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In the last 150 years, the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Lac, known as the Oka Abbey, has been home to hundreds of monks who belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which is commonly known as Trappists. ((Radio-Canada))

The world-famous Trappist monks at Oka Abbey, west of Montreal, are moving to a smaller home and allowing a local non-profit group to transform the monastery into a tourism and education centre.

The monks are selling their 150-year old abbey to the non-profit group, three years after deciding to seek out a smaller space to house their rapidly aging religious community.

The Abbey of Notre-Dame du Lac includes a large grey stone monastery and a dozen buildings nestled on 270 hectares of forested land. The monks also own farmland, which they use for their successful food products business.

Thousands of people from around the world have visited the abbey to attend mass, meditate and enjoy the bucolic peace and quiet. The abbey has long welcomed men and women seeking short-term retreats, and also runs a monastic guest program for men interested in experiencing life in robes.

At its peak, the abbey was the permanent home to as many as 200 monks, who belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which is commonly known as the Trappists order.

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Only 28 monks from the Trappists order live at the abbey. Half of them are older than 70. ((CBC))

But the community has dwindled over the past generation, and only 28 monks, the majority of whom are older than 70, live at the abbey.

The monks announced Monday that the non-profit Oka Abbey Corp. will put into motion its plan for the land, which it says will help preserve the monastery's cultural and historical heritage.

The Trappist Monks are famous for their cheese, jellies, cider, honey and chocolate. They also produce ceramics and grow apples.

The Quebec government has given the corporation $3 million to help it develop an ambitious project, which would include a hotel, tourist attractions and an agricultural school.

The corporation is looking for the federal government to match Quebec's funding to help get the project off the ground.

"That's what we need," said Yves Patry, head of the corporation.

The non-profit group includes representatives of the local municipality, the region's school commission and Quebec's Agriculture Ministry.

The monks have endorsed the project because they say it will enhance the abbey's heritage.

Theyplan to movetheir monastery to a small parcel of land in Saint-Jean de Matha, in Lanaudière, Que., which they bought in 2004.

With files from the Canadian Press