The Quebec Garrison Club: A jewel in the heart of old Quebec

Photo: Photo courtesy of the Quebec Garrison Club

This is what the Garrison Club looks like today. In the foreground are the ramparts and the Saint-Louis Gate.

Last Wednesday, the well-known Quebec City historian, Jean-Marie Lebel gave a talk at the Garrison Club about the history of this prestigious establishment. His presentation inaugurated a new series of monthly lectures to be given at the club.

Lebel explained first that the notion of the private gentlemen's club originated in 18th-century England. In Quebec City, the earliest institutions of this kind were the Officers' Mess of the British garrison and two civilian clubs, the Stadacona and the Union, which also accepted military members. When the 3,000 British soldiers stationed in the capital left in 1871, the Officers' Mess closed. Likewise, the Stadacona and the Union clubs lost too many members to continue operating and also closed.

The part-time military gentlemen of the 9th Militia District decided to revive the institution of the private club in the city and, in 1879, founded the Quebec Garrison Club. They searched for a suitable building to accommodate their gatherings and managed to obtain from the federal government the former cottage of the British Army Engineers, located on rue Saint-Louis just below the Citadel. It was the building presently occupied by the club, but smaller and only one storey high. The locale had the distinction of being the place where the plans for the Quebec Citadel were drafted.

The first civilians were admitted as members in 1883, but were not authorized to be elected to the board of directors until 1892. It took a revolt by these non-military gentlemen before the regulations were amended. By the end of the Great War, women were permitted to enter the premises, although they could only do so by a special door, which had been installed on the side next to Citadel Hill. In 1980, Lise Payette, then Minister for the Status of Women, entered the club by the front door, disregarding the doorman's directive to proceed to the ladies' door. Not long after, this archaic rule was struck from the club's rules and regulations.

In 1893, a second storey was added, housing the kitchen and the dining rooms. Other changes were made in the 1950s, particularly after the fire of 1958. The fire gave rise to a new version of the conflict between those in favour of the old traditions and those who wanted to modernize. A compromise was finally reached whereby the Edwardian atmosphere of the institution would be maintained, but the commodities and services would be modernized. A similar debate has been at the heart of the evolution of the club for the past half-century, and has always resulted in the maintaining of its traditions and customs - after all, they are what make the Garrison Club a unique and special place. In the summer, members and guests can dine in the shade of the spreading elm trees in the beautiful, walled garden behind the club.

Elizabeth Dallaire, wife of General Roméo Dallaire, stated that the Artillery officers were the first Regular Force members of the club soon after its beginnings, adding that General Dallaire was responsible for the substantial renovations undergone by the building in the early 1990s.

The illustration on the left appeared in the December 26, 1881, Christmas supplement of the Morning Chronicle, a forerunner of the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph. A framed copy of this page hangs in the Garrison Club today. The plans were drawn up by E.E. Taché to enlarge the former Royal Engineers' office building. The following text appears just below the picture in the newspaper.

"We present our readers today with the above lithographed picture of the new buildings, about to be erected by the members of the Quebec Garrison Club, upon the site of the old Royal Engineer office at St. Louis Gate. This handsome structure is a part of the Dufferin improvements, now approaching completion; and great praise is due to our worthy Deputy-Commissioner of Crown Lands, E.E. Tache, Esq., for the trouble he has taken in drafting these beautiful plans, so as to preserve the old original building entire, while at the same time, by adding the additional storey, towers, entrance hall, and wings, he gives us the tout ensemble of a Norman Regal château of the last century."