Aside from the Old City, Saint-Roch, a dynamic area of the capital, is slowly emerging as a new tourist destination. Today’s visitors are offered a look into the history of the area as well as a glance forward into Saint-Roch’s urban revival. The main challenge is to attract tourists with unique shops and restaurants. The design of this commercial artery also allows visitors to discover an authentic, pleasant, and innovative living environment. The cultural, commercial and artistic offerings are an unquestionable strength of the area, making a visit to Saint-Roch a unique experience.
Since 2000, $380 million has been invested in the neighbourhood in order to renovate and rebuild most of the buildings on Saint-Joseph Street. The removal of the roof of the mall strongly improved this unique living environment. Québec City has finally revitalized its downtown area, and everyone can rediscover the new, charming Saint-Roch.
Due to the revitalization, the area will be included in the new 5.3 km pedestrian circuit, which will guide you from Grande Allée East in the Upper Town to the Old Port in the Lower Town, passing through several of the most picturesque streets and squares of the Old Town. The path will run through architecture and monuments, representing the different styles of each era.
Of all the neighbourhoods in Québec City, Saint-Roch is quite special as it is one of the oldest boroughs in the city. It was established very early under the French regime and, to this day, its streets and architecture still bear witness to its age. A wide variety of activities also contribute to its originality and uniqueness. In the very heart of this heavily populated neighbourhood rests the Victoria Park, a haven of peace in the very urban surroundings, which considerably increases the elegance of Saint-Roch.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the neighbourhood was booming with activity. During the first half of the century, timber trade and shipbuilding were dominant. During the second half, trade and manufactories developed at formidable speed. St-Roch benefits from its geographic location: close to the port, close to railroads, and near the large storage areas in the Lower Town. Saint-Joseph Street, which crosses the entire length of the neighbourhood, is the arterial street that thrived the most on this economic growth. In 1863, a tramway connected the markets, increasing patronage and encouraging numerous retailers to open shop.
The first inhabitants of Saint-Roch showed up in 1620. They were missionaries, the Recollects, who came to educate the “savages” of the land. They settled near the river and built a small church, to honour Saint Roch. For years the Recollects were the only inhabitants of the area. Slowly, the first small houses emerged, close to the Gare du Palais. These houses, inspired by the boroughs of the French regime, were packed tightly next to one another and raised directly against the sidewalk, and covered of brownish brick or, more rarely, wood. Their roofs were built with two sloping sides (mansard roof), and bear French casement windows.
The spectacular development of the neighbourhood wasn’t without tragedies. In 1845, the neighbourhood was annihilated in a fire, destroying over 1630 homes and stores, and more than 3000 shops and sheds. (1200 people became homeless, and 50 fatalities were mourned.) While unfortunate, the fire of the area was an opportunity for growth and positive change, as people widened streets and modified buildings during the reconstruction.
In the middle of the century, revitalizing the commercial artery and even the neighbourhood had become a dominant concern for both the elected officials and the storekeepers. They decided to implement a beautiful promenade to compete with the convenience of shopping centers. In 1967, the street was transformed into a shopping strip from Langelier Blvd. to Saint-Roch Street. The street was decorated with plants, trees, flowerbeds and public benches, and cars were prohibited. The street remained completely closed into 1968. In 1970, the local merchants unanimously passed a resolution requesting the city to turn that part of the street into a covered mall.
Finally, in 1998, the City held public hearings on a project aiming to remove the roof from the downtown mall and redevelop Saint-Joseph Street, between de la Couronne and Saint-Dominique Streets. After these hearings, the city decided to remove the roof and revitalize the the area between de la Couronne and du Pont Streets and to re-evaluate the relevance of the project five years later. As planned, the mall was entirely removed and today, we can rediscover the commercial artery as it was in former times.