When the leaves are at their peak in the first days of October, Québec City tour guides head toward the water. There, parked along the wharves of the Lower Town, are the cruise ships that converge on the St. Lawrence River Valley to give their clients a front-row seat for the autumn show. Boatloads of paying customers disembark every morning to tour the Old City and to take in the spectacular vistas of the region that are now vibrantly lit by the fall foliage.
It is by far the busiest period of the year for tour guides. Dawn to dusk, we scramble, rush, and relay to meet the demand of the tens of thousands who step off the ships. It is a relentless and harried succession of guided tours: Lower Town, Upper Town, back to the ship on time… Lower Town, Upper Town, back to the ship on time… Sometimes, we do as many as four tours in a day, working hard to bring the same energy and enthusiasm to the last tour of the day that we did to the first. And though at times it is high-stress work, every guide will tell you that it is a satisfying source of adrenaline and accomplishment. What a rush!
Not this fall, though; not in the COVID fall of 2020. With the borders closed and travel restrictions the order of the day, tourists are few and far between. And the ships are not here at all. This October, the wharves of Old Québec are desolate, and the streets empty. Radio Canada recently aired an excellent report to document this year’s cruise ship season. You do not need to understand French to pick out the word ‘catastrophe’.
It is disorienting, to say the least, to be at home at this time of year, raking leaves, taking out the garbage, watching football. There is usually no time for any of that. And that is the way Québec City tour guides like it.
This year, the vibrant red leaves of Québec City fall, appreciated only by locals. But they will be back in full force next year. And so will we.