La Belle Province’ is not only beautiful, it is also gigantique.
It is Canada’s largest province, containing more fresh water than any other province, its forests representing 20% of all Canadian forests and 2% of the world’s forests. Not surprisingly, it is also Canada’s main producer of maple syrup!
The province is divided into 3 geological regions and a further 21 tourist regions.
The St. Lawrence River Valley is the most fertile and developed geological region, by far. In fact, the name "Quebec" (pronounced correctly as kay bek) is derived from the Algonquin word "kepék" meaning "the place where the river narrows” – referring to this major waterway, which opens up to the Atlantic Ocean.
The majority of the population of Quebec lives in these lowlands, mainly in and between Montreal and Quebec City. The cities, themselves, are the highlights of this region; world-renowned for their European vibe, cobblestone-lined ‘old/vieux’ neighborhoods and lively festivals.
South of the valley, is the Appalachian Mountain region, which extends from the Gaspé Peninsula (in the Gaspésie tourist region), across the US/Canada border, and all the way down to Alabama. Gaspésie is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with contrasting landscapes ranging from undulating countryside to mountains overlooking the sea. 650km of the International Appalachian Trail traverse the region, passing through National Parks, the Chic Choc Mountains, along shorelines and capes, and through villages until reaching Cap Gaspé at the eastern end. The peninsula is also home to the largest colony of gannets in the world; at breath-taking Percé Rock & Bonaventure Island bird sanctuary.
Just north of the St Lawrence Valley, a huge expanse of Canadian Shield covers almost 90% of the province all the way up to the Arctic. It is a vast region composed of thousands of lakes, thousands of square kilometres of forested area, and mountainous regions including the Laurentians (Les Laurentides) which are home to fantastic summer and winter trails, including the start/end of La Traversée de Charlevoix (part of the Trans Canada Trail) and Le P’tit Train du Nord linear park, the longest park of its kind in Canada, a 232km cycle path built over old railway line (also part of the Trans Canada Trail).
Further north, leisure cyclists from around the world come to enjoy the trails along immense Lac-Saint-Jean and the majestic fjord lands surrounding the mighty Saguenay River.
And even further north, ultimate adventurers come to explore the truly wild tundra, taiga forest, and scenic mountains of the Arctic Inuit region called Nunavik (not to be confused with the Canadian Territory of Nunavut), which covers the northern third of the province – An area larger than the state of California.
Finally, a unique highlight of Quebec lies far off its coast. In fact, it’s closer to the province of PEI than it is to Quebec, and therefore not part of the aforementioned geological zones. The Magdalen Islands (Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine) is an archipelago composed of elongated landforms with sweeping sand dunes, rolling green hills, ochre cliffs plunging into the sea. Brightly painted farmhouses and pretty lighthouses dot the landscape adding to the already inviting atmosphere, great for cycling and day hikes.
The province of Quebec is bordered on the west by Ontario, James Bay, and Hudson Bay; on the east by Labrador and the Gulf of St Lawrence; on the north by the Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay; and on the south by New Brunswick and the US states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Did we mention that it is humongous?
The mighty Saint Lawrence River splits through its south, running roughly northwest from the Great Lakes in Ontario, across the provincial border, past the cities of Montreal and Quebec, and out to the Atlantic.
Quebec City is the provincial capital, but Montreal (approx. 3 hours southwest by car) is its largest city, and one of the largest cities in Canada.
Quebec is a delightful blend of the Old and New Worlds, famous for its joie de vivre. Exuberant and imaginative, Quebecers have a culture that is unique in North America, largely due to a fierce pride of their French heritage.
While Canada as a country remains bilingual, Quebec’s official language is French (Or ‘Quebecois’ – a distinctive version of the language, different than its European counterpart) and some claim that it is a French-Canadian nation as opposed to a province.
It is not uncommon to come across more Quebec provincial flags than Canadian flags, while traveling through the province. In 1995, Québec was close to separating from Canada in a vote that was 49.5% in favor of separating (YES), 50.5% against separating (NO).
English-speaking Quebecers mostly reside in Montreal (although the city’s population is still approximately 65% Francophone) and in historical English-speaking communities in the Ottawa Valley, Eastern Townships, and the Gaspe Peninsula. By contrast, the provincial capital of Quebec City is almost exclusively Francophone.
Nowhere in Canada do the arts thrive as they do in Quebec. There are 150 theatre companies, nearly 100 summer theatres, and at least 5 important theatre festivals.
Directors such as Denys Arcand, Denis Villeneuve, and Jean-Marc Vallee have won international awards for their crafts, and the world-famous Cirque Du Soleil was born here and has its international headquarters in Montreal. 59 dance institutions, numerous dance companies, and countless music schools, conservatories, and universities insure that the performance arts stay alive.
But it’s not all acrobats and actors, the principal industries in Quebec are manufacturing, mining, and the generation of electric power. The province is the largest producer of electricity in Canada with an extensive network of hydroelectric dams that have a combined capacity accounting for nearly half the Canadian total. Quebec’s dairy industry is also the largest in Canada, with plenty of international award-winning cheeses. You’ll find their curds atop Quebec’s most famous dish – Poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds).
The first inhabitants of the province were Aboriginal peoples, including Algonquian and Iroquois people in southern Quebec, and Inuit in the far north. Today, only about 2% of the population is considered Aboriginal, with the largest concentration living north of the 55th parallel, in Nunavik where approximately 10,000 Inuit and a few hundred other people live in 14 villages located on the shores of Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay.
Due to Quebec’s size, temperatures and conditions vary tremendously from region to region. On average, the coldest month of the year is January and the warmest is July with the shoulder seasons of spring and fall (autumn) being quite comfortable.
In general, northern Quebec has an arctic climate with permafrost and very cold winters; the rest of the Canadian Shield and Lowlands have a subarctic climate with long, cold winters and short, warm summers.
Spring brings melting snow, budding flowers, and delicious treats from March to May in the form of fresh maple syrup at local sugar shacks (cabane a sucre). The cities come alive with food trucks popping up, Bixi bikes hitting the streets, and outdoor patios filling with happy patrons.
Summer (mid-June through September) is in Southern Quebec can be hot and muggy, with temperatures between 18 to 28 degrees Celsius that can feel much warmer with the added humidity. Summer is the time to get out and play on the countless lakes, rivers, hiking and cycling trails, and to enjoy the seaside in Quebec Maritime. Quebecers kick back and cut loose with festivals in every region celebrating music, dance, the circus arts, comedy or terroir products. There are endless possibilities for good times, from marvelling at fireworks and hot air balloons to taking part in sandcastle competitions!
Autumn (mid September to November) sweeps in with a burst of colour, aroma and flavour. Forests don fiery hues of reds, yellows, and oranges; vines and orchards are laden with fruit, and clouds of snow geese fill the skies as they travel south. A great time for outdoor activity with crisp, dry air and brilliant blue skies.
Winter (November through March) brings an abundance of snow and plenty of opportunities for ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing, or even dog-sledding. Temperatures is southern Quebec can change dramatically (-20 to -5 C) and without warning within a 24-hour period, so if you’re going out to play, be sure to wrap up warmly: snow pants, down/fibre-filled jackets, boots, hats, mittens and so on.
We recommend visiting Environment Canada’s website for information specific to the region and time in which you are travelling.