Shortly after the creation of Université Laval in 1852, a large building was added to the Québec Seminary to serve as a boarding school for students. This Pensionnat was designed by Charles Baillairgé and was completed in 1855 in sober Neoclassical style. It included 100 rooms, a sitting room, a reading room, a refectory and kitchen, and a smoking room. In 1865, an extension was built, including a larger refectory and sitting room jutting out to the south. In 1883, a chapel was added on top of the refectory, following the plans of Joseph-Ferdinand Peachy.
In 1901, the complex was converted into a convent for Dominican sisters, including its chapel, which remained in use until the convent closed in 1979. The building then became the Québec Seminary Museum, opened in 1983, and the chapel was converted into an exhibition room by Belzile, Brassard, Gallienne, Lavoie (BBGL, today ABCP architecture). As part of the conversion, all windows of the chapel were bricked over, leading to a dark space well suited for exhibiting precious objects but erasing most of the building’s interior decoration in the process. The museum was eventually incorporated into the Québec Civilization Museum in 1995. Currently, there are no public exhibits in the former Pensionnat, now renamed pavillon Jérôme-Demers in honour of the influential priest and professor at the Seminary who was also an architect and friend of the Baillairgé family. Instead, the space is used for offices for the Civilization Museum and the chapel serves as the museum’s library and archives.
As an institution founded by the Québec Seminary, Université Laval remained closely linked with the Seminary until the 1960s, and so were its library collections. When the university moved its library to its Sainte-Foy campus in 1964, its collections had to be split between the Seminary and the university. An arbitrary date was chosen for this separation: all volumes acquired before 1920 remained the property of the Seminary, while others were officially ceded to the university. This left the Seminary with a precious collection but the reallocation of the spaces vacated by the university provided little room for a proper place to store it, leading to books being spread over multiple locations and subject to administrative reshuffling. Thankfully, its inclusion into the Civilization Museum’s archives brought it back to light, and it is now accessible to researchers through this institution.
Today’s collection numbers over 180,000 documents, some dating back to the 15th century, is anything but homogeneous. It includes acquisitions from the early days of the Seminary, donations from private collectors, the collection of the former Québec Jesuit College, the academic collection of a century of university learning, religious texts as well as treaties in geography, architecture… The compact shelves and reading room that stand under the vault of Peachy’s erstwhile chapel contain treasures spanning the breadth of knowledge from the dawn of European settlement in North America to 21st century museography monographs. The label “enfer” affixed to a shelf hints that it contains books once considered too subversive by the Church, yet too precious to be discarded.
Visit to this collection is by appointment only, but visitors will be rewarded by learned treasures and a kind welcome by the Archivist, Peter Gagné, whom I thank for the visit he gave me in March 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.
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!