Quebec City's Newest Hipster Area has Jewish Roots

Published: September 19th 2010
in News » Local

Jazz on the street in Saint-Roch
Pic: Courtesy of Quartier Saint Roch
Free outdoor performance of Cirque duSoleil
Pic: Camirand
Pic: Michele Peterson

A historic Jewish area is on the rise. The Saint-Roch quarter located in Quebec City’s Lower Town has a long tradition of Jewish commerce and political activity. Maurice Pollack, a leading Canadian entrepreneur and Jewish philanthropist, was first to arrive, establishing in 1906 a department store that would become one of Quebec’s top companies. Other Jewish merchants followed, offering credit and serving a working class clientele. Prominent Quebec figures such as labour leader Lea Roback and Jewish feminist Sadie Lazarovitz also helped shape the area’s early identity. But with the migration of businesses to the suburbs in the 1950s, the district fell into decline. Now, thanks to an infusion of cash and artistic vision, the slump is over and Quartier Saint-Roch is enjoying a revival.  Here’s what to see and do:


Shop: Browse the trendy boutiques along rue Saint-Joseph, the heart of the quarter, and make note of the architectural details of the former merchant shops along your way. These days, locally-owned boutiques and quirky shops have replaced the abandoned buildings of the 1950s. Worthwhile stops include the magical children’s toy store Benjo, Artisan et son Pays, an artisanal Quebec cheese shop and street-chic fashion shop Baizenville.


See: Symbolic of the area’s renaissance are the not-to-be-missed murals painted by street youth on pillars beneath the Dufferin-Montmorency highway overpass. The site also plays host to Furrow of Dreams, a special performance by Cirque du Soleil. This free, Las-Vegas style acrobatic spectacle takes place most evenings from June to September. More cultural pursuits await at the Méduse complex, an artists cooperative offering avante-garde exhibits and eclectic galleries year-round.  


Do: Soak up some Jewish history while strolling along rue Saint-Joseph and rue de la Couronne. In 1910, notary Jacques-Édouard Plamondon gave an anti-Semitic speech at a local church and hoodlums went on a rampage breaking windows in these shops. Two Jewish merchants sued Plamondon for defamation and their 1914 win, known as the Plamondon Case,was amajor victory for Canadian Jews. Today, few signs of this fiery past remain and the area is best known for the peaceful fountains of Saint-Roch garden, the cultural pursuits of Gabrielle-Roy library (site of an outdoor market in 1832) and the leafy plaza at Saint-Roch church, the largest in Quebec City.


Eat and Drink: When it’s time for a break, the outdoor patio at Le Postino bistro-bar is unbeatable for people-watching. For evening dining, choose Le Clocher Penche Bistro for its locavore menu, expansive wine list and upscale Quebecois atmosphere. The beef carpaccio is a house specialty. For inventive cocktails and tasty tapas, head to the lively outdoor patios at Versa Resto and Boudoir Lounge, busy nightspots tucked along du Parvais laneway. 


Stay: Since it opening its doors in 2008, Hotel Pur has been the quintessence of contemporary luxury, catering to a hip, polished crowd. Each of the 242 guest rooms in this design hotel are outfitted with sleek bathrooms, plush down comforters,  300-thread count linens, flat-screen TVs, iPod docking  stations, free wireless internet and 24 hour espresso. The hotel’s expansive pool and guest rooms offer impressive mountain and city views. The low rates (packages including a stylish breakfast begin at $150) reflect the area’s still-undiscovered potential.


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