201, avenue des Pins Ouest, Montréal, Québec. 514-849-2919
Our tour guide was Nicole Garneau a member of l’association hispanophone de Laval. She commented the one hour visit entirely in spanish. She did a tremendous job and all this the day before leaving for Tanzania.
Montreal, Sept 9, 2017
Walking up towards Mount Royal on Pine avenue I’m enjoying one of those beautiful September afternoons in Montreal. Jean-Pierre and I opened the heavy door to a contemporary building dwarfed by the huge hospital complex surrounding it. We are in the Musée des hospitalières de l’Hôtel Dieu de Montréal.
I had no idea what lay inside but discovered a wonderfully curated collection of artifacts dating from the beginning of the 17th century in Montreal.
It tells the story of Montreal through the religious prism that colored every aspect of daily life at the time. From the mystic lifelong vision that motivated the founder who never left France, to the cloistered nuns who guaranteed its success over the centuries.
The story is made real in very tangible ways with artifacts such as pages from the logbooks, menus, and period signage. The cloister is particularly well represented as I approach the inaccessible world behind the trellis through which the nuns were allowed only rare contact with the outside world.
As I step through that trellis I’m carried back in time.
I’m an infatuated young bride of Jesus discovering the daily rituals of my cloistered lifetime ahead. I’m greeted by a young nun, presented with a uniform, a Bible, a rule book, a tiny room. The silent dining, the constant prayer, the pervasive presence of religious icons will conspire to keep the vision alive: you’re married to Jesus and are doing his bidding.
I walk up the pharmacy, behind a beautiful curved counter, where I’ll be working standing in front of dozens of apothecary jars preparing prescriptions.
I’m snapped out of my daydream by the recipes and labels in front of me. This is medicine 100 years ago, these are some of the treatments: cupping therapy, ointments, herbs. This place is a testament to the human body’s persistent and astonishing ability to heal itself. But then I’m reminded that this is a hospice for the destitute not a hospital with state-of-the-art period medicine.
I drift through time as we follow the guide through the halls of this amazing Museum and I wake up in a ward somewhere in the 20th century of my youth. Names and places take on a familiar ring now, such as McGill University Hospital Center, black and white glossy photos from schools of nursing, and so forth.
This place has to be on the curriculum for any student of Nursing in Montreal. It speaks of the perseverance of the founders who spent decades short staffed and underfunded, toiling to care for the destitute in Montreal.
I stood transfixed before a wall to wall panorama of the Lachine canal from above circa 1900. This place ran on coal and was a place of unprecedented ill-health and poverty. The congregation cared for thousands, on this very spot and throughout the city, every year. A stark reminder that few among the rich and powerful cared for the poor then or now.
Fully restored to the 21st century I could still feel the coal dust on my skin and in my lungs. A stark reminder that our use of 19th century technologies must end, if only for my personal health.
Thank you for centuries of caring.