Founded in Montréal by Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1658, the Congrégation de Notre Dame continues to foster education through the schools it operates on four continents. In New France, it played a particular role in the education of women, culminating with the establishment of a secondary college for women in 1908, which later became Marianopolis College.
Growing in size as well as importance until the Quiet Revolution ushered the secularization of Québec in the second half of the 20th century, the congregation occupied a series of increasingly larger Mother houses in Montréal. Following a devastating fire in 1893, the Notre-Dame Sisters had to retreat to one of their earlier locales and were in need of more space, especially for the opening of the aforementioned college. The architects hired to design the new Mother house was Jean-Omer Marchand, who had recently returned to Montréal after his apprenticeship at the famous École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Together with his associate and Beaux-Arts classmate Samuel Stevens Haskell, they were quickly establishing themselves as masters of religious architecture in Eastern Canada.
Built between 1904 and 1908, the 6th Maison Mère is a textbook representation of the Beaux-Arts style, with a symmetrical H-shaped composition, clearly delineated three story facades, and numerous citations of classical architecture, such as Roman arches and a Byzantine-inspired cupola. The building was among the first in Québec to use a reinforced concrete core, upon which the elegant tan brick covering was another innovation in Montréal, where large buildings were usually constructed in stone. Occupying the center of the H shape was the chapel, its high barrel vaulted ceiling resting on slender pillars and secondary columns and flanked on either side by a gallery.
In 1985, the Sisters left the building to relocate to what is now Marianopolis College and sold it to Dawson College. Originally a satellite campus for McGill University established to accommodate WWII veterans signing up for secondary education, Dawson College eventually joined the Québec Cégep network as its first English-language institution in 1969. The opportunity to relocate to the vacated Notre-Dame convent was a welcome evolution to the college’s fourteen locations spread across Montréal. The conversion of the complex for use by the college was led by Dimitri Dimakopoulos together with Jodoin lamarre, Pratte et associés, who turned the former chapel and its neighbouring spaces into a library.
Today, the chapel serves as a vast reading room, with many of its original religious fittings intact, including the large cross-shaped chandeliers. For practical reasons, the entrance to the library was moved to a former sacristy door besides the chancel, where a welcome desk has replaced the altar.
Note that the library is only accessible to college students. I’m grateful to the library staff who agreed to me visiting and taking the above images in April 2022.
This post is part of a series on adaptive reuse in libraries. See the list of such projects I am maintaining or view other posts in this series.
- Bisson, P.-R. (1986, Juin). Un monument de classe internationale: La Maison-Mère de la Congrégation Notre-Dame. ARQ : La Revue Des Membres de l’Ordre Des Architectes Du Québec, 31.
- Maison mère de la Congrégation-de-Notre-Dame. (n.d.). Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec. Retrieved April 27, 2023
- Paré-Julien, J. (2012). Facades of Jean Omer Marchand’s buildings for the Notre-Dame Congregation in Montreal: Influence and Collective Memory in Architecture [Masters, Concordia University].
- Colloque sur la transformation d’églises en bibliothèques: Le vendredi 4 mai 2012, Grande Bibliothèque, Montréal : est-ce qu’une église peut devenir une bibliothèque du 21e siècle? (2012). Montréal : Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec, 2012. pp. 40-41.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!