July 8 – 10, 2014
Only a hundred and thirty eight years ago to the day, my great great great grandfather Peter Quiring arrived in Quebec City on the SS Moravian from the Mennonite colonies in Russia to start a new life with his young family. He and his wife Helena probably had little time for sight-seeing or reflection as they still had a significant portion of the journey to the prairies before them. Mennonites had started to settled in southern Manitoba a few years earlier in 1874 so they must have heard some reports of the difficult trek ahead as well as the long hard winters. Quebec likely wasn’t as clean, quiet, or colorful as it is today. In the mingling of animals, people, and markets, the city must have smelled as strongly as the bustling noise of business on the narrow streets. Clanging over it all, the church bells may have reminded them that their journey from the comforts of home were in the hopes of preserving their faith. As they saw, the increasing pressure to become Russian citizens could only come at the cost of their beliefs. Moreover, the scarcity of land was creating two classes in the colonies between the landowners and the rest. Of course, the sounds, sights, and smells of the vibrant religiosity of the city’s Catholicism would not so much have been welcoming as a reminder that challenges to their faith as they saw it were as present in the “new” world as the the “old”.
I walk these streets and wonder what my ancestors thought as they arrived on these shores. Did they walk on these stones perhaps? Or look at those buildings? Maybe they marveled at the drop from the walled city to the lower town on the harbour like I do? They would have bought supplies from the vendors on the street. Many shops still line the streets but they no longer sell anything useful. As in the past, people from all over wander these neighborhoods but unlike the past we’re tourists planning to return home and not immigrants seeking to make a new home in Canada. Unfortunately, the harbour has moved and no markers or museum remains here to give witness to the many people who arrived at this port. (I believe Montreal and Halifax, also important ports of immigration, have museums). But the city remains as do the manifests of the ships carrying boatload after boatload of people.
Meandering through the old sections of Quebec, it’s hard to believe that I’m in the same country as I’ve been cycling the past two months. This place is so old and so European. It is of course full of restaurants and tourist kitsch but remains beautiful and compelling. This has been a most excellent final break before the final third of my journey.