“The patronage of our commerce, of our merchants and seamen, calls for the appointment of consuls in foreign countries.”
On May 3, 2009, the Consulate General in Quebec City celebrated the 175th anniversary of the American diplomatic presence in Quebec. The event brought together members from all levels of government and was officially commemorated with a motion presented before the Quebec National Assembly.
Quebec City was the second consular agency to be created in Canada, and local businessman Richard Peniston was appointed the first U.S. consular agent in the province of Quebec on May 3, 1834. As the historic role of trade in the area developed and evolved, so did the consul's role. The Québec consul's tasks pertaining to shipping were critical in the early 1880's. Seaports were regularly visited by American vessels and local merchants were appointed as consular agents, taking consular fees in lieu of salary. The agent was responsible for keeping a log of the ships entering the port and the produce imported or exported. Agents were also on hand to assist needy, distressed, or shipwrecked American seamen. The consular agent's role in trade and shipping continued to be significant throughout the 19th and even the early 20th century.
During the last quarter of the 19th century, eleven consulates and nearly three dozen consular agencies were established in Quebec province, including Lévis, Gaspé, Rimouski, Trois-Rivières, Chicoutimi, Rivière-du-Loup and other ports in the province. At the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. reformed and professionalized its diplomatic and consular services and, between 1900 and 1916, closed most of its consular agencies in Quebec. Growing international competition for foreign trade was behind these reforms, and promoting U.S. exports became the main business of U.S. consulates in Canada. In the 1920’s, representation, political and commercial reporting, and law enforcement dominated the workload. In the 1930s, with increased staffing of U.S. customs and immigration agencies at border ports-of-entry and Depression-era cuts in the U.S. federal budget, all consulates in Quebec closed except for those in Montreal and Quebec City. During and after World War II, relations between the U.S. and Canada increased. The U.S. Mission to Canada (the Embassy in Ottawa and consulates throughout Canada) grew during this period. In 1964, Quebec City returned to its status of consulate general—focusing on consular services, representation, political and economic reporting, and public diplomacy.
Over the years the consulate has taken part in many important and high-level events. The Quebec Conferences were held in 1943 and 1944 in Quebec City, where U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Canadian Prime Minister William L. Mackenzie King planned the final stages of World War II. Another outstanding event was the 1985 Reagan-Mulroney summit, which was a prelude to efforts to create closer links between Canada and the United States, culminating in the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Held in Quebec City, the 2001 Summit of the Americas was a round of negotiations regarding a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.
In 1949, a new consulate building was constructed in Québec City on a plot purchased from the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The four-story Consulate General remains today on the corner of Sainte-Genevieve and Terrasse-Dufferin. The consulate general is a four story structure that houses offices on the lower two floors with the upper two floors, serving as the Consul General’s Residence. The consulate’s style may be characterized as reserved French Chateau. In 1981 and 2009, the consulate’s business offices were extensively renovated to accommodate the evolving functions of U.S. Government representation in Quebec City. Canada is the largest trading partner of the United States. The two nations share over a billion dollars a day in cross-border trade. For its part, Quebec is the ninth largest trading partner of the United States.