Our tour guide, marie, imparted us with plenty of haunting tales from the early days of Quebec City.

History In The Shadows – Le Promenades Fantomes

Exploring a new city takes on a new perspective once the sun sets. The older the destination, the more spirits that roam the city streets filling the darkness with their presence. Their stories can be heard in the creaking staircases and banging doors. While we had learned loads of history, at attractions like Immersion Quebec, we were eager to hear from the city’s early residents. To get this perspective, we decided to join in on a walking tour with Le Promenades Fantômes. This unusual tour group offers guests a chance to explore history in the shadows.

We want to thank Quebec City Tourism and Le Promenades Fantômes for hosting our tour. Rest assured all opinions are our own. 

Nighttime in Quebec City is filled with shopping and dining in the lively districts found throughout the city.

Evening Activity

Like many metropolitan cities, Quebec City has a vibrant nightlife. Throughout the various historic districts, people gather to explore the shops. Diners enjoy their evening meals while watching the passing crowds. This activity is repeated in nearly every destination we have visited. As the hours pass, we notice the crowds begin to thin. Shopkeepers wrap up their final sales, as shoppers make their way back to their homes or hotels. The mood of the city slowly transforms into solemn watching. This is the perfect setting for an outing, much like the ghost walk, we had taken in Springfield, Illinois.

The evening gave way to nightfall, which signaled time for our ghostly tour to assemble.

Deepening Darkness

As the witching hour approached, it was time for us to make our way to our rendezvous point. Walking along Rue Dauphine, we came to the public library. Here we saw some ominous artwork laid out before the growing darkness. Quebec City is filled with amazing art, which makes traveling by foot all the more eventful. When you are visiting this city, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for these sometimes hidden wonders. The intricate architecture of the buildings that towered over us added some extra spookiness to our evening.

Our tour guide was dressed as a ghost of one of Quebec City's executioner's wives.

Our Hostess Arrives

Just across the street, we found the Morrin Centre. Our invitation to the Le Promenades Fantômes had directed us to gather in front of this historic building. Soon we saw two ghostly figures appear from the shadows. The manly figure remained just outside of the streetlights, while the woman approached our group. She welcomed us to the evening’s gathering and told us her name was Marie Rivière. I say was, since she is only the spirit of her corporeal body. Our ghostly tour began with a short overview of the building in front of us.

One must travel back to the days of New France, which is what the region was once named. At that time, this parcel held the Royal Redoubt, which was used as military barracks and to house prisoners. In 1808, the construction of a public prison began on this site. Public hangings were performed, by the city’s executioner, in the courtyard where we stood. Marie informed us that she had been the wife of Jean Rattier, who served as the fourth official executioner. It sounded like a prestigious position, but we would find out it was not what one expects.

Marie stayed on the outskirts of the bright lights as she told the history in the shadows.

Passing Through Time

As our tour continued, we followed Marie to a variety of locations throughout the Old City. At each stopping point, she would share stories from the early days of Quebec City. I watched from a short distance and noticed that our hostess would always tell the stories of the city’s history in the shadows. By hanging just outside of the direct light, it added an eeriness to our evening entertainment. Between historical references, she doled out bits and pieces of information about the life of an executioner in the early days of the city.

The locals were afraid of the executioner, so he and his family were forced to reside outside of the city limits. Marie’s husband had at one time been sentenced to death, but the untimely passing of the previous executioner created a job opening. Jean Rattier was offered the choice between waiting for a new executioner to be hired or taking on the role himself. We are sure that must have been an easy choice when your death is on the line.

Notable characters are accounted for in this mural near Place Royale.

Notable Characters

After making our way through the upper section of Old Quebec City, we followed our ghostly hostess down to Lower Town. As we approached Place Royale, our gaze fell upon the Fresco of Quebecers. This immense mural features dozens of notable characters from Quebec history. Set within the background of the city’s architecture, we noticed it blended current and historical figures. Front and center are Samuel de Champlain with Louis Jolliet standing on the staircase to his left. They were instrumental in mapping out the northeastern portion of North America.

Hearing of the history in the shadows helped us paint a better picture of the early days of Quebec City.

Recognizable Landmarks

As our Le Promenades Fantômes tour approached its end, we arrived at Place Royale. This town square has cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants. Many of the buildings date from the 1700s. Sitting in the center of the square is Notre Dame des Victoires, which was constructed in 1688. This makes it the oldest stone church in North America. You may even recognize it from a scene in the movie “Catch Me If You Can”. As we gathered around our guide, we found ourselves standing in the area where Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608. We wondered how many of the buildings around us had their own macabre tales hidden within their walls. We learned in Eureka Springs, Arkansas that beautiful structures, like the Crescent Hotel, can hold startling stories.

Marie ends the evening with one last tale of woe.

History in the Shadows

Marie completed her narration by telling us a little more about her husband’s executioner job. During those trying times, Jean Rattier would have to make many difficult decisions. He would even find himself putting his wife to death for crimes she committed. This was an unexpected ending to the storyline, but one that certainly piqued our interest. Her final story unfolded the details of her crimes and how they led to such brutal punishment. This was truly an amazing ending to a wonderful evening of stories. We thanked our hostess and watched as our group dispersed into the night.

Some of the buildings in Quebec City have huge murals that help tell the history of the city.

Early Residents

After finishing our ghostly tour, we spent a short period sightseeing in the quiet darkness. Visiting Quebec City in the fall means that the night falls quickly. Being one of the safest cities in North America, nighttime is prime for exploring history in the shadows. While still in Lower Town, we had spotted this building sporting another huge mural. It is located in Petit Champlain, a neighborhood that claims to be the oldest commercial business district in North America. The images depict historical moments in this working-class neighborhood.

After seeing history in the shadows, it was time to make our way back through the quiet streets.

Still of the Night

We continued along the pedestrian avenue, eventually arriving at the Breakneck Steps. Constructed in 1635, it provides a shortcut for visitors heading to Upper Town. By now, the shops were closed and the pedestrian traffic had fallen to barely anyone. We climbed the steep stairs, as we made our way back toward our hotel. There is a different feeling when viewing a destination at night. Seeing the city lights spread out around us reminded us that we were far from home. It helps remind us how special it is to have an opportunity to travel all around North America. Do you take in the city sights during the still hours of the night?

the authors signatures.

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14 thoughts on “History In The Shadows – Le Promenades Fantomes”

  1. Michele peterson

    I have to say that even your guide with Le Promenades Fantômes looks a bit frightening! I’ve been on a few ghost tours and the scariest have actually been in eastern Canada so I’m not surprised that this one in Quebec City offered lots of chills along with the history.

  2. Absolutely agree with how a place takes on a different identity once the sun sets. Throw in some spookiness and maybe a little of the macabre and these ‘ghost’ walks are interesting and fun. We’ve done these in Key West and in Ljubljana (where they added a few vampires). Love the photos of the artwork. Fun article.

  3. Debbra Dunning Brouillette

    Thia ghost tour sounds fascinating! My husband and I spent a couple days in Quebec City several years ago before we boarded a Holland America cruise and really enjoyed exploring the city and surrounding area. I recall one mural in particular but love that there are so many! If we ever return, I’d like to book this tour!

  4. I love how cities change their personality after dark – what a great experience you had and shared with us in this post!

  5. This tour sounds like a lot of fun! I tend to stay in once it’s dark if I’m traveling alone, but I’ve seen ghost tours listed in lots of places. Maybe I’ll try one. I haven’t before because I don’t believe in ghosts, but this sounds like a serious historical tour with a twist.

    1. Rachel, while we do not believe in ghosts, we find these types of tours to be both entertaining and educational. Most of the stories you hear are based somewhat on facts from the past. This is just one more way to learn about the city we are visiting.

  6. alison abbott

    The title of your post had me completely intrigued! What a clever way to take an historical tour. I like to try food tours in the evening if I am traveling alone, but this ghost tour sounds like a great alternative in Quebec.

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