Mount Royal's secret garden gifted to City of Montreal

A garden hidden behind stone walls at the foot of Mount Royal, where few Montrealers have ever trodden, will finally be opened to the public.

Historic convent next door to Hôtel-Dieu​ hospital is being transferred to city, as religious order shrinks

The buildings on the grounds of the Religieuses Hospitalières de Saint-Joseph date from the 1860s. (Radio-Canada)

A garden hidden behind stone walls at the foot of Mount Royal, where few Montrealers have ever trodden, will finally be opened to the public. 

The garden is part of the grounds owned by the Religieuses Hospitalières de Saint-Joseph, a historic religious order of nuns now transferring their property to the City of Montreal. 

Along with the garden, the grounds of the religious order include a convent, museum and three chapels in a series of buildings that date back to 1861. 

The grounds, which are located at the corner of Park and Pine avenues, also house the remains of Jeanne Mance, who – with Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve – is considered to have founded Montreal. Mance's crypt will remain the property of the religious order. 

"We want to ensure that this property is accessible to the public, including the magnificent garden," Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre told a news conference on Monday.

"We won't change anything. We'll keep the heritage buildings intact. But there are other purposes to which we can put them." 

A rare view of the secret garden on the grounds of the Religieuses Hospitalières de Saint-Joseph. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

The city has yet to decide how the site will be used, though Coderre said part of an existing parking lot will be set aside for social housing. 

Among the ideas he floated on Monday were turning the site into a museum, an educational institution or a public archive. Coderre ruled out the possibility the site would be used for condos.

The Religieuses Hospitalières de Saint-Joseph is one of the oldest religious orders in the city, having arrived in Montreal (then known as Ville-Marie) in 1659.

Once here, they helped Mance with the hospital she founded, l'Hôtel-Dieu. When the hospital moved to its current location in the 19th century, the sisters set up their convent next door. 

"If we are here today, it's largely thanks to you, to what you brought to Montreal, and here we are thinking obviously of Jeanne Mance," Coderre told the nuns in the audience. 

One of the chapels on the grounds belonging to the Religieuses Hospitalières de Saint-Joseph. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

Once numbering as many 225, the order has dwindled to some 60 nuns, the youngest of whom is 66. They will move to the Hôtel-Dieu's Masson pavillion.

"The time has come to preserve our legacy," said Sister Marie-Thérèse Laliberté. "The congregation is happy that the City of Montreal demonstrated interest."

It is unclear when the gardens, and the rest of the site, will be open to the public. Details of the property transfer are still being negotiated, and approval from the Vatican is required.

The transfer should be finalized by the end of 2016, Coderre said. He also promised a public consultation to determine what the site will be used for. 

with files from Rebecca Ugolini


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