Place des Canotiers

Québec City, Québec 

Photo Credit: Daoust Lestage


Research by: Samantha Miller

Edited by: Nicole Brekelmans 

Case study compiled in 2019



Project: Place des Canotiers

Type of Urban Strategy: Water 

Type of ProjectUrban Plaza

LocationQuébec City, Québec 

Date Designed/Planned: 2015

Construction Completed:  2017

Designer: Daoust Lestage & ABCP 


Place des Canotiers is a public plaza along the St. Lawrence River and in the heart of Old Québec City. The coherent design highlights multidisciplinary techniques of urban design, landscape architecture, architecture, industrial design and graphic design. Due to the unique conditions and heritage of the site, each component of the plan needed to work as a whole and create a sense of memory that celebrates the history of the site (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2018). With elements such as a lookout, street furniture and green spaces, the space is an excellent place for visitors and residents to come and relax, and explore the heritage of the site. The site is a place of welcome for cruise passengers into the capital, which was one of the main intentions of this redevelopment because previously, cruise passengers were welcomed into the city via a lifeless parking lot. The entire project, down to the materials chosen, were inspired by the past life of the site and the wooden docks of the 19th century (Ville de Québec, n.d.). The project was part of a larger goal of reconnecting Québeckers to the River and giving it back to the city. This project is an excellent case study in cultural heritage and incorporating history and art into the design of public spaces. In terms of urban design, this project is important because the city saw an opportunity to redesign something that was still useful (parking) but made it into something that frees up space and gives the city back to pedestrians.


“The project takes into consideration the importance of developing areas that promote sustained quality of life. Park areas not only provide an environmental boost, but also improve social commitment to sustainability. The Place des Canotiers is a real success of requalification of a vast space located at the edge of the river in a strategic site in the heart of Québec City.” (CIMA +, 2018).


Place des Canotiers is a public plaza at the edge of the St. Lawrence River and Old Québec City. The design of the plaza is meant to celebrate and remember the history of the site, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is designed to be a beautiful welcome point for cruise ship visitors, and for residents and tourists to be able to enjoy the views of the water and relax outdoors. What used to be a large parking lot, is now a 17,500 square meter welcoming park in the heart of Old Québec. As part of the new design, the need for parking spaces was still critical, so the new park includes a four-storey parking building with 400 spaces and a green roof on top. The park also has planted areas, ambulatory areas on wooden decks, concrete pavers and concrete walkways, a canopy, a coastal cycling path, fountain jets, misting machines, street lighting and furniture, and art.


The Place des Canotiers is situated between Dalhousie Street in Old Québec City and the edge of the St. Lawrence River. The total surface area for this project was almost 20,000 square meters (NCC, n.d.). The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site, making the focus of the project preserving and reappropriating the authentic expression of the site itself. The site provided a unique potential in that its location is facing the Musée de la Civilisation (Museum of Civilization) and with its surrounding views of the St. Lawrence River. The site used to be the location of 19th-century piers that helped define Old Québec, so the designers wished to use this history of the site to anchor the design and reinterpret their forms to give shape to the new plaza (Daoust Lestage, n.d.).


This project of redeveloping the surface parking lot on Dalhousie Street was part of a larger plan to reclaim the St. Lawrence River by Québeckers, among other projects such as the design of the Jacques-Cartier Beach, the Promenade Samuel-De Champlain, and Brown Cove/Beauport Bay. The city was long desiring a better relationship between Old Québec and the river (NCC, n.d.). The project is a continuation of the restoration and urban design interventions that had been carried out for over fifty years prior in this area and its surroundings. It is also part of efforts to restore the river to Québeckers, and make the space an identity of the national capital (Brindamour, 2017). This site was previously known as the Dalhousie parking lot, which was owned by the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI) (Brindamour, 2017). Since the project is located on a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this meant that there were special alteration requirements under the Cultural Heritage Act. The design team was required to work under the authorization of the Québec Minister of Culture and Communications (MCC). One of the most important things that the MCC needed was for there to be archeological interventions and digs done before the completion of construction, to take advantage of the sites potential archeological assets (Brindamour, 2017). Once the project began its design phase, a project steering committee was created consisting of partners and representatives from the NCC, the City of Québec, the Port of Québec, and the Museum of Civilization. The steering committee was active in the design phase in ensuring that the new plaza would best represent the site and met periodically during the construction phase until the work was finished (Brindamour, 2017).


The goal for the project was to redevelop the site of a surface parking lot, to better connect Old Québec to the St. Lawrence river and celebrating the sites heritage and history. Aside from the legacy of the site, one of the main goals was also to cater to the needs of visitors and residents of Québec. All of the materials and the layout of the plaza aim to recall the history of the site and pay tribute to the uses of the space before it was a parking lot. As a maritime gateway, mooring dock for cruise ships in the provincial capital, the project wanted to make this space an ideal entry point into the city. “The evocative potential of this incredible site, reinterpreted in a contemporary manner with simplicity and restraint, was the cornerstone of the of the design of the project” (Daoust Lestage, n.d.)


“The Place des Canotiers and its raised parking structure represent recovered urban spaces, which now offer visitors as well as citizens an area for gathering which is in keeping with the quality and atmosphere that has long been present on the site, and is now reproduced by their resolutely contemporary character at the border between the city and the river” (Daoust Lestage, n.d.). The decision to build a storied parking unit was intended to meet the needs of Québec residents, hoteliers and traders, and because the Musée de la Civilization also requires parking (Brindamour, 2017). In the design process, one of the most important considerations was the visual relationship with the landscape, city and river. Because of this, the architectural concept for the parking structure was intended to minimize its footprint to improve the adjacent space and their relationship to each other and the landscape. The parking structure has multiple differently designed facades that relate to their nearby surrounding; specifically, the ‘artifact’ wall faces the plaza and aims to mimic the tectonic piers that were once on site. The artifact wall was designed to contain a linear staircase that connects each parking level and leads to a cantilevered overlook off of the edge of the building’s green roof. One of the other walls, which is suspended above Dalhousie Street, is covered in limestone, in reference to the Museum of Civilization. And lastly, the facade that faces the river has an elegant and simple design. The designers decided to subdivide the spaces on-site by theme: observation, contemplation, civic life, the port, and memory. Also, because of the site’s relation to water and the theme of memory in terms of the old piers on site, the designers implemented 74 misting pavers and 50 water jets. The misters and jets are distributed throughout the site, for cooling, play and memory. The design included a 2,519 square meter green roof and involved the planting of 67 trees and 878 bushes (Daoust Lestage, n.d.). The use of flowerbeds provides seating, which is one of the many elements of urban furniture that seamlessly blends in and compliments the other materials and spatial qualities. The use of a textured pavement is meant to resemble water ripples, again reminding visitors of the old port. “Behind the wood artifact is a storied parking lot that has freed up all the influence of the site, allowing Québeckers to reconnect with their maritime origins and to welcome visitors from all walks of life” (NCC, n.d.).


Brindamour, J. (2017, June 26). La place des Canotiers. Magazine Constas. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from CIP | Projects in nine communities receive National Urban Design Awards. (2018, October 18). Retrieved July 18, 2019, from Daoust Lestage | Place des Canotiers - Espace public. (n.d.). Retrieved July 18, 2019, from NCC | Place des Canotiers. (n.d.). Retrieved July 18, 2019, from Social Responsibility Report | 2017-2018(Rep.). (n.d.). Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

Ville de Quebec | Place des Canotiers. (n.d.). Retrieved July 18, 2019, from


This project was one of the 12 projects who received National Design Awards in 2018, which showcases projects that exemplify excellence in urban design, raise public awareness of how urban design affects the lives of Canadians and the environment. “You couldn’t pick a much more challenging site nor imagine a better design solution” (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2018).


The main challenge in this project was complying to the needs of the MCC, due to the site’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Thirty building lots were needed for the design of the plaza, which required that each lot needed a construction contract grant from the SQI, making the project slightly more challenging to plan for (Brindamour, 2017).


When the project began, the National Capital Commission held a competition amongst the citizens of Québec to choose the name of the new plaza, when the name Place des Canotiers was chosen. The name, which translates to ‘The Place of the Boaters”, was selected for the tribute it pays to the American Indians who historically have sailed the seas in canoes, paying tribute to the people who served as the link between Québec City and Lévis (a city across the river in eastern Québec (Brindamour, 2017).


Some of the programmed elements include an artifact wall, which runs along the length of the storied parking unit, which evokes the old docks and heritage of the site. This wall intended to promote the integration of the new parking and public square into the historical landscape of Old Québec. Along the artifact wall, is an access point to a suspended walkway that allows visitors and residents to have a beautiful panoramic view of the St. Lawrence River and Château Frontenac (Brindamour, 2017). A pergola on the west end of the site helps provide shade. There is also an exhibit of art in the centre of the site. This spot showcases art that was selected after a contest falling into the framework from the program of integration of the arts in architecture by the Government of Québec. The esplanade is crossed by a diagonal walkway that aims to lead people to the terrace of the Museum of Civilization. And there are also jets of water, foggers, and lighting that are all embedded in the granite on the ground (Brindamour, 2017).


Funding for this project came from the Government of Canada who committed to providing $4.4 million, the Government of Québec who provided $26.86 million, and the City of Québec who provided $8 million, for a total budget of $39 million (NCC, n.d.).