Thoughts turn quickly to bustling Montréal when literary types mention Québec literature. Montréal is, after all, the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. It hosts an internationally renowned jazz festival, is home to almost all of the province’s publishing houses (not to mention a Formula One circuit and the Montréal Canadiens, one of the most storied teams in professional sports), and is virtually a character of its own in many a Québec novel. But while Montréal is undeniably a cultural hotspot, Québec City—the provincial capital—lives for the arts. Named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017, it’s the perfect destination for your next literary getaway.
From Noémie D. Leclerc’s Montmorency neighborhood (Darlène, Québec Amérique) to Université Laval, where writers such as Mélissa Verreault and Sophie Létourneau work today, there’s no shortage of book-related stops to take in. Pass through Marie-Renée Lavoie’s up-and-coming Limoilou (Le dernier camelot, Les Éditions Hurtubise) and Roger Lemelin’s Saint-Sauveur (The Town Below, Dundurn Press) to the downtown offices of publishing houses Alto (in Saint-Roch) and Septentrion (in Saint-Jean-Baptiste) before strolling up to Catherine D’Anjou’s Montcalm neighborhood (Le Plan, La Mèche) for a bite to eat and a drink in the sun.
“With so many places given over to books, literary events, and authors, Québec City is a hotbed of creativity,” says local bookseller Marie-Hélène Vaugeois of the iconic Librairie Vaugeois, a fixture on Avenue Maguire since 1974. “Readers in the city are proud of this buzz for books and can be called upon to support all kinds of writing, from close to home and around the world.”
It’s right there in the city’s 410-year-old DNA: Québec’s capital is all about history and culture. A stone’s skip from the province’s fine arts museum, half a dozen theaters, and the imposing National Assembly, shoppers on laid-back rue Saint-Jean return their library books at Bibliothèque Claire-Martin. (The old Anglican church is named for Claire Martin, made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1984 in recognition of being “one of the most important writers of her generation.”) Residents attend literary talks and events at the beautiful Maison de la littérature, home to another public library, writing workshops, and a permanent Québec literature exhibit. They explore CanLit at the Morrin Centre’s bilingual ImagiNation Writers’ Festival and wonder at the center’s English-language collection. And they crack open a paperback (and sometimes a six-pack) on the Plains of Abraham, today a popular picnic spot in the heart of the city but best known for the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (Sept. 13, 1759), a key moment in the Seven Years’ War that led to Québec’s fall to the British.
Supported by a 1981 bill that requires public institutions like libraries and government offices to purchase their books from a local bookstore, independent booksellers are seldom more than a short walk away. And speaking of walking, once you’ve seen the Château Frontenac and historic Old Québec, a UNESCO world heritage site, the Promenade des écrivains is a French-language walking tour of the city’s literary heritage that’s well worth discovering, featuring sites such as Jacques Poulin’s Latin Quarter and the Ursuline convent, with its ties to Anne Hébert—as well as a mention or two of Albert Camus, Alfred Hitchcock, H.P. Lovecraft, Herman Melville, and Stefan Zweig along the way.
Our Writings, a more recent event put on by the Morrin Centre, is the English-language equivalent, a walking tour that explores Québec City as a setting for writers including Margaret Atwood, Charles Dickens, Louise Penny, and Mark Twain. One of these sites is the Morrin Centre itself, which has a history of its own worth exploring: first as a municipal prison (1812–1867) and then as a Presbyterian college affiliated with McGill University (1868–1902) and the Literary and Historical Society of Québec’s magnificent library (1868–present).
To round out your visit, take the short drive out of town to the Huron-Wendat village of Wendake. It’s been working hard to raise the profile of First Nations literature by hosting regular book fairs such as Kwahiatonhk and, a first this year, by bringing authors such as Noami Fontaine (Mémoire D’Encrier), Michel Jean (Stanké), J.D. Kurtness (L’Instant Même), and Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui (Éditions Hannenorak) to the Salon international du livre in Québec City. So, there you have it: young authors, a vibrant literary scene, book events galore, and plenty to eat and drink. See you soon!