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Historic Hotel: Auberge Saint-Antoine, Quebec City, Canada by Frances J. Folsom
by Frances J Folsom

Augerge Saint-Antoine fronts on the St. Lawrence River in the Old Port neighborhood of Quebec City.

Picture a hotel situated in a row of beautifully restored eighteenth- and nineteenth-century brick and stone buildings. Furnish this vision with luxury amenities discreetly retrofitted with antiques and artifacts. Among them, ceramics and glassware unearthed during an eight-year archeological dig on the hotel's grounds. Set this scene in Quebec City's historic Old Port district, and you have the Auberge Saint-Antoine.

Quebec was founded 400 years ago in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, who named his settlement Kébec (an Amerindian word meaning 'place where the river becomes narrow'). Its location on the mouth of the St. Lawrence River allowed the settlement to grow into a successful fur trading post and later a busy port town. For much of its history, Quebec was the center of France's Northern American territory, until a decisive battle in 1759 that resulted in France's surrendering its territories to the victorious British.

Two successful fur traders, Charles Aubert de La Chesnaye and Philippe Gauthier de Comporté, were the first to build on what is now the site of the Auberge Saint-Antoine, erecting two wharves in 1699 and 1704, respectively. In 1709, the Dauphine Battery was built to protect the inhabitants on one of the wharves. In more peaceful times, Jean Maillou, the city's first known native-born architect, built a house on the battery, the walls of which, dating to 1725, now form part of the hotel. In 1822, cooper and wine importer John Chillas built the stone warehouse that now houses the hotel's award-winning restaurant, Panache. For a hundred years, the warehouse was the site of the Vallerand glass and tableware manufacturing company, until Llewellyn Price took it over, along with the adjoining late-nineteenth-century Hunt house, in 1989.

This scion of a 200-year-old Quebec financial dynasty has salvaged these significant emblems of old Quebec, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The multimillion dollar restoration project turned into the largest archeological dig ever recorded in North America, involving experts from Quebec's Laval University and the discovery of 5,000 artifacts, including a cannon and cannonballs dating to the siege of 1759 still in their original crates. Also uncovered were wine, perfume, and medicine bottles (some still with their contents); Chinese porcelain teacups dating from 1725; and dishes and silverware from the Vallerand company. The most unlikely find was an assortment of seventeenth-century shoes.

Lobby of the Auberge Saint-Antoine in the new towers connecting the 17th-century Maison Hunt and the 18th-century stone warehouse.

Augerge Saint-Antoine fronts on the St. Lawrence River in the Old Port neighborhood of Quebec City. This room, in the Maison Hunt wing, is decorated in French 17th-century style.

Auberge Saint Antoine with the Hotel Frontenac in the background.

Dramatically lit displays of ancient artifacts uncovered in an eight-year archeological dig of the hotel's grounds are set within the lobby walls.

The hotel now displays 700 historic artifacts from the dig, many of them set in dramatic back-lit dioramas in the lobby, with others decorating the walls of the six floors above. In some of the rooms, bedside tables are imbedded with recovered shards of glass and earthenware, and the writing desks are made from 40-foot-long pine timbers rescued from the original buildings. A 300-year-old oak tree became the reception desk in the main salon, and remnants of the Dauphine gun battery make up the walls of the main structure. Guests may choose from sleek contemporary rooms or thematic rooms furnished with antiques and a flair for the past.

A short walk from the hotel through the Vieux-Port (Old Port) brings you to museums, antique shops, art galleries, cafés, and restaurants. Visit the Museum of Civilization to discover the rich history of the region and the Naval Museum of Quebec to learn about the history of the St. Lawrence River and the Naval Reserve of Canada. The nearby Place Royale has been the subject of an urban renewal project that has re-created what the area might have looked like in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The highlight of this neighborhood for many is the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church built in 1687. Also not to be missed are Quartier Petit Champlain, with its open air market and artists'; workshops, and St. Paul Street, lined with antique dealers, art galleries, boutiques, and cafés.

Auberge Saint-Antoine
8, rue Saint-Antoine
Quebec, Canada G1K 4C9

Museum of Civilization
85, rue Dalhousie
Quebec, Canada G1K 7A6
1.418.643.2158 or 1.866.710.8031

Naval Museum of Quebec
170, rue Dalhousie
Quebec, Canada G1K 8M7

Place-Royale Interpretation Centre
27, rue Notre Dame
Quebec, Canada G1K 4E9

Images courtesy of the Auberge Saint-Antoine.
Photography by Victor Diaz Lamich.

Frances J. Folsom is a freelance journalist from Cambridge Massachusetts. She writes about the art and architecture of historic buildings.

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