From Montréal, a cosmopolitan metropolis of skyscrapers and corporate offices, to the small coastal villages of the Gaspé peninsula and the North Shore that look seaward, a succession of cities and towns stand beside the mighty St. Lawrence, which has marked Québec's history and its inhabitants.
North American by geography, French in origin and culture, and British by its parliamentary system, Québec is a modern, dynamic society whose standard of living is among the highest in the world.
Québec, with an area of 1 667 926 km2, is truly immense. It is three times as large as France and five times the size of Japan.
Over a million lakes, rivers and streams lie within Québec's borders. The St. Lawrence River, which rises in the Great Lakes, flows some 1200 km from west to east across Québec to reach the Atlantic Ocean. The St. Lawrence is 65 km wide at one point. Penetrating deep into the American heartland, it has become North America's main maritime thoroughfare.
The land along the river, the St. Lawrence Lowlands, is very fertile, and agriculture is more extensive here than elsewhere in Québec. To the south loom the Appalachians whose rounded, forested peaks alternate with cultivated plains. The far slopes of the Appalachians border the United States.
To the north of the St. Lawrence Lowlands rise the Laurentians, a chain of old mountains with magnificent woodlands and lakes. They mark the southern limit of the Canadian Shield with its countless lakes, forests and wetlands.
Québec spans 15 degrees of latitude from north to south. In the south, along the banks of the St. Lawrence, home to 80% of the population, the climate is temperate, and there are four very distinct seasons: a mild spring, an often torrid summer, a fall that is colourful yet brisk, and a snowy, cold winter which Quebecers have learned to master. Urban areas adjoin hardwood and mixed forests. Farther north, the climate is subarctic. The vegetation consists mainly of coniferous forests which become sparser to the north. Finally, Québec's Far North endures the hardships of an arctic climate.
Québec's mainly French-speaking population numbers over seven million.
French-speaking Quebecers are the descendants of settlers who emigrated from France in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, nearly six million Quebecers are meeting the challenge of living in French and maintaining a French-language society in the midst of some 250 million English- speaking North Americans.
The ancestors of English-speaking Quebecers were British immigrants who came to North America seeking a better life or, through loyalty to their mother country, left the United States after the War of Independence. They number over 580 000 and live mainly in the Montréal region. They enjoy vested rights, including access to an English-language school system from kindergarten through to university, English-language health care services, and English-language media.
Québec residents also include some 600 000 immigrants who have arrived from Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia since the early 20th century, bringing with them an abundance of cultural riches and vitality.
Québec also has some 63 000 aboriginal people, sons and daughters of the first men and women to have trod on North American soil. Among them are over 56 000 Native Americans and Inuit. The ten Amerindian nations differ from one another in their origins, language, customs, and way of life. Most of their members live in villages or territories reserved exclusively for them. The Inuit, formerly known as Eskimo, live in Québec's northernmost regions, on the shores of Hudson and Ungava bays.
The Québec government is in the process of redefining its relations with the aboriginal peoples living on its territory. Already, certain agreements have resulted in a new regime based on the recognition of the aboriginal peoples' rights to own and manage the land granted to them, preserve their culture, language and traditions, and govern themselves under Québec legislation.
Québec is divided into sixteen regions, each unique in terms of climate, area, resources, and population.
An international centre of trade and finance and a city of learning and science, Montréal is the hub of Québec's economic and cultural life. The metropolitan area is home to 3.1 million people and some 9000 companies, which ensure 53% of Québec's manufacturing production. The city also boasts one of the largest seaports in eastern North America. A cosmopolitan crossroads that is modern yet friendly, Montréal has a stimulating environment where cultural activities play a major role. All of these advantages mean that its residents enjoy an excellent quality of life--one of the world's best.
The city's contemporary profile of skyscrapers, prestigious hotels, and corporate offices nonetheless harbours a souvenir from the past: an old district with narrow cobblestone streets, witness to three centuries of history.
The capital of the province of Québec, Québec City, is situated on a steep promontory overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Visitors are charmed by the remarkable setting and architectural heritage of the only remaining walled city in North America. The uniqueness of the old city led UNESCO to designate it a World Heritage Treasure. Over the years, the old fortifications have gradually been surrounded by government and university buildings, modern residential districts, shopping centres and industrial parks. The city is also a seaport and home to a major research centre which has earned international renown in the fields of optics and laser technology. Approximately 650 000 people live in the capital region.
In addition to its two large urban centres, Québec has fourteen other regions, all of which have medium-size cities with universities or colleges and an active social and cultural life. Because of Québec's extremely varied topography, each region has its own distinctive features which constitute tourist attractions or business opportunities. While the outlying regions focus mainly on resource harvesting and primary processing, the central regions are active in manufacturing. some 250 million English- speaking North Americans.