'Amérique Francaise

Housed in a former student dorm of the Québec Seminary at Laval University, this is the oldest museum in Canada, spotlighting French influence and culture in North America. A new permanent exhibit includes "ON THE ROAD: The Francophone Odyssey," which takes a closer look at what would inspire French-speaking peoples to leave their homelands and settle all over the continent and in particular, in Québec, the St. Lawrence River Valley and Louisiana. A fur trader's diary, an Acadian's cane and a pioneer's gun are among the 120 artifacts that help illuminate the stories of early settlers-from fur traders to Catholic religious orders. Their stories are told through holographic projections, interactive maps, displays and more. Another exhibit highlights the seminary itself, founded in 1663 to sustain the mission of the Church in North America and New France.

Musée du Fort

This museum may be a bit touristy, but kids and history buffs will love it. A sound and light show brings six of Québec's 18th-century military battles to life, including the British defeating the French on the Plains of Abraham, and Benedict Arnold's march to Québec. Those battles come alive through a 400-square-foot model depicting Québec City and its surroundings around 1750, which includes soldiers charging up Cap Diamant and English warships in the harbor. Take an interactive quiz and learn more about the history of Québec. The museum is housed in a two century-old building.

Musée des Ursulines, Monastére des Ursulines

Founded by nuns in 1639, the Ursuline Monastery is the oldest school for young women in America. The Ursuline Museum highlights the congregation's history and the contributions of the nuns throughout the 17th and 18th century, until British rule in 1759. Artifacts include religious garb, personal items and simple furniture, showcasing life in the monastery as well as how the school and Amerindian culture at the time influenced the young girls of New France. There's also religious art including alters and ornate embroideries, which the nuns created with an expert hand.

Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec

Visitors will capture the feeling of Québec-old and new-through the eyes of artists. The Museum of Fine Arts showcases a comprehensive overview of the region's artworks, from the early French colonies to the present. Skirting the expansive Plains of Abraham, you may be surprised to learn that one of the museum's three pavilions is a former 19th and 20th-century prison where an entire cell block remains as an exhibit highlighting life in the "Plains prison." The massive collection includes 35,000 works from the 17th century to the present, representing upwards of 4,000 artists. The museum acquired an extraordinary collection of Inuit Art in 2005 from Québec collector Raymond Brousseau, who pieced together more than 2,600 artworks, mostly sculptures, from the Canadian Arctic for nearly 50 years.

Musée de la Civilisation

From the first Inuit Nation of Québec's frigid forests to cultures of distant continents, the Museum of Civilization's carefully designed exhibitions encourage visitors to compare their own traditions and values with those of other cultures. Central to the theme includes a look at Québec's own civilizations, from early tribes to the founding French colonists and the nation they would eventually create. Canoes and ceremonial attire are among the museum's more than 240,000 artifacts, documents and artworks. Three core permanent exhibits serve as an anchor to temporary exhibits that occupy an additional seven exhibition spaces throughout the year. Another marvel of the museum is the edifice itself, a block-wide building combining contemporary architecture with a campanile-like glass tower and encompassing a 1752 stone house.

Musée des Augustines de l'Hotel-Dieu de Québec, Monastère de l'Hotel-Dieu de Québec

New France comes to life once more at this museum tracing the history and contributions of the Augustinian nuns. It's housed in l'Hotel-Dieu on America's first hospital site north of Mexico, dating back to 1644, and has one of the area's best collections of colonial paintings. They include portraits of Louis XIV and Mother Catherine of St. Augustine, a founder of the Canadian Catholic Church. Objects include furniture typical of French kings including Louis XIII chairs, and old medical items: chloroform masks and surgical instruments.

Musée Naval de Québec

From British galleons of war to German U-boats slithering below the surface, the Naval Museum of Québec depicts the dramas over the centuries along the choppy waters of the mighty St. Lawrence River. Located along the shores of Québec City's Pointe-à-Carcy, the museum illustrates the tales of Canadian warships in battle, attacks by privateers and pirates looking for treasures, and the strategic importance of this major gateway to North America. Displays and artifacts include model ships, pistols and muskets, maps, photographs and more.


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