From trading post to marketplace
For at least 2,000 years before the Europeans arrived, Amerindians frequently stopped on the point of land now occupied by the historical site of Place-Royale. They came to fish eel and to trade copper, furs and foodstuffs, among other things.
In 1608, Samuel de Champlain began to construct a fortified post for the fur trade with the Native peoples.
In 1629, the post fell into the hands of English merchants, only to be returned to French control three years later. Things progressed quickly after this interlude: by 1680, almost all the space in what was henceforth called the Lower Town in Québec City was occupied.
But two years later, fire destroyed 55 houses. With reconstruction came new efforts for fire protection. New building standards gave rise to the urban architecture that is typical of Place-Royale: tall stone buildings, separated by fire-resistant walls, with no outside decoration of wood.
Place-Royale, then called the "market square", was above all the centre of trade in New France. From 1633, when hundreds of Amerindians came to a major fur fair, until 1759, the square was a hub of activity. All European imports were brought ashore and all exports were loaded on ships at Québec City.
The turning point
It did not take France and England long to bring their quarrels to North America, and they vied for control of Québec City. In 1690, the canons of the Lower Town were enough to send the fleet of Admiral Phipps into a retreat. But in 1759, 40,000 canon balls and 10,000 fire bombs from English artillery rained on the Lower Town for three months. Only charred walls remained.
However the change of regime did not fundamentally change life in Place-Royale. It soon rose from its ashes. French merchants gave way to English merchants, who made trade even more important than before. The timber trade, which was essential for England, turned Québec City into the largest port in British North America for half a century. Place-Royale, with its merchants, ship owners and ship builders, was at the centre of things.
Decline and rebirth
Decline set in around 1860. Wood was replaced by steel, and dredging allowed ships to go up the St. Lawrence as far as Montréal. Goods no longer flowed through Place-Royale, which returned to being a simple marketplace. By 1950, it was nothing but an impoverished, run-down area. Ten years later, the government embarked on a program to restore Place-Royale, which, in fifteen years, turned it into one of the capital's attractions.