Les Fresques des Piliers, Quebec City’s Graffitied Walls

The whimsically-painted pillars of Quebec City

photography by: Omri Westmark

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For years now, many North-American cities have been decimated by the continent’s insatiable appetite for highways. As urban sprawling spurred resistance among a growing part of the society, some municipalities have started implementing measures to reverse the decade-long policy. It is this very trend that engendered one of Canada’s quirkiest mixtures of ugliness and beautifulness – a series of quaint murals painted over dozens of highway piers in Quebec City.

The capital and second-largest metropolitan area of its eponymous province, Quebec City is among the oldest cities in North America, dating back to as early as the 16th century. With well-preserved city walls and copious European-style houses, the Quebecoise capital retains much of its old charm, as if its true whereabouts were the old continent.


Yet, not even this historic significance spared the city from the woes of the car-centric era we all live in. In the early 1970’s, thousands of residents across Notre-Dame-de-Saint-Roch, a small parish within the Saint-Roch neighborhood, were evicted of their homes to make room for the Dufferin-Montmorency Highway (Autoroute 440) that aimed to link the downtown area with the city’s northern suburbs.


Instead of the bustling district it previously was, the area rapidly fell into an urban decay, becoming rife with crime and neglect. Though the motorway wreaked havoc on its surroundings, it wasn’t without a silver-lining as soon to be discovered.


At the turn of the 21st century, Saint-Roch neighborhood was in the midst of a revitalization process, wherein many of its derelict buildings were renovated, giving rise to a mélange of art studios, chic cafés and loft apartments. It was during this time that the unsightly viaducts between Rue Saint-Vallier and Boulevard Charest became a canvas for various artists.


From 2000 to 2002, the tens of concrete piers that support the elevated road were beautifully painted with a series of trompe-l’œils, or as the saying goes – when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Known as Les Fresques des Piliers, this open-air gallery now boasts a medley of murals, some of which depict illustrious monuments of Quebec City while others are entirely imaginary.


In 2007, a few of these vivid art works were lost forever when a disused ramp was torn down. However, in most cases, the ephemeral nature of the paintings stems from periodic refurbishments, during which the piers are repainted with brand-new murals to awe at.