This morning we enjoyed a little sleep in and we were woken by housekeeping asking us if we wanted some teabags! We looked at it as a free wake-up call! When we left our beautiful boutique hotel (Le St Martin) we walked to Bagel Etc, which was about a forty minute walk through part of the downtown core, then through a gorgeous green park with lots of lush trees. Bagel Etc was a recommendation from a friend and was definitely one of our favourite stops. The decor style was ‘American diner’, which was quite cool. To top it off, the food was scrumptious and the manager / owner was a bit of a jokester.
Following our brunch and after realising it would take over an hour to walk to Old Montreal, we made the decision to catch an Uber.
We were dropped off at the Place D’Armes, which is the square outside of the Notre-Dame Basilica. There is a statue in the middle which is in memory of Paul de Chomedey, one of the founders of Montreal.
This square is the second oldest public site in Montreal, developed in 1693, although at that time it was known as the ‘Place de la Fabrique’.
From 1781 to 1813 it was used as a hay and wood market, then developed as a Victorian Garden after it was acquired by the city in 1836.
Whilst at the Notre-Dame Basilica, Mum and I joined a tour which was lead by a young lady named “Jeanne” who had a fantastic knowledge of not just the Basilica, but Montreal as well. I took some notes whilst she was speaking and have included these below.
- 1642: The King of France sent a boat to Montreal with 49 people. They built a small church near where the current Basilica stands. It was almost destroyed by flood.
- There are deemed to be two founders of Montreal – Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Manc. It has only been in recent years that Jeanne, a female, has been acknowledged.
- Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve planted a cross in front of the building and stated that if God spared the small church and city, he would carry the cross and place it at the highest point of the island. It was spared, hence the cross (a newer version) is placed on Mont Royal, where he carried it to all those years ago.
- When looking at the Notre-Dame Basilica a slightly lighter gray shape can be seen – this is the church that existed in the early 1800’s, when there were over 1,500 people on the island. They had to attend Mass outside as the church became too small. This was the reason that plans were made for a third basilica to be built, and that is the one which stands today. It was the largest in North America.
- Wanted church in gothic style. Only one architect (James O’Donnell) and he was an Irish Protestant and Anglophone (note that this settlement was French Catholics and they were looking to build a French Catholic church);
- The Basilica was built incredibly quickly (between 1824-1829 and only in the Summer months), which was a result of materials only from Montreal being used e.g. gray stone from the island (this is the reason that all buildings are the same colour.) Inside, wood was used (also from the island) because it is more heat resistant than stone. Unfortunately, the Basilica is extremely hot in Summer, but heats well in Winter (which is long!) Every column (they are massive!) is made with one solid piece of wood. Each column supports 41 tonnes. The walls are therefore thinner as they do not need to support the roof.
- In 1829 James became very sick. He was adamant that he wanted to be buried in the church, and in order for this to occur, he had to convert to Catholicism – which he did, only a few weeks before he died.
- James remains the only one buried in the Basilica, because once it became a Basilica the only people who are able to be buried there include people of stature within the Catholic church e.g. the Pope, Bishop etc.
- For a period of time, once the new church had been built, it existed without a belltower – the old church had been demolished, but the 11-tonne bell was too heavy to move to the new church.
- For a period of time, the bell was used as an alarm in Montreal. It is currently used only twice a year as the vibration is intense. It can be heard for two seconds and Easter and Christmas;
- In 1870 the front of the church, behind the altar, was covered in bricks as the sun had been consistently blinding half the congregation at morning mass! Another architect designed something to cover what was placed over the brick (which was unsightly);
- All wood in the basilica is covered in plaster then painted with real 23 karat gold. Real gold never loses its shine….;
- The Priest at the time went on a trip to Paris and saw a chapel which he wanted to use as the basis for the basilica in Montreal.
- Virgin Mary is the patron saint of Montreal and the Basilica. Notre Dame means ‘our lady’;
- Organ made by two brothers from Quebec. Same family members still tune the organ;
- 7,000 pipes behind organ. Provides a great range of sound all brass and wood section of orchestra. 92 stops. distributed over 4 keyboards. 32 pedals.
- Pierre Grandmaison has been the ‘titulair organist’ since 1973. Only he and his assistant are trained to play the organ;
- In the 1970’s someone took a candle into confession and started a fire. Water had to be sprayed onto the flames for 24 hours straight. Because the Basilica is on a slope, the water gathered at the altar and therefore holes had to be drilled into the floor. All of the water went into the basement and drained from there. Unfortunately, the solid oak floor had to be replaced with linoleum (a bit.. 70’s!) but all the pews are the original.
Video of the organ being played: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-QcO4WFwRo
Events in the Basilica:
- 1994: Wedding of Celine Dion and René Angélil;
- 2016: Funeral of René Angélil;
- 2000: National Funeral of Pierre Trudeau
- 1984: Pope John Paul II celebrated mass (sitting people 3,000, standing 8,000)
After our time in the Basilica, we walked around Old Montreal for a while, enjoying the nice weather and hearing all the beautiful Quebecois being spoken.
For dinner we went to a jazz bar called Upstairs which also came recommended. The food was excellent and the music was superb. A lighter jazz than I was expecting, with only drums, piano and double bass, but most enjoyable.
Following dinner we caught an Uber up Mont Royal and saw a magnificent view of the city at night. We also had the pleasure of meeting some of the locals – some rather rotund raccoons!