In 2008, a fire broke out at Québec City’s Drill Hall, known to locals as the Manège Militaire. As it burned overnight from the 4th to the 5th of April, Québecers turned out by the thousands to watch firefighters’ efforts to stem the inferno. The neighborhood was illuminated by the high flames and dark smoke trailed off into the late winter air. As morning dawned, so too did understanding of the scale of the city’s loss: fire had consumed a piece of Québec’s history and one of the most beautiful buildings in town.
Home to the country’s oldest French-Canadian regiment, the Manège Militaire was built in the 1880s by architect Eugène-Étienne Taché, the same man who constructed the Parliament building two blocks to the north. Mr. Taché had coifed his building with a dramatic copper roof, which sheltered a large indoor training arena and space for the reservists who worked there. The building’s 15th-century style helped to cement an architectural tradition that still defines the Québec City urban landscape in the 21st century.
Today, the Drill Hall is rising from the ashes. After seven years of number-crunching and negotiation, money has been allocated for rebuilding the historic edifice. Crews have turned the neighboring parade square into a staging ground for the reconstruction process, and a new roof is emerging from newly reinforced walls. This is good news for la Vieille Capitale. The loss of Taché’s Drill Hall was too great to tolerate.