Tours of Montreal's oldest religious building back by popular demand

Montrealers who weren't able to take a guided tour of the old Saint-Sulpice Seminary will have another chance next year.

Visitors will again have the opportunity to tour the Saint-Sulpice Seminary next summer

Saint-Sulpice Seminary is the second oldest building in Montreal. It was built in 1687. (Wikipedia)

Montrealers who weren't able to take a guided tour of the Saint-Sulpice Seminary, opened to the public for the first time this summer, will have another chance next year.

The building — located next to Notre-Dame Basilica on the corner of Notre-Dame and Saint-François-Xavier streets — is the oldest religious building in the city.

The site, which still houses priests today, was opened for a limited number of guided group tours featuring a special exhibition as part of the city's 375th anniversary.

A drawing of the seminary done by James Duncan and engraved by P. Christie in 1839. (www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca)

Organizers were surprised by how much demand there was for tours, and had to increase their frequency. They ended up offering three times as many tours as they'd planned.

The exhibition closes Sept. 9, and about 4,000 people were able to visit this year, so organizers decided to extend it into next summer.

Exhibit curator Jean Rey-Regazzi says the seminary and its occupants helped shape the city into what it is today.

"In my opinion, it's not really an expo on religious history. It's more about the of history of Montreal and Quebec. And how the founding of the city and the history of the city is intrinsically linked to religious congregations."

What are they clamouring to see?

Built between 1684 and 1687, it is the second oldest building in Montreal — the oldest building is Lachine's LeBer-LeMoyne House, built in 1671.

It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1985. 

The gardens at Saint-Sulpice Seminary are considered to be some of the oldest in North America. (Radio-Canada)

The seminary grounds also include a garden, originally used by the priests to grow produce. It's regarded as one of the oldest gardens of its kind in North America.

The garden is not open to the public and can only be accessed during one of the guided tours.

Jean Rey-Regazzi is the exhibition's curator. (Radio-Canada)

The seminary's website highlights the importance of the iconic clock that sits atop the building.

"The Old Seminary of Saint-Sulpice is also characterized by its clock, which would be the oldest of its kind in North America," it states

It was added in 1701 and was gilded in Paris by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame.

The building underwent a significant restoration starting in 2005, with work done on the roofing, masonry and windows.

According to the Quebec Culture Ministry, buildings dating from this era are rare in Montreal, because fire and demolition destroyed the vast majority of them.

The clock was added to the building in 1701. (Wikipedia)

With files from Radio-Canada's René Saint-Louis