The Mountain Mission

Around 1675, at the request of Aboriginal people who were living at the Saint-François-Xavier mission, founded by the Jesuits in La Prairie in 1667, the priests of Saint-Sulpice created an evangelical mission on the southwest side of Mount Royal. It was known as the « Mission de la Montagne » (Mountain Mission).

In the years 1680-1690, the mission hosted Algonquins, Iroquois, Hurons, Nipissings, Wolves and Panis. The families formed a community of about 200 to 220 people. The missionaries’ goal was to Christianize these populations, to teach them the language and customs of the country and to bring them to a more sedentary lifestyle. The priests undertook the education of the boys and asked the Nuns of the Congregation of Notre-Dame to educate the girls.

In 1681, the Sulpician François Vachon de Belmont (1645-1732) took over the leadership of the Mountain Mission. Being from a noble family of Grenoble (France), he had received a classical education and obtained a degree in theology from the Sorbonne in Paris, before being ordained as a priest at 36 years old. After his arrival at the mountain, he completely reorganized the mission, strengthening its defensive system, developing agriculture (vegetable gardens, vineyards, orchards), and giving a more practical orientation to the children’s education.

In 1684-1685, Belmont had the old wooden palisade replaced by a masonry construction that he had personally designed. This stone fort took the form of a large rectangle on the ground. A tower with conical roof stood at each of the four corners. In the midst of this enclosure there stood the missionaries’ house, a church and a barn.

Carte poste Tour de l'ancien Fort de la Montagne, BAnQ (détail)

One of the towers of the ancient fort of the Mountain Mission as seen here on a postcard dated from the early XXth century, BAnQ.

Outside the fort was the Natives’ village, protected by a wooden fence. It had its own church built according to Belmont’s plans.

In 1694, a fire caused by a drunken Indian destroyed most of the village. Two years later, the missionaries decided to move the mission away from the mountain and the alcohol trading network. Electing a place called Sault-au-Récollet, on the south shore of Rivière-des-Prairies (future site of La Visitation parish) they soon started the construction of a new fort (Fort Lorette) while the residents were relocated progressively. The moving was completed around 1705. Some twenty years later, the mission was moved again. It settled on the north shore of Lake of Two-Mountains(Oka’s future locality), where it remained until its dissolution in the last quarter of the XIXth century.

A pool of French inspiration

In the XVIIth century, a long pool, most likely fed by a natural spring, served as a fishpond and duck pond for the mission. As indicated in a chart drawn by Belmont in 1694, this pool measured 162 feet long by 36 feet wide. Converted in the current metric system, these old French measurements would not exceed 57.8 meters long by 12.8 meters wide, much less than the current pool (158.5 by 7.6 meters) which has been designed by the French Sulpician Antoine-Alexis Molin (1757-1811) in the early XIXth century.

Shallower and much longer than the old fishpond, this pool thus served a new ornamental function in the priests’ domain. Surrounded by a tree-lined road, it fulfills the same role today, remaining a favorite place of promenade for the residents of the Grand Seminary of Montreal.

Bassin, GSM, v. 1940, Archives p5 c3 1 a 4-13 détail

René MARINIER, p.s.s. (1911-1982), View of the pool and of a part of garden of the Grand Seminary, c. 1940, Archives of the Priests of St-Sulpice of Montreal.

An agricultural estate and a summer house for the priests

In the XVIIIth century, the site of the former Sulpician mission served an agricultural purpose with its meadows and green gardens. From its orchards and vineyards, cider and wine were drawn for the needs of the community. Lands were also leased to farmers.

Inside the old fort, the missionaries’ residence was converted into a summer house (the châteaux) for the priests who lived at the Seminary of St. Sulpice, on Notre-Dame Street. To this end, it was enlarged several times, before it was finally demolished around 1860, shortly after the construction of the Grand Seminary of Montreal.

The Grand Seminary of Montreal

Four years after the foundation of the diocese of Montreal in 1836, its second bishop, Monsignor Ignace Bourget, asked the Sulpicians to train priests for the grand region of Montreal by creating and running a grand seminary. In order to do so, they first settled a few classrooms in their Petit Séminaire, a primary and secondary school then located on St. Paul Street West.

Soon after, seeing that the building was too small to serve both as a school and as a grand seminary, the Sulpicians asked the London born architect John Ostell (1813-1892) to expand their seminary on Notre-Dame Street. The construction started but it came suddenly to a halt when it was realized what a waste it would be to see this two-century-old building vanish. The priests thus turned their attention to their mountain domain.

The construction project was started in 1854 by bringing down the remaining walls of the ancient fortress. Fortunately, the two southern towers were saved from destruction, standing today as the sole remnants of the old mission fort. As for the neoclassical building of the Grand Seminary, it was inaugurated in 1857 and served its educational mission up to this day.

p5 c3 1 a 4-37 GSM ancien parloir 5 oct 1947 détail

René MARINIER, p.s.s. (1911-1982), Partial view of the Grand Seminary of Montreal, October 5th, 1947, Archives of the Priests of St-Sulpice of Montreal.

The new decor of the chapel of the Grand Seminary

The first chapel of the Grand Seminary was consecrated in 1864. Some forty years later it had become too small to suit the growing needs of the institution which then hosted hundreds of seminarians coming from all over Canada and the United States.

The Sulpicians entrusted the Marchand & Haskell architectural firm, from Montreal and New York, with the mandate to enlarge the chapel and redesign its interior. The partners, Montreal architect Jean-Omer Marchand (1872-1936) and American architect Samuel Stevens Haskell (1872-1913), had just completed their studies at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris when they were offered this first contract which lasted from 1854 to 1857. In redesigning the chapel they favored the Beaux-arts style. Choosing as a model the basilica of the Romanesque period, they adapted it to a modern vocabulary. Their ornamental program is one and the same for the whole structure of the chapel. It uses Caen stone for the walls, Canadian oak for the stalls, British Colombia pinewood for the hand painted roof framing, Bordeaux marble for the columns, Italian mosaics for the floor. The glass windows were made in Bordeaux (France) and the Stations of the Cross in Angers (France). The sober design of the chapel and the quality of its materials concur in creating for the visitor a feeling of peacefulness and monumentality.

In the new apse of the choir, a painting by Joseph Saint-Charles (1868-1956) represents The Presentation of Mary in the Temple, the Sulpician’s patronal feast, celebrated on November 21th.

A. Berger Frères, Paris, BAnQ

View of the interior of the chapel of the Grand Seminary of Montreal, as represented in an early XXth century postcard, BAnQ

Today, this private chapel is open to the public on special occasions, notably during the summer guided tours and the concerts offered in the fall.

A most unique instrument

In 1990, to mark the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Grand Seminary of Montreal, the chapel was offered a new organ which was designed and manufactured by Guilbault-Thérien of Saint-Hyacinthe, thanks to the generous contribution of an anonymous donator.

This large 16’ organ reproduces a French classical instrument of the XVIIIth century. It possesses 39 registers and is air-fed by mechanically activated bellows. Its solid oak case was designed in 1990 by architects Claude Beaulieu and Gilles Lavigueur according to specifications found in the treatises of Dom Bédos de Celles (1709-1779) and François-Henri Clicquot (1732-1790). Nine polychromewood statues adorn the organ casework. Eight of them were made in Gand, Belgium, at the end of the XIXth century. They come from the late St. Ann church (demolished in 1970), in Griffintown. The ninth statue is a contemporary piece from the sculptor Jean Dutin.

Every year, in the month of October, the festival Les couleurs de l’orgue français, presided by Yves Préfontaine, organist of the chapel of the Grand Seminary, offers a series of dominical concerts opened to the public.

To learn more about the organ and the concerts:




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