Québec City was founded on a sand bar, at the base of Cap-aux-Diamants. Later on, in the 1620s, Samuel de Champlain decided to move his headquarters to the top of the cape, building a fort – le Fort St. Louis – that overlooked the St. Lawrence River Valley. To get there from the lower town, he forged a path up the steep eastern slope. For many years, that path was aptly named la Côte de la Basse-Ville – lower-town hill. Today, it is known as la Côte de la Montagne – Mountain Hill.
We are not exactly sure how it came to be called Mountain Hill. Was it named after the first Anglican Bishop of Québec, Jacob Mountain? Did it take the name of one of its well-known residents, Noël Jérémie, sieur de la Montagne?
Most believe that its name is merely descriptive. Côte de la Montagne certainly feels like a mountain when you climb it! On the busy days of the tourist season, visitors lean into the hill to gain the leverage necessary to make it to the top. Window shopping the boutiques that step up the sidewalk offers a convenient excuse for those who need to rest. Even cars groan as well they go up. In the wintertime, picking one’s way down the hill takes almost as much effort.
In early September, Mountain Hill serves as proving grounds for the world-class cyclists who ride the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec. The day’s strongest make it to the top to race through the streets of the upper town and on the Plains of Abraham. Those falling off the back of the pack struggle up the hill to the encouragement of understanding spectators.