Old Quebec City loses beloved goat and donkey living on cathedral grounds

A donkey and goat have been unusual celebrities of Old Quebec since they arrived on the grounds of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity six years ago. Now they are leaving for the green pastures of the Eastern Townships.

Aldo and Holly to move to Eastern Townships after 6 years as a major feature in the old town

Holly, left, and Aldo, right, who live in a cathedral close, are a popular attraction in old Quebec City. (Martine Côté/Radio-Canada)

A donkey and goat have been unusual celebrities of Old Quebec since they arrived on the grounds of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity six years ago. Now they are leaving for the green pastures of the Eastern Townships.

Sarah Blair, a member of the congregation, first arranged to keep Aldo, her donkey, in the Anglican parish after moving to nearby Île d'Orléans.

Placing the donkey within the old city's historic walls was a sort of social experiment, she told CBC's Quebec AM.

"I thought, if I am going to keep my donkey, I want him with me and I want to do it in the city," she said. "I wanted to do it because I wanted to see if I could."

Children and tourists often approach the stonewall bordering the cathedral to catch a glimpse of it's well-known animal residents, including Holly the goat. (Martine Côté / Radio-Canada)

Alli, a goat Blair said she rescued, was soon added to keep her donkey company. When Alli died, Holly the goat moved in.

At the beginning of July, Aldo and Holly will settle at the Berthe-Rousseau community farm in South Durham in Quebec's Eastern Townships, which offers therapy through contact with animals. 

Loved by the neighbourhood

The animals slowly became a must-see attraction for visitors to the old town.

They have been featured in news stories and are the subject of a children's book written and illustrated by Sarah's sister Louisa. The pair became a stop for tour groups and topped the lists of tourist websites.

"Gradually, they just became the total love of the neighbourhood," said Blair.

She had originally tried to keep the existence of the animals a secret, but the opposite happened over time. The stone wall that holds them in the private church yard has since become known as "Aldo's wall."

Holly the goat, left, regularly escapes from the church ground's enclosure, and has been stopped at the old Quebec City gates a couple times. (Martine Côté / Radio-Canada)

"People would just come and stand at the wall and gape and wonder why they were here," Blair said.

"Kids go bananas and they sort of forget that the cathedral is here sometimes because they are so excited about the goat and the donkey."

Flair for escape

Keeping the animals on the grounds can be a challenge, especially during the winter.

Quebec City's heavy snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures mean caretakers have to continually dig out the enclosures' doors, and clear away all snow along the walls to keep the goat from jumping free.

They also have to shovel snow away from the roof to prevent Holly from climbing onto it and springing over the walls.

Still, the goat's flair for escape is a continual problem. Holly has been stopped a couple times several blocks away at the gates of the old city.

"Luckily, because everyone knows her in the old city, they know where she belongs," Blair said. "They don't think 'Oh my God, a goat in old Quebec' — they just bring her back."

Care for the animals also attracted the scorn of former popular talk radio host André Arthur, who accused caretakers of neglect on his noontime show in 2016. Arthur and a contributor claimed the animals had no heated shelter in the winter and that a previous donkey had died on the grounds.

After quietly settling into a cathedral close in old Quebec City, Aldo the donkey gradually became the love of the neighbourhood. (Martine Côté / Radio-Canada)

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council called the claims "at best, incomplete if not clearly inaccurate" and forced the CHOI-FM station to admits it errors and breach of ethics on the air during peak listening hours.

After six years, the Quebec ministry of agriculture still gets complaints. Blair and those who care for the animals have gotten to know the ministry's inspector, who often apologizes when he comes, she said.

The complaints are not why the animals are leaving, she added.

"He knows the backyard really well and he loves the animals," she said. "It's never been an influence to take them away because people do stupid things like that."

Blair believes the move will be good both for the farm and the animals. She still plans to visit often.

"The life of me and Aldo is not over yet, I can tell you that much," she said.

With files from Kim Garrity