Mother House of the Grey Nuns of Montréal, Montréal, Quebec

Backgrounder

The Mother House of the Grey Nuns of Montréal, located in the borough of Ville-Marie, is an excellent example of convent architecture from the second half of the 19th century. For more than 130 years, this monumental building served the Grey Nuns as a place of community life and prayer, the centre of their works in Montréal, and the mother house for their missions around the world. With its austere exterior, inspired by the neoclassical style, elegant Romanesque Revival chapel, impressive dimensions, and imposing urban presence, the building eloquently embodies the breadth of work carried out by the Grey Nuns.

Construction of this large grey stone building began in 1869 and construction took place in stages over some 30 years. The initial design was drafted by the renowned architect Victor Bourgeau. His challenge was to design a building that accommodated many people and a variety of religious and domestic functions together under one roof. Over the years, it has housed a hospital, a hospice, an orphanage and a nursery, classrooms and workshops, and, more recently, services for women and children in difficulty. The building also had to accommodate the needs of the community of nuns living there, and so required kitchens, offices, and dormitories. Its plan is shaped somewhat like an incomplete “H.” The east wing, constructed first, was first occupied by the sisters by 1871. The west wing, designed by architect Joseph Venne and built in 1898-1900, accommodated those benefiting from the community’s charities.

At the centre of the building stands the chapel, which was constructed between 1874 and 1878 to the plans of Victor Bourgeau. With its Romanesque Revival style, it is the most ornamented part of the building and it dominates the whole of the convent. Its central placement served to segregate the spaces reserved for the nuns in the east wing from the spaces allotted to the people in need in the west wing. It featured stained glass windows made in France in 1878, 19th century paintings, large rose windows, and three white marble altars created by the sculptor J. O’Brien to plans by architects Bourgeau and Alcibiade Leprohon. At the time of its construction, the chapel was considered among the most beautiful religious buildings in the city.   

This well-preserved building has borne witness to the work of the Grey Nuns, particularly with the elderly, abandoned children, orphans, and the sick. In 2007, it was purchased by Concordia University, who intends to use the former convent for educational purposes.

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