The first significant settlement that we have knowledge of, on the site of today's Québec City, was an Iroquois village of 500 called 'Stadacona.' The Iroquois were seminomadic, building longhouses, hunting, fishing and cultivating crops until the land got tired, when they moved on.
French explorer Jacques Cartier traveled to the New World in 1534, but barely lasted the winter. By the time May 1536 rolled around Cartier and his remaining crew beat a retreat back to France, kidnapping some of the Iroquois, along with the chief of Stadacona, to taking with them. The Iroquois all died in France but Cartier returned in 1541 to start a post upstream in the New World. Again, he faced a winter of scurvy and disastrous relations with the indigenous population so the plan failed, setting back France's colonial ambitions for 50 years.
Explorer Samuel de Champlain gets the credit for finally founding the city for the French in 1608, calling it Kebec from the Algonquian word meaning 'the river narrows here.'
The English successfully attacked in 1629, but Québec was returned to the French under a treaty three years later and it became the center of New France. Repeated English attacks followed. In 1759 General Wolfe led the British to victory over Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham. One of North America's most famous battles, it virtually ended the long-running conflict between Britain and France. In 1763 the Treaty of Paris gave Canada to Britain. In 1775 the American revolutionaries tried to capture Québec but were promptly pushed back. In 1864 meetings were held in the city that led to the formation of Canada in 1867. Québec City became the provincial capital.
In the 19th century the city lost its status and importance to Montréal. When the Great Depression burst Montréal's bubble in 1929, Québec City regained some stature as a government center. Some business-savvy locals launched the now-famous Winter Carnival in the 1950s to incite a tourism boom.
While the suburbs and outskirts of Québec City kept developing, they sucked the life out of much of the city centre. It left the core poor and run-down until the 1990s when urban renewal projects made places like St-Roch neighborhood livable again.
The changes went hand in hand with diversifying Québec's economy, which started welcoming the high-tech sector, and subsequently saw a flourish downtown in everything from start-ups to research facilities.
In 2001 the city was the site of the Summit of the Americas, which exploded into mass demonstrations against globalization. Images of authorities battling protesters were broadcast around the globe.
Most recently, in 2006, archaeologists made a startling discovery when they uncovered the failed site of Cartier-Roberval (1541-43), one of two forts that were built. Though historic records have long spoken of the site, no one had ever been able to find it. The team who uncovered it did so quite by accident when they were doing perfunctory exploratory work on a site that was slated to be turned into a parkway. Among the items unearthed were porcelain from Italy and Iroquois pottery, both dating from the 1550s. The historians and archaeologists involved believe they may also uncover the bodies of the first settlers who were wiped out by disease. If so, studying the remains will blow the lid off the mystery of early settlement of the colony. Researchers estimate there may be another 15 years of work to do before that happens though. In the meantime, it's expected that part of the site will be open to the public in time for 2008.
Ah, yes, 2008 is shaping up to be a big deal for Québec City. Not only is it celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding but it will also be hosting the annual summit of francophone countries (La Francophonie).
Hold on tight.