“When my friends from Europe visited Quebec City, this façade is what impressed them the most. They loved it.” Comment on the Québec Urbain website, a blog about urban development in Quebec City.
Near the historic district of Old Quebec, one can still see the vestiges of the former St-Vincent-de-Paul church, a neo-classical structure left abandoned for some 20 years, then demolished without a permit by a real estate developer. One cannot help but be affected by the sight of this crumbling façade, surrounded by a landscape of urban neglect, next to the gates of the old fortified town. The ruins elicit an ambiguous response, evoking both grandeur and desolation. Their decayed state reminds us of ruins dilapidated by time. This unusual monument gives pause for thought… since what it truly commemorates is the failures of the city’s urban planning policies.
The determination of whether a site is to be protected or not necessarily depends on the thinking of the time, which may seem arbitrary to future generations. Often attention is directed to preserving a slice of History, to the detriment of more popular or more recent local developments. The St-Vincent-de-Paul church bears the stigmata of this reality.
Not far from the church lies the historical heart of Old Quebec, a site designated a World Heritage by Unesco. An important part of this district is given over to tourists and shop owners. Everything is neat and tidy, the new signs are all done in an old-fashioned style, the boutiques sell a great array of local products and souvenirs. The cultural heritage is all dolled up so that the town can display a caricature of “authenticity.” I chose several urban landscapes emblematic of Old Quebec and melded them with the ruins of the old church, thereby associating places of memory, historical architecture and picturesque attractions with a more dissonant form of local colour. Through this close relationship we see the paradoxical effect of a travel industry that helps preserve historical sites while simultaneously lessening their value. Mass tourism abusively monopolizes cultural sites, which can lead to their deterioration and a situation where local communities find it hard to appreciate their own heritage. The off season brings a relative calm that empties the streets and outdoor cafes, but doesn’t restore their true nature. Dressed up to appeal to tourism’s eye, heritage sites invariably look fake. And if the skeletal frame of the church both fascinates and shocks, it may be because it contrasts sharply with the masquerade. It seems to embody an architectural injury that moves us by its truth and exposes the artificiality of the historic district.
Four large format images. These works were created for the “06 Émissaires, Québec 2008” project curated by Centre VU (Quebec City)