Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac in Old Town, Quebec City

Quebec City,
on the bluffs 
overlooking the
St Lawrence River
Is Quebec City accessible?  Well, more than you'd think. This walled city was founded as a French settlement on bluffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River in 1608, so accessibility has to contend with history and geography. Buildings and sidewalks are old, and some of the streets are paved with cobblestones. In addition, much of the Old Town is on top of the bluffs, while the neighborhoods of the Lower Town are down at river level, with a steep transition between the two.  

 Ramped entrance
 to Library

Given the multiple challenges, Quebec City has done an impressive job of addressing accessibility, adding ramps and elevators, paving roads, designing accessible bypasses, hacking sidewalk corners to create curb cuts, etc. 

Curb cuts

Signs showing accessible entrance

Bike lanes along

With careful route-planning and creativity, such as using bike lanes (the hacked up sidewalk curb cuts, while admirable, are steep and chunky), the city becomes even more accessible.

By far, the greatest attempt at uniting the upper and lower towns for the swarms of tourists of all physical capabilities is the existence of two contraptions between the two regions: the Old Quebec Funicular and the Flaubert Ascensor (elevator). 

Funicular between
Petit Champlain 
Dufferin Terrace

The funicular runs between Petit Champlain below and the Dufferin Terrace above.  It is wheelchair accessible, as long as the wheelchair user follow the signs detouring to an accessible entrance below.  On the lower end, there are cobblestone streets surrounding the entrance, but the upper end at the terrace is smooth and flat.  The cost is free for wheelchair users, though there is no wheelchair access in winter months, and  I have read accounts of wheelchair users being denied access, even in summer.  

Flaubert Ascensor
(elevator) between
St Rochelle and
Upper St Jean Baptiste

The Flaubert Ascensor (elevator) runs between the neighborhoods of St Rochelle below and St Jean Baptiste above.  The elevator is wheelchair-accessible through the cafe in St Rochelle, which is entered after a steep hill climb on a paved road with a bit of cross slope at the end.  The top at upper St Jean Baptiste is accessible, with one paved street running parallel to the elevator and one cobblestone street going up to St Jean Baptiste. Despite the challenging street access, the entrances are accessible, and the elevator is free.

Rue St Joseph
in St Rochelle
We stayed at the  Best Western Hotel in St Rochelle, which was only one block from Rue St Joseph (a pedestrian only street at night and on weekends in summer, with lots of stores, restaurants, bars, and outdoor eating and drinking). It turned out to be only two blocks from Le Croquembouche Boulangerie, which our guide book says is the best in town (we had pastries along with our Ile d’Orleans strawberries at least every morning for breakfast).  

Best Western Hotel in
St Rochelle 
The location and amenities of the Best Western made it a  perfect base for our stay in Quebec City.  Our “Disabled room” had 2 queen beds, wide doors and spaces, a roll-under sink, grab bars near the toilet and shower, 
and a roll-in shower with a hand-held shower head.  There was parking nearby in a (gravel) parking lot with two designated disabled spots near the sidewalk. From the hotel, it was just a short walk/roll on streets and sidewalks to the elevator up to the upper St Jean Baptiste neighborhood and the Plains of Abraham. A combination of bike lanes and sidewalks allowed a walk/roll to the lower Old Town at St Jean Baptiste street, the waterfront, the neighborhood of Petite Champlain (with the funicular up to the Old Town at Dufferin Terrace), and the paved steep hill streets leading to the upper Old Town.

Rue St Joseph in
St Rochelle
We spent much of our time exploring the neighborhoods and figuring out how to get to them, watching people, and eating well. 
In the summer, many of the neighborhood close off the streets, so that they are pedestrian-only at all times or at least during certain hours.  The streets, paved with either blacktop or flat stone, are generally lined with stores, restaurants, cafés, and outdoor seating, making them pleasant ways to explore the city. The outdoor seating areas offer varying degrees of accessibility, but I encountered many with ramps.  

Montcalm neighborhood

St Rochelle neighborhood

Upper St Jean Baptiste

I especially enjoyed people watching in upper St Jean Baptiste (not lower!), lower St Rochelle, and the gentrified Montcalm neighborhoods. For a truly Canadian (or, perhaps, Canadian tourist) option, there are several locations of Poutineville, where you can create and eat your own version of poutine.  There are also many acclaimed restaurants — often away from the touristy areas.


The waterfront was flat and relatively smooth, with bike lanes leading to the views and ferries (although I couldn’t find any good restaurants there).  

Plains of Abraham

Also, the Plains of Abraham was a nice, big park with a fantastic river view and paved paths.

After midnight in Old Town

Interestingly, I spent little time in the upper or lower Old Town. I loved the feel and the view when I rolled home from the chateau bar after midnight, and I would do that again.  However, the daytime and evening hoards of tourists made it too crowded
 to be enjoyable. Most streets were paved, and sidewalks had curb cuts, but the crowds and crowded sidewalks made the Old Town my least favorite section.  

Petit Champlain

The cobblestone streets, crowded sidewalks and bad touristy restaurants of Petit Champlain countered the quaint architecture of that section for me as well.

Small musical stage in
Old Town for
Fest D’ete

Coincidentally, we happened to be there during the annual two-week Fest D’ete, a multi-stage music festival that brings in big name entertainers and large crowds.  We watched one free concert and enjoyed the atmosphere, but tried to avoid the crowds.  Regrettably, we missed the Museum of Civilization, which appeared to be interesting and accessible. 

Chateau Frontenac

We met friends at the 1608  bar in the Chateau Frontenac in the Old Town.  The hotel is a symbol  of  Quebec, so visiting it is kind of mandatory, and the hotel bar is accessible, but crowded.  There is a ramp to get into the hotel and the women’s restroom has a large wheelchair-accessible stall.

Old Town skyline from
Levis waterfront at sunset
One of my favorite activities was actually not in Quebec City itself. From the harbor on the Quebec waterfront, we took a ferry across the St Lawrence River to the town of Levis in the evening.  The Levi waterfront offers a stunning view of Old Town Quebec and its skyline.  It seemed like an entire town was out, gathering at the waterfront park to enjoy the sunset, the views, the 160 water jets, the nightly sound and light show, and the big chairs.

Montmorency Falls
We also spent an enjoyable afternoon outside of the city at Montmorency Falls, which tumble 272 feet into the a bay on the west side of the St Lawrence River, north of the city. If you can ignore the carnival-like atmosphere and the crowds, you can get a wonderful view of the falls and a roll over a high suspension bridge at the top of the falls  You pay for parking at the top (although I’ve heard of people parking for free higher up) and extra for tickets to ride the cable car, experience a via Ferrara course, and ride a zip line.  

Once in the park, however, you can view the falls from the (accessible) suspension bridge (wheelchairs should approach the bridge by going behind the back of the main building and then going down a gravel/dirt path for a bit).  At the lower end of the falls, is a 3 mile out-and-back wheelchair-accessible boardwalk.

One of my persistent memories of Quebec City is the crosswalk buttons; I never did figure them out. Next time (and I hope there will be a next time), I want to understand the crosswalks and to visit the Museum of Civilization, and the Ile d’Orleans.  And, of course, I want to eat more croissants, strawberries, and cheese.

Next stop Montreal…