In the morning no one mentions ghosts wandering the halls of the old Levis Fort where we slept the night before, but it’s possible the Grade 8 class was too tired to notice. Despite being strewn about the floors of the fort, everyone slept soundly until the morning drum roll meant it was time to pack and eat.
From the ferry the skyline of Quebec City, dominated by the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac and the Citadel, shimmered under the morning sun. Not for nothing is the historic district of Old Québec a UNESCO World Heritage site. There would be no cold canoe trips today. Today was a chance for the class to delve into the 400-year-old history of Quebec, and walk along the Plains of Abraham and the city’s famous ramparts (Quebec is the only city to have kept its original walls north of Mexico).
Disembarking from the ferry the class rode the funicular to the Dufferin Terrace, overlooking the St. Lawrence River and Levis on the river’s south shore. Greeted by the governor of New France, Charles Montmagny – or at least someone dressed exactly like him and pretending to be him. The students learned the history of the ground upon which they stood; beneath their feet lay the ruins of the Sainte-Louis Forts and Chateau national historic site.
Excavated between 2005 and 2008, more than 500,000 artifacts were recovered from the site making it an incredibly rich trove for archeologists and a fascinating look at life during the different periods the Chateau was occupied. A First Nation’s pipe, a 24-carat gold hatpin and a hot-chocolate mug (nobles loved their morning hot chocolate as much as the students apparently) were just some of the finds.
A quick lunch at Artillery Park in the shadow of St. John’s Gate and then it was time for one student from the Grade 8 class to dress like a French solider from the 17th century.
“It was hot,” said Isaiah Downey, who had to endure a tooth, tongue and finger inspection, just like any recruit would’ve 400 years earlier, before being chosen to don the uniform. “Also, it was heavy and way too many buttons.”
The rest of the afternoon was a chance for the class to explore Vieux-Quebec and shop for souvenirs before heading to the Le Concorde Hotel to get cleaned up for dinner at one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, the Quebec Garrison Club. Designated a national historic site in 1999, the Club has been owned by Parks Canada since 1992 when Parks Canada restored it.
It was founded in 1879 by military officers, and is the only military club left in Canada practicing the tradition of allowing civilian elites to join, thereby fostering a relationship between the military and civilians. Its guest include: Winston Churchill, Charles Lindbergh, the Prince of Wales and the 2015 winners of Canada’s Coolest School Trip from Hillsborough, N.B.’s Caledonia Regional High School.
The class were dressed their best and gathered in the hotel lobby for what they thought was a short walk to dinner. Once outside they were greeted by 10 horse drawn carriages, which gave them a tour of old-Quebec in style, befitting their stature among the upper crust. At the club, they were taught manners before dining by Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Garon.
At the end of a delicious five-course dinner and after learning from Garon the importance of military songs and regalia (identification, communication and honour), he asked the class what it takes to be a solider.
“Courage, determination and intelligence,” the class said eventually.
“That’s right,” Garon said. “And you know what? You had these qualities when you won Canada’s Coolest School Trip. I’ll bet people told you that coming from a small town you couldn’t win. So you had to be courageous to even try to win. Then you had to be determined because it’s a hard competition. Finally you had to be intelligent enough to write the best song and get people to vote.
“But you know what the real secret to being a good solider is?” Garon asked. “No soldier can win on their own. Teamwork is the most important quality of a soldier, and you all showed that when you won the contest. Congratulations!”
With that, the class of young soldiers marched back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest.