At the turn of the nineteenth century, Québec City was the military heart of British North America, and tensions with the United States necessitated continued vigilance to keep the defenses of the city in top condition. As on-site authorities sought funding for these efforts, one of the challenges that surfaced was to accurately convey the geography of their situation to superiors back in London. Although they had detailed maps, it was more difficult to convey the contours of the city. Québec City was built on and around Cape Diamond; precipitous changes in altitude defined this place. A full understanding of the topography was thus critical, and a two-dimensional map would not do.
For help with their project, authorities turned to two young army officers: Surveyor Jean-Baptiste Duberger was born in Detroit in 1767 and had been sent to Québec City as a young man to study at the Seminary’s primary school. John By came from Lambeth, England, and was an officer in the Royal Engineers. In 1806, they were both in the employ of Gother Mann, the military engineer in charge of the city’s fortifications.
Duberger began work on the project in his own home on Québec City’s rue St. Ursule, creating the constituent pieces of a scale model of the city of Québec. He paid attention to even the smallest of details; every road, every house, every fence, every canon was reproduced in miniature with meticulous detail. Each time a section was completed, he walked it one block over to the home of his superior officer, Captain By, on rue d’Auteuil, where the two of them would work to integrate the pieces. As the model grew, they tore down walls in By’s house to accommodate it. When the model grew too large for By’s home, they moved it into the governor’s residence at the Chateau St. Louis. When it was completed, it was approximately 20 feet wide by 27 feet long. The land area it represented totaled approximately 1100 acres. The model was finally shipped to London in 1810.
Today, it is back in Québec City, on display in the interpretive center in Artillery Park. Looking at it, one can see the thousands of hours devoted to its completion.