Where am I?

Jack Messenger, Quebec City

I am hoping someone somewhere can help me solve a minor personal mystery.

The past was not often recorded in my family. There was seldom any money available for cameras and, even when there was, nobody had any interest in taking snapshots. Thus, very few photographs exist of me as a child. Indeed, very few photographs exist of me at all. Perhaps that is why I have so little recollection of my childhood, and why the earliest thing I can recall is of something that happened at the relatively ripe old age of four or five.

I possess three or four photographs of my childhood years. They are all in faded monochrome and I have no idea who is the photographer – given my family’s circumstances and attitudes, it seems unlikely that any of them are responsible, but who knows?

Some things I think I do know. I believe all these pictures were taken in Canada in the early 1960s. At least one is in Saskatoon, where we used to live. The photo here is also in Canada and I think it is Québec City. Isn’t that rather magnificent, ethereal building behind me the Chateau Frontenac?

I presume that the chateau meant nothing to me at the time. Now, however, I cannot look at this picture without hearing the dreamlike music that Dimitri Tiomkin wrote for the film I Confess (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1953). Thus, I ‘remember’ this day as a child via a beloved film made ten years earlier, before I was born, and of which I knew nothing at the time. Strange things happen with the passing of the years.

When I look at this picture, I see a stranger who is also in some sense myself. He squints out at me, eyes narrowed against the sunlight, front teeth already betraying signs of future dental problems about which nothing was done, his hair hacked about in a careless fringe.

The mystery is this: I’d like to know where I stood on that summer day all those years ago. It looks like a park. Is it the Parc Félix-Leclerc, the Jardins des Gouverneurs, the Monument de la Foi, Montmorency Park or somewhere else? What is that spire visible over my left shoulder? And what would I have been looking at beyond the camera?

I’m hoping the truth really is out there and some kind Québécois will be able to enlighten me.


This post is dedicated to Presto, a courageous and precious friend who has crossed the meadow ahead of us.

13 Comments

  1. While I stayed a fortnight at Le Château Frontenac…mumble, mumble, mumble…years ago, I’m afraid I can’t be much help. I was accompanied by a lovely young lady and scenery was not my primary focus. However, I wish you luck on solving your mystery, Jack.

  2. Thank you, Jay. I was too young to be interested in romance, but now I can quite understand that nothing is more important than love.

  3. What a delightful post – and I love Jay’s comment! Jack, I wholeheartedly agree. In the words of the song, “What is love without the giving, without love you’re only living an imitation, an imitation of life…”

  4. PS Jack, you were a gorgeous child, despite the haircut.
    RIP Presto xxx

  5. Thank you, Alicia! And I recognize the lyrics of the theme song to Douglas Sirk’s wonderful melodrama, Imitation of Life (1959). I must go and watch it immediately.

  6. Lyrics by Gregory Porter, sung by Earl Grant (although I always think that velvety voice is Nat King Cole’s):

    “Skies above in flaming colour
    Without love they’re so much duller…”

    Yes, I think I’ll have to watch the film now too…

  7. Yes, I think Nat’s is the voice they wished to imitate (ha!) but, excellent as Earl Grant sounds, he doesn’t quite have the same quality, especially on the high notes. However, his singing, the song itself, the typeface of the billing, and the evocative image of coloured gemstones (or are they merely imitation?) tumbling slowly from the top of the widescreen frame, make this one of the truly great credit sequences from the Hollywood of the 1950s. But now we’re way off subject …

  8. Hey Jack! Once upon a time your were really cute! I’ve been to Canada but Vancouver only so can’t help. But I too love the post and would love to help if I could. You’ve made a mystery out of a simple childhood photo and it would be great to solve it. Methinks that maybe the little boy would like that too…Best as ever. Liz

  9. A poetic and endearing post and photo. I wish you luck on your search for answers, Jack. My grandmother and I planned to reach Quebec on a trip during my childhood, but my grandfather was driving when we crossed the Canadian border and he turned left, heading west. Thus, I missed that culture. I hope you have better results with your journey to the past.

  10. Hi Jack, Laura asked me to help you solve this mystery since I live in Quebec. If the photo is indeed taken in the province of Quebec, then this looks like Viger Square. The castle-like building was a train station. Looking west, there is a church spire, just like in your photo. Looking east is Old Montreal with its many 18th and 19th century buildings. Maybe you were admiring these? Or just observing a butterfly fluttering by … Unlike your photo, there is not much green space left now. The square is a concrete space with some modern sculptures nestled next to a highway. The Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City is still a possibility.

    • Thank you, Caroline. This really surprises me, as the one thing I thought I knew was that this was Quebec City. Yet you’re right, it could so easily be Montreal. I’ve looked at other photos of modern-day Viger Square and it’s definitely a strong contender. I shall have to adjust my memories accordingly – I’ve been living a lie! Thank you for taking the trouble to write.

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