The Montreal Gazette: In with the old, in with the new at Quebec City gem

Le 20 October 2013

A sweeping $500,000 renovation of Le St-Pierre, a darling boutique hotel in the Old Port of Quebec City, has preserved the best of the fine old structure and bestowed a fresh new look.

It wasn’t easy.

The building is nearly 200 years old, built when rue St-Pierre was the Wall Street of Lower Canada and Le St-Pierre was the headquarters of what is believed to be the settlement’s first insurance company, Quebec Fire Insurance Cie., founded in 1820.

The renovators, designers and architects had a few extra challenges because the building is classified as historic by the heritage group Commission d’urbanisme et de conservation de Québec. They had to modernize operating systems, such as air conditioning, heating, elevators and water recycling, always working within strict guidelines to respect the original architecture.

The reconstruction spans the centuries. The team fabricated all-new window oak frames and casements, but they maintained the look of 19th-century carpentry and hardware. Then, going very 21st century, they installed dozens of 40-inch flat-screen televisions, hanging them on thick stone and brick walls while miraculously hiding the wiring for cable and electricity.

“It would have been an everyday affair if the walls were plaster, but the stone made it a big drilling challenge,” said Michel Couture, Le St-Pierre’s general manager. “And they had to ensure that the architectural details such as ceiling mouldings and wainscotting looked the same as the first time around.”

Le St-Pierre has had a total update. The lobby lounge now sports handsome leather furniture and stained-glass fixtures crafted by Daniel Dalpé, which give off a period look. The corridors on the guest-room floors have come alive with frescoes of Quebec City scenes painted by Claude Martin and Marc Brochier. Black-and-white photographs add a dash of retro style.

The 31 guest rooms and 10 suites are bright and airy, with white lacquered furniture and mellow taupe fabrics softening the bare, rugged stone and brick walls. The décor is all refreshingly new: sisal rugs, duvets, pillows, mattresses and sheets.

Le St-Pierre bills itself as an “auberge distinctive,” but it treats its guests to a lot of hotel-style amenities. It has four levels of accommodations, all attractive and comfortable, with whirlpool tubs, good lighting, bathrobes and pod coffee machines. At the top end are the split-level loft suites, which have sunken soaking tubs, kitchens, dining areas and living rooms with sofa beds. And some rooms on the fourth floor have views of the St. Lawrence River.

Breakfast is a fulsome affair, with fresh fruit, croissants and café au lait, plus a choice of crêpes, french toast, eggs Benedict and omelettes with goat cheese and lardons.

In Quebec City, I always try to mix culture with outdoor life, and feasting on excellent French-Quebec cuisine is a given. Le St-Pierre makes it all happen. Simply see the Clef d’Or concierge, who lines up food tours, sightseeing excursions, cultural visits and restaurant reservations. (The hotel serves only breakfast.)

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