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The Grey Nuns of Montreal to turn their mother house into an archaeological haven

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The community with so much historical significance to Montreal is working to stay relevant in the future.

At a time when the future of many religious heritage buildings has been called into question, the Grey Nuns of Montreal are planning big changes to their Youville Mother House, formerly the Hôpital Général de Montréal, the first hospital in the province. The project, which they regard as a conservation effort, would see the development of a heritage-designated building complex, utilizing popular architectural styles from when the Youville house was built, in 1693.

Spearheaded by the Grey Nuns, in partnership with PARA-SOL Architecture et développement, the project has the goal of revitalizing the existing site with a new cultural and educational mission. The effort would see a museum created within the building that will exhibit an extensive collection of artifacts, many of which have never been seen by the public.

Areas of the grounds with particular heritage significance would be open for exploration. One such area is the Room for the Poor, which has been virtually unchanged since the days when it served hot meals to the needy in the 17th century. Another area of note is the vaulted cellar, where an authentic New France-era bread oven still stands ready to bake fresh loaves.

The jewel of the project will be the state-of-the-art Université de Montréal’s citizen archaeology lab, also known as the sustainable archaeology lab. The laboratory will work to educate the public on archaeological and research methods, while popularizing the work of UdeM’s archaeology research department. The equipment will provide the opportunity for collaborations between the university and the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, Pointe-à-Callière.

The lab will include an area in for public presentations and for viewing collections being researched. It is hoped that as the collections grow, people can return to see the fruits of archaeological labor and spur relevant discussion.

Sister Aurore Larkin, congregational leader of the Grey Nuns of Montreal, is excited by the prospect of finding a new and culturally relevant purpose for the building, which has long been unoccupied. Canadian Architect has Larkin’s comments:

“At a time when many heritage buildings in Quebec are in a tenuous position, we wanted not only to protect this historic site but also to breathe new life into the Youville Mother House. It’s important for us to contribute actively to ensuring that our legacy carries on.”

The redevelopment of the historical buildings is expected to cost $35.3 million and will take 24 months to complete. Unfortunately, until they have acquired sufficient backing the sisters cannot break ground.

“Our congregation is asking for financial support from governments and the Ville de Montréal so that this unique heritage site can continue to bear witness to the founding of our city and our congregation. In light of the enthusiasm sparked by our project, we are convinced we will receive the financial aid we seek. We have solid partners in the Université de Montréal and Pointe-à-Callière, and an exemplary project,” added Sister Larkin.

While the project has yet to receive government support, Frédéric Bouchard, dean of Arts and Sciences at the Université de Montréal, thinks the new center is just what the people of Montreal need:

“This partnership with the congregation of the Grey Nuns and Pointe-à-Callière will enable our researchers and students to take advantage of an outstanding heritage site, located near the very spot where Montreal was founded—a rare gift,” Bouchard said. “This is the right place and the right time for us to train better archaeologists and to make sure all Montrealers have access to their findings.”

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