Published in the Montreal Gazette on July 24, 2010.
For the seventh consecutive summer, the venerable Grand Seminary of Montreal is throwing open its doors to the viewing public. Property of those same Sulpician Fathers who were during the French Regime the first feudal lords of Montreal, their ‘Mountain Fort’ is truly an oasis of tranquil beauty located in the very city centre. Parenthetically, it should be recalled that the ‘Gentlemen of St. Sulpice’ were the first religious order to be given a large land grant at the city’s founding.
Most of their impressive domain is enclosed by a massive rustic stonewall fronting Sherbrooke Street. Look through the gates, however, and one will be rewarded by the spectacle of structures of great architectural and historic significance. The keen observer will see the stone mass of both the Grand Seminary and the Collège de Montréal (the Sulpicians, after all, have always been a teaching order).
The guided tours, which are offered only during the temperate summer months, focus principally on four aspects the celebrated estate. The first point of interest is the Martello towers facing Sherbrooke Street. Located just inside the main gate of the extensive domain, they are perhaps the oldest surviving man-made structures on the Island of Montreal. These relics of the city’s early days recall to us the undeniable fact that, besides being teachers and missionaries to the original indigenous inhabitants, the Sulpicians were also frequently compelled to defend and protect their property against potential enemies. In fact, the two towers are all that remain from the late seventeenth century of an old Amerindian mission and outpost defending Ville Marie from hostile attacks.
The well – versed tour, which lasts approximately an hour and a half, then sets out through the gardens and courtyards leading to the magnificent early nineteenth century ornamental pond that embellishes the ancient estate. After a moment’s reflection at such an idyllic spot, the visit then moves into the serene Grand Seminary itself where participants are brought up to date about the colourful history and the current day-to-day activities within its walls.
As it turns out, the imposing edifice was designed by the English architect, John Ostell, who came to Canada in 1834. Once here, he was apprenticed to Montreal surveyor Andre Trudeau in order to learn the French methods of measuring so important to Quebec professionals working in the field of construction at the time.
Ostell started the Grand Seminary project in 1854 on the old ‘Mountain Fort’ site, the completed building being consecrated in 1862. For the betterpart of its past, the illustrious seminary was popularly known at the ‘Priests’ Farm’ by most Montrealers. It was one of the last architectural ventures in which Ostell would participate, as the brilliant designer turned more and more to the business world for his sustenance. Nevertheless, in a little over two decades, Ostell left behind more than two-dozen ecclesiastical and civic structures, including the old Arts Building on the McGill campus.
The fourth and final stop in the tour of the Grand Seminary is the breathtakingly beautiful Sulpician Chapel, considered to be one of the finest examples of beaux arts style to be found anywhere in the city. In both its simplicity and solemnity, it is said to leave no one indifferent.
Located at the very foot of picturesque Mount Royal, an outing to the ‘Mountain Fort’ of the Sulpician Order is truly a step back in time, a living reminder of Montreal’s earlier years.
Visits to the Grand Seminary are offered in French, English, and Spanish at 1:00 P.M. and 3:00 P.M., Tuesday to Saturday. There is no charge, although a voluntary contribution is always appreciated. Reservations can be made by telephone at 514-935-7775 or by e – mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Technicienne en muséologie / guide-animatrice
2065 rue Sherbrooke ouest
Montréal, Québec H3H 1G6