Several months ago, I received a call from a curator in Quebec. The Solair chair, a fun and now famous outdoor chair that my father and his partner designed in the 70s in Montreal, would be part of the permanent exhibit in a brand new wing of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ), Quebec City’s fine arts museum. Would I like to attend the opening party for the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion on behalf of my father (on a random Wednesday night in June)?, they asked. Without hesitation, I said I would absolutely be there.
Neither of us had ever been to QC, but we had heard good things and we thoroughly enjoyed Montreal when we visited 9 years ago for a similar reason: my father’s chair was in another exhibit there. However, that exhibit was ultimately delayed after we had already made our plans, so we were only able to see them setting up for the show. This time, I made sure to wait until the paper invitation had arrived, having learned my lesson with museum openings. So we got our tickets and found ourselves in lovely Quebec City for a long weekend. (Well, I was there for a long weekend; Nick was with me for the first half, and my mom joined for the second after Nick took off for a bachelor party in Cleveland (I win).)
While my father celebrated many successes in his career as an architect, industrial designer, furniture designer, and professor, when the Solair chair had a resurgence in popularity about ten years ago and came to be celebrated as one of the classic pieces of Canadian design of the last 50 years, his Alzheimers had already taken its toll. I remember showing him articles about his work, with beautiful photos of the chair in so many bright colors, hoping it would bring some joy. It may have, but he will never know that his work is permanently in one of the top museums in Canada, displayed as one of the most iconic pieces of design in the second half of the 20th century. Suffice it to say, I was proud enough for two.
The private opening party was wonderful; we felt honored to be part of it and thoroughly enjoyed all three exhibits. The next morning, MNBAQ opened its doors to the public and did a fantastic job of making the party last all weekend, with events and performances, leaving their doors open all day and almost all night. The opening coincided with Quebec’s national holiday, Saint Jean Baptiste Day, so spirits were high and the locals were in a celebratory mood.
When we weren’t partaking in the museum’s festivities, we explored Quebec City’s old quarter, perused the local food market, and walked through their vast park, the Plains of Abraham (somewhat similar to the National Mall in DC). Our days began with espresso and delicious fresh pastries from the bakery around the corner from our AirBnB, and it wasn’t long before we were either sitting down to a tasty lunch, stopping for legit gelato, going for our second espresso, or having a poutine snack. For a relatively small city, QC’s food scene absolutely does not disappoint and my list of restaurants was bigger than my stomach could handle.
QC is small enough to be very manageable for a weekend visit, but large enough that I could have spent even longer than five nights, continuing to eat my way through town, explore more museums, and venture further afield to surrounding areas. Especially in summer, the city makes awesome use of its public spaces, with performances, pop up gathering spots, and outdoor concerts, and I found myself really enamored with it.
Here’s one of my favorite parts about the trip. About two weeks before our trip to Quebec, I was at WasteExpo (a conference and tradeshow) in Las Vegas. While waiting for a bus, I started chatting with a woman who lives in QC and works for a company called IPL, a manufacturer of plastic products including waste receptacles. After we parted ways, I remembered why IPL sounded so familiar to me: it’s the company that commissioned and manufactured the Solair chair in 1972! When I saw her the next day, I told her that my father designed the chair, and that I would be in her city in two weeks for the opening exhibit. She knew the Solair chair well (in fact, they have them in their office, even though another company took over the manufacturing of the chair many years ago) and she lives across the street from the museum! We made plans to meet up in Quebec, and the day my mom and I spent with her on Île d’Orléans was to be a highlight of the trip.
Île d’Orléans is only a few kilometers from Quebec City, but it’s the summer playground for many Québécois. About 20 miles long, it’s got a ton of coastline on the Saint Lawrence River, and the interior has rolling hills, boasting some very fertile land where grapes, apples, and maples produce delicious products that can be tasted in dozens of wineries, cideries, and produce stands. The gentle hills make it heaven for cyclists, of which there are many. It’s the kind of place where you can eat a lobster roll while drinking a local rosé overlooking an impressive waterfall (the Montmorency Falls, across the river) and wonder why you haven’t been doing exactly that your entire life. Then you top it off with a local specialty, ice cream dipped into a hard, thick chocolate shell, and you know you’ve been doing it wrong all this time!
- Eat at L’affair Est Ketchup and Clocher Penche for a nicer dinner; try poutine or a burger at Chez Victor
- Have coffee and pastries at La Croquembouche; other great cafes: Nektar, Brulerie St Roch, and Cantook
- Have a drink at La Cuisine or any of the bars on Rue Saint Joseph Est; check out Le Spot in the summer; have a beer at Le Projet
- Walk around the Saint Roch neighborhood, where we loved the cafes, bars, and restaurants best. There are also some fun vintage shops.
- Head to the Marche de Port for local foods, produce, and wines
- Eat gelato at Tutto Gelato or a special chocolate dipped cone at Chocolat Favoris (seriously, do this)
- Explore the Old Town (but beware, a lot of it is quite touristy), walk the Promenade des Gouverneurs, which begins near the famous hotel Chateau Frontenac, and chill on the Plaines d’Abraham- if it’s summer you can catch a free evening concert at the bandstand
- Check out the MNBAQ, especially the Canadian design exhibit in the Pierre Lassonde building!
- Spend a day biking or driving around Île d’Orléans, where you can stop at numerous cideries and wineries to try their local treats. Eat a lobster roll at Vignoble de St Petronille and wash it down with the local wines!