Our history

Quartier Petit Champlain is known for its architectural beauty and original commercial offerings.

It is also a place steeped in fascinating history, starting with its founding that dates back to the days of colonization and culminating in its innovative restoration and the creation of a truly unique cooperative.

Scroll down to learn more about the history of the Petit Champlain district and its cooperative.


A voyage in time

Dating from the first colonization, Rue du Petit-Champlain witnessed firsthand the birth of New France, and would become the oldest commercial street in North America.

In the 17th century, Rue du Petit-Champlain was nothing more than a path leading to the Champlain Fountain. It wasn’t until 1688 that the small path became known as Rue des Meulles. In 1792, the street was entered in the census under the name Rue Champlain, then on a map dating from 1874, it was referred to as Petite Rue Champlain (so as not to be confused with Grande Rue Champlain).

Fishermen, longshoremen, and shipyard workers adopted the street and built their homes there. Between 1725 and 1760, all the houses had to be rebuilt in stone to prevent fires. Later, in the 1770s, a wooden staircase was built at one end of the street, to facilitate access to the upper and lower town. By about 1830, the neighborhood had become a sought-after place to live, with well-maintained and gaily decorated houses.

During the 19th century, the street became home to many Irish working-class families engaged in port activities and shipbuilding. In the 20th century, however, the marine industry declined significantly, and the neighborhood became increasingly impoverished.


Barricaded windows, Rue Sous-le-Fort

By 1960, the streets were in a deplorable state, and many of the houses were clad over with tin to hide the crumbling stone walls. Aside from a handful of residents who decided to stay, people gradually abandoned the ever-poorer and marginalized neighborhood. Nevertheless, a number of craftspeople decided to set up their workshops there, attracted by the cheap rent.

At that time, the city’s real estate projects tended more towards demolition and modernization, with a view to restoring the original appearance of the buildings that had been transformed during the British occupation. Major upgrades were proposed for Place-Royale, requiring a massive reconstruction in keeping with the methods and aesthetics of New France. The initial project even called for the demolition of a number of buildings along Rue du Petit-Champlain, to make way for a parking lot for Place-Royale, which was to become an open-air museum. That’s when Jacques de Blois and Gerry Paris stepped in with a big dream in mind.


The birth of a grand dream for Petit Champlain

Jacques de Blois was an architect, and Gerry Paris was a businessman. The two friends were inspired by the building restoration projects that were cropping up across Europe, and they dreamed of reviving one of the city’s neighborhoods. A handshake was all it took to officially set their search in motion. A short time later, as he was driving along Champlain Boulevard, Jacques noticed the neighborhood and immediately grasped its full potential. The visionary architect envisioned families, artisans, restaurants, and businesses in a revitalized neighborhood.

The adventure began on October 16, 1976, when the two men purchased a handful of buildings in the neighborhood to give them a facelift. In 1982, they wanted to acquire other buildings but didn’t have the necessary cash. Fortunately, the cultural business development society SODIC, now SODEC, agreed to partner with them, accepting 51% of the shares in return.

Jacques, Gerry, and partners

The two idealists then acquired 25 buildings, which they worked hard to bring up to safety standards. Their innovative approach consisted of maintaining the original appearance of the buildings while reusing as many elements as possible. They even scoured the municipal landfill for items they could repurpose. With this avantgarde initiative, they effectively founded the first eco-district in Québec City, creating the unique and wonderful space that would become the Petit Champlain district.


A long journey

The project was not without challenges, as the neighborhood was in poor condition. The former Dominion Corset building, for one, no longer had a roof, and was littered with bird droppings on all four floors. And the theatre was barely standing. Then there was the sit-in Jacques de Blois and Gerry Paris organized with the artisans, merchants, and residents in order to force the City to widen the sidewalks along Champlain Boulevard. To the delight of all, their protest paid off, allowing the sidewalks to be expanded and the patio to be built in front of Le Cochon Dingue. All their hard work began to breathe new life into the neighborhood. And little by little, the once-barricaded windows on the ground floor were replaced by magnificent storefronts.

Then came new artists and artisans, bringing a whole new look and feel to the neighborhood. This artistic vibe became the signature of the Petit Champlain district, taking its inspiration from New York City’s Soho district.

Loulou and Fabien Germain, the first artisan-merchants in the district

Théâtre Petit Champlain was one of the most recent projects to be completed, enriching the district’s cultural programming and welcoming various local and international singers, which brought even more visibility to the neighborhood.

Jacques de Blois and Gerry Paris also dreamed of creating a park, but to do so they had to negotiate at length with the owner, as well as with the City of Québec to tear down a huge abandoned warehouse that occupied the space where the Félix-Leclerc Park is today. This location became a luminous oasis, an island of greenery, a gathering place. In the 80s, people from the neighborhood used to gather there to play pétanque.

After nine years of unflagging efforts, the ambitious restoration project was finally complete. The two visionary men behind it truly put their hearts and souls into it.


The creation of Coopérative du Quartier Petit Champlain

When Jacques de Blois and Gerry Paris were ready to retire, for health reasons, they decided to sell the housing stock while ensuring its future. In 1985, the shareholders had the opportunity to sell the buildings to a group of American investors, but they preferred to keep the heritage in the hands of Québecers. That was when the artisans and merchants in the neighborhood grouped together to buy the housing stock.

The first board of directors of Coopérative du Quartier Petit Champlain

November 25, 1985, marked a turning point in the history of the Petit Champlain district with the signing of the charter that led to a producer cooperative called “La Coopérative des artisans et commerçants du Quartier Petit Champlain.” With financial backing from the Société de développement des coopératives (SDC), Mutuelle des fonctionnaires, and Desjardins, the cooperative was able to acquire the housing stock, making its members co-owners in the process. This initiative not only protected the heritage of Quartier Petit Champlain, it also created the opportunity to hand-select the businesses that would set up shop there. Today, the coop members are the proud guardians of this unique treasure.


The beginning of a great adventure

In 1985, the neighborhood was already renowned for its cachet and innovative restoration. The "grand dream of Petit Champlain” was coming true: bringing the district to life, helping it flourish, and making a name for it. A board of directors made up of merchants dedicated to the cause was set up, while an administrative team was tasked with managing the heritage site. But, in 1987, the cooperative ran into financial difficulties. Luckily, SDC stepped in to help, appointing a contact person to lead the recovery effort, which was handled masterfully.

Having regained a solid financial footing, the cooperative, to this day, still plays the role of manager of the housing stock, while ensuring the district’s commercial development. That way it can control its environment, notably through rent prices and the diversity of products on offer, while continuing to invest in development. This dual role has proven to be an invaluable asset enjoyed by few shopping districts.

Magical in every season

Over the years, numerous initiatives have been undertaken in the district: buildings have been renovated in spectacular fashion, and a steady stream of promotional campaigns has been launched. For nearly 40 years now, enormous efforts have been made to ensure the reputation, development, and future of the Petit Champlain district.

The neighborhood has gradually evolved into the delightful place it is today, attracting people from all over the world. It is also a source of great pride for the residents of Québec City. Moreover, the merchants always take care to carefully vet each business that sets up shop in the cooperative’s premises. Some founding members are still playing an active role in the district more than 35 years later. Others have passed the torch on to their children or grandchildren. And the arrival of newcomers to Québec has added cultural and commercial diversity to the area.

Chapter 6

The role of Coopérative du Quartier Petit Champlain

A popular destination for Québec City residents and tourists alike, the Petit Champlain district sees over 2 million people every year. The district’s merchants are still co-owners of the building stock, which now boasts 29 buildings.

Today, the cooperative is remarkably successful, providing its members with facilities and services so they can operate their businesses in the district. It also maintains and rents some 40 residential units. Recognized by the City of Québec as a business group, it receives support to animate, decorate, and promote the district, helping further revitalize it. Quartier Petit Champlain is a vibrant neighborhood renowned for its original shops, charming vibe, authenticity, and year-round sociocultural activities.

Photo of the 2023 Annual General Meeting

To this day, Quartier Petit Champlain remains a magnet for innovative and creative people, with over 40 stores open year-round offering a multitude of original finds, including many local products. Plus, its culinary and cultural offerings are second to none! Customers, residents, business owners, and workers mingle on a daily basis, forming a little village in the heart of the city.

“As long as the district continues to exude the warm hospitality it is known for, I’m certain the neighborhood will remain a vibrant place.”

—Juan Hernandez, founding member and first owner of Ibiza boutique, the Cooperative’s first commercial lease in 1985.