Beloved monastery was place of beauty and healing, say devastated musicians, artists

An art therapy centre housed in Bon Pasteur is a total loss, and it's not yet known if the 120-seat chapel — a revered classical music venue — can be salvaged.

'We lost everything,' says manager of Les Impatients, an art therapy centre at Bon Pasteur

People are playing music in a room.
Les Impatients, a place where people worked to overcome mental health issues through art therapy, was housed in the monastery for 30 years. (Submitted by Les Impatients)

As the flames leaping from the Monastère du Bon-Pasteur in downtown Montreal die down and the smoke abates, Montreal's music and art communities are mourning the loss of one of the city's most cherished cultural spaces.

The heritage building near the corner of Sherbrooke and de Bullion streets housed a seniors' residence, a housing co-operative, a daycare and condominiums. 

It has also been home to one of Montreal's most revered classical music venues.

For over three decades, the monastery's 120-seat chapel has played host to hundreds of concerts a year, many by emerging classical musicians. The chapel is "at the heart" of Montreal's cultural heritage, said its artistic director, Simon Blanchet.

"It's a tragedy," he said.

"We're devastated because the Bon-Pasteur chapel is a really important place for music and concerts in Montreal. It's been a springboard for many artists," said Blanchet.

"It's traumatizing for everyone in the music scene. Everyone is in shock."

A piano sits in a chapel.
The monastery's 120-seat chapel hosted hundreds of concerts a year, many by emerging classical musicians. The chapel's artistic director, Simon Blanchet, calls the fire 'a tragedy.' (Facebook page of Bon-Pasteur Chapel)

Although much of the building is in ruins right now, Blanchet is counting on the city to step in to salvage the chapel and protect its place in the city's heritage.

Prix d'Europe scrambles to find new venue

The 111th edition of the Prix d'Europe — a week-long competition for young musicians with a scholarship prize of $50,000 — was set to be held at the chapel in 10 days. Organizers are now scrambling to find a new venue. 

Lise Boucher, the head of the Académie de musique du Québec, the non-profit group that sponsors that competition, describes the chapel as a "beautiful" space where musicians have always been "warmly received."

She said she hopes the competition will return there some day.

"For the whole cultural and musical scene of Montreal, it's a huge loss — even if they repair, rebuild or renovate," Boucher said. "It will surely be closed for several months."

A woman is painting.
People with mental health issues have been coming to Les Impatients, an art space housed in the monastery, for the last 30 years. (Submitted by Les Impatients)

For the past 30 years, the building has also been headquarters for Les Impatients, an organization that provides a space where people with mental health issues can engage in artistic expression.

"It's almost like a second home," said Frédéric Palardy, the organization's executive director. "They meet with people. They have a safe space. There's no judgment."

Palardy says the fire caused irreparable damage, consuming a large collection of artwork created by the 130 participants at Les Impatients.

"We lost everything," he said.

A man in a blazer stands in an art exhibit.
Frédéric Palardy, the executive director at Les Impatients, said for his group, the fire was a total loss. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Sketch artist and sculptor Brooks Hughes, one of the people that has found refuge in art at Les Impatients, said he was last there yesterday morning.

Hughes, who has a history of depression which is now under control, has been creating works of art there for the past nine years. As a person with reduced mobility, he said otherwise, he doesn't get out much. 

"It's very close to home," he said. "It's devastating for a whole lot of people who don't have anywhere to go."

"We're like a little community. We do artwork and we joke," he said.

People look at art.
Palardy says the fire consumed a large collection of artwork created by the centre's 130 participants who are struggling with mental health issues ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder. (Denise Barria Photographe)

"My greatest concern is for the people I consider as part of my family and where they're going to go. Will the group stay together? That has upset me the most," said Hughes.

Hughes is determined not to give into despair. 

He said he and his fellow artists will continue to heal himself through the power of art, wherever the next studio opens its doors.

What it looks like at the scene of the Bon-Pasteur monastery fire

4 months ago
Duration 1:08
CBC's Rowan Kennedy explains what's left in the aftermath of Thursday's destructive blaze.


Joe Bongiorno is an author, former high school teacher and a journalist at the CBC. He has also reported for Canadian Geographic, Maisonneuve, Canada’s National Observer and others. You can reach him at