Many people have been to the old city of Quebec numerous times and not found the real heart of the old town hiding in plain sight, right there off Rue St. Jean where tourists are thick.  

You should start with a different sort of tour guide, a mystery set in contemporary Quebec published in 2010 called Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. A murder takes place in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (a gem of a library that you would never find on your own).  

Follow Inspector Gamache of the Surete of Quebec up crooked streets, into cafes, groceries, and most especially to the Lit & His, as the Library is called. All the places mentioned in the book really exist but the real find is the library in the building that was Quebec ’s first prison. Here you will find the last vestige of English Quebec.

There is no sign on the door at 44, chaussée des Écossais saying this is the Literary and Historical Society except a crooked cardboard sign giving opening hours.   But go up the steps, into the dark hall hung with sepia portraits and take the wooden stairway to the right. Chances are the volunteer librarian, Jean Girard, will appear on the landing to ask what you want.   Just tell him you are interested in the Lit & His and he will welcome you.  

If the afternoon is quiet, he may even give you an unofficial (and delightfully informative) tour.   You walk into the most beautiful, intimate, comforting place lined two stories high, from ceiling to oriental carpet, with books, some dating to the 16 th century. Nearly all are there to be circulated and read.

This is English Quebec, dating from the time General Wolfe wrested the city from France on the Plains of Abraham .   The Lit and His today is all that is left of the Anglos, the English population having shrunk to 1 1/2 per cent.  

You can set up an organized tour (see the Morrin Centre website), and currently the prison cellblocks are being made presentable.