© Château Ramezay - Historic site and museum of Montreal, photo : Michel Pinault

The Château Ramezay: What a History!


Time Line

1685: French aristocrat Claude de Ramezay (1657-1724) arrives in Canada as Lieutenant in the “troupes de la marine”. In 1690, he marries Marie-Charlotte Denys de la Ronde (1668-1742), daughter of one of the Colony’s prominent families.

1704Claude de Ramezay is appointed Governor of Montreal and acquires land on rue Notre-Dame, on an incline above the fortified city. With 1,500 inhabitants and 200 houses, Montreal is the second largest city in the colony.

April 27, 1705: De Ramezay hires Pierre Coutrier, known as Le Bourguignon, master mason and architect, to build a three-storey house, 66 ft x 26 ft (21 m x 12 m). The foundation walls are 3.5 ft wide (1.1m) and it has four chimneys.

1706: The house is completed by spring. With its attractive plastered walls and sloping roof, Ramezay considers it the most beautiful dwelling in Canada. The house is surrounded by an orchard and a garden. In the yard is an icehouse, a stable and a carriage shed. De Ramezay and his family reside here until his death in 1724.

1727De Ramezay’s widow leases the house to Gilles Hocquart, Intendant of the colony, who makes regular use of it from 1730 until the property is sold.  

1745: Inheriting the Château on the death of their mother, the de Ramezay children sell it to the Compagnie des Indes, which makes it their headquarters in the colony. Rue St. Claude is laid out between the Château and the home of Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas Roch, son of de Ramezay.

1756: Following a fire, the Compagnie des Indes makes the building one-third larger, bringing the Château to the size it is today.

1764: After the British Conquest, Montreal merchant William Grant buys the property as his place of business.

1773: Grant rents the premises to the British Government and it becomes the official government residence of the Province of Quebec.

1775: The Château Ramezay serves as headquarters to the American Revolutionary Army which invades Montreal. Richard Montgomery, Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase and Charles Carol work here. The Americans leave in June 1776, on the arrival of British reinforcements.

1778: The British Government makes the property the occasional residence of the Governor-General of the colony. Sir Guy Carlton, first Lord Dorchester, lives here in 1793, George Prevost in 1813-14, Matthew Whitworth-Aylmer in 1831-32, and James Bruce, Lord Elgin, makes it his office from 1847 until the burning of Parliament in 1849.

1848: To meet the governor’s administrative requirements, a brick wing is added to the east side of the Chateau.

1849: The Courthouse is moved to the Château Ramezay until the inauguration of the new Courthouse, in 1856.

April 25, 1849: The Parliament of the United Province of Canada is burned down by Tories protesting a law to compensate the inhabitants of Lower Canada for losses experienced during the Rebellion of 1837-38. Once Montreal loses its status as capital in favour of Toronto, alternating with Quebec City, the Château Ramezay is no longer used as an official residence.

1856: The Ministère de l’Instruction publique du Québec moves into the Chateau, followed, in 1857, by the École Normale Jacques-Cartier, which trains lay teachers.  In 1867, the ministry is repatriated to Quebec City. The school occupies the whole building as well as an imposing new wing along Rue St-Claude, until its move to Parc Lafontaine in 1878.

1862: The Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal is founded by a group of history enthusiasts affiliated with the Montreal Historical Society. With its emphasis on bilingualism and biculturalism, the group’s mission is to promote numismatics and antiquarian research as well as establish a collection of coins, medals and antiquities. It is also interested in the conservation and enhancement of the heritage of Montreal.

1879: The Faculty of Medicine of Laval University in Montreal takes over the Château Ramezay. Courses are given in the brick wing. In 1882, the Faculty of Law joins them. Both faculties leave the premises in 1889.

1887: The Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal celebrates its 25th anniversary with an exhibition of historic portraits, prints and artefacts accompanied by a catalogue on the history of Quebec from its beginnings until 1840.

1891: In preparation for the 250th anniversary of the founding of Montreal, the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society installs 75 historic plaques at buildings or locations salient to the history of Montreal. That same year, it sets up a committee to save the Château Ramezay, now threatened with demolition. Members mobilize, appealing to the Government of Quebec, its owner, and to municipal authorities.

1892: To mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of Montreal, the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society organizes an exhibition of “Canadian antiques” on the provincial exhibition site. It includes portraits, indigenous relics, plans, documents, autographs, seals, Canadian books and printed material, medals and coins, silver, porcelain, flags, arms, uniforms, and costumes from the French Regime.

1893: As the Quebec Government is about to auction it off, the Château Ramezay is threatened with demolition. The Antiquarian and Numismatic Society exerts pressure on the authorities and convinces the City of Montreal to acquire and preserve the building, undertaking in return to install a history museum on the premises.

May 1, 1895: The Museum opens to the public.

April 9, 1896: The history museum, national portrait gallery and public library are officially opened, an event attended by Montreal society.

1903: The brick wing on the east side of the building is partially demolished. The remaining wing is adorned with towers at each extremity.

1929: The Antiquarian and Numismatic Society acquires the Château Ramezay in exchange for donating 10,000 books to the municipal library. The Château becomes the first building that Québec’s Commission de monuments historiques classifies as an historical monument.

1932: Despite the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society’s opposition, the Gosford Tunnel is built, beneath the Château.

1949: Château Ramezay–India House is designated a National Historic Site of Canada by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

1956: A multi-storey parking garage is built west and south of the Château Ramezay.

1978: The Museum receives accreditation from the Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec.

1997: The parking garage that has occupied Place de la Dauversière since 1956 is demolished and turned into a public space; the Gosford tunnel is closed.

2000: Inauguration of the Governor’s Garden at the rear of the Château Ramezay. Of the original 4,200 sq m property, there remains 750 sq m which is designed as a French-style garden, evoking that of Governor Ramezay. It includes an orchard, a vegetable garden and an ornamental garden.

2010: The Château Ramezay – Historic Site and Museum of Montreal, is selected one of the 1,001 Sites to See in your Lifetime.

2012: The Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal, made up of Montrealers from all walks of life, celebrates its 150th anniversary.

What a history... in details!


"The Most Beautiful House in Canada"

In 1705, Montréal’s new Governor, Claude de Ramezay, decided to build a residence appropriate to his social standing on a hill overlooking the small fortified town. At a time when most buildings were of wood, his imposing stone structure was undoubtedy known as « the Château » from the start, as this was how a Governor’s residence was normally designated. Ramezay took no small pride in his new abode and even wrote King Louis XIV that he had «surely built the most beautiful house in Canada ».

In keeping with private residences of this kind, the property was set on almost 4,000 square metres of land and included a vast garden and orchard.

After de Ramezay’s death in 1724, the Château served a variety of functions. It played host to many important historical figures and bore witness to key events in our history. Initially, Madame de Ramezay rented the Château to Gilles Hocquart, Intendant of New France, as his Montréal residence. When she died in 1742, her heirs sold the building to the Compagnie des Indes, which held the monopoly on the fur trade. It became the head office of the company and the home of its chief agent. In 1756, the company enlarged the Château to the size it is today.

In 1764, merchant William Grant acquired the Château. In 1773, he rented it to the British Government to serve as the Governor’s Residence ; the British purchased it from Grant in 1778. 

The Château Ramezay: symbol of power

When the American Continental Army occupied Montréal from November 1775 to June 1776, the Château was the symbol of power they chose as their headquarters. General Richard Montgomery, Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Franklin all crossed its threshold. Numerous governors and senior British officials followed over the years, until 1849, when Governor-General Lord Elgin was the last to have offices here. That year, rioters set fire to the Parliament of the United Province of Canada, and Montréal lost its status as capital. This event marked the end of an era for the Château, which was then put to other uses. The Courthouse of the District of Montréal occupied the premises until 1855 while a new Courthouse (now known as the Old Courthouse) was being built. The Board of Education of the Government of Quebec, which became the Conseil de l’instruction publique, took over the Château in 1856, headed by Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau; the Ecole Normale Jacques Cartier opened on the premises the following year. Beginning in 1879, the Faculty of Medicine of Laval University in Montréal, followed by the Faculty of Law, in 1882, gave courses there until 1889.

The Court of Magistrates took over the Château from 1889 to 1892 while the nearby Courthouse was being enlarged. 


Preserving our Heritage and Creating a Museum: Montrealers Get Involved

It was at this point that our organization, the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal entered the picture. Founded in 1862 by a group of French and English-speaking Montrealers, members of this « learned society » had a common interest in our heritage and devoted themselves to its study, its preservation and its promotion. Typically for this sort of organization, they met to discuss their interests, hold lectures, publish a periodical (The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal), establish a collection and organize exhibitions. They even formed a pressure group that recommended intervention to preserve historic sites that were under threat.

In 1892, to mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of Montréal, they undertook the installation of the first plaques commemorating the city’s historic sites and buildings. 

A year previously, the Society had set up a committee with a view to preserving the Château Ramezay by transforming it into an historical museum and a library.

Despite their efforts, the Government of Quebec, then owner of the Château, wished to get rid of the old building. In the spring of 1893, it announced the Château would be sold at auction on October 24.

Fearing the government’s indifference would result in the Château Ramezay being demolished and sold to developers, the Antiquarian Society decided to appeal to public opinion. On October 17, they mobilized a crowd of citizens and brought about a special meeting of the City Council on October 23, the night before the auction. A petition signed by 2,000 people was tabled. The Society convinced the City of Montréal to buy the Château, in exchange, they would turn it into a museum and a library. Here is an extract from a speech by Society member George Hague during the meeting, which was quoted by a journalist :

«... the building could be made the repository of those mementos which develop a patriotic spirit in the coming generation that would be of great good to the country as a whole. He hoped that in some way or other the property would be secured, and it would become the center of an historical museum which would be the pride of Montréal»

His words clearly convey the Society’s vision for this project.

The proposal was finally endorsed by the city, which acquired the «old» Château the following day, thus saving this precious building at the very last minute. The Society went ahead with its plans as outlined, and on May 1, 1895, it opened to the public as an historical museum, national portrait gallery and public library. The institution was officially inaugurated with great pomp on April 9, 1896. As La Presse reported next day: « Montréal’s most distinguished citizens gathered last night at the old Château Ramezay. Rarely have we seen a more glittering or splendid event. »

In 1929, the Society acquired the ownership of the Château in exchange for 10,000 books from its library which were given to the City and which, today, are part of the collection of the Grande Bibliothèque. That same year, the Château became the first building the Commission des monuments historiques du Québec classified as an historic monument. 

Needless to say, a number of renovations were made to the Château during the 20th century.  An extension with a conically-roofed tower was added in 1903; the stucco exterior was removed and the roof was redone in copper in 1954; in 1976, 18th century mahogany panelling was installed in the room known as the Salle « de Nantes »;  in 1997, the copper roofing was removed and replaced by a Canadian-style roof of tinned copper (imitation tin); a rear gallery was re-installed in 2012. 

In June 2000, the Château’s immediate surroundings were transformed with the inauguration of the Governor’s Garden. This is an example of a typical 18th century urban garden in New France designed to evoke the beauty and utility of a bygone era.


Today... and Tomorrow

Today, the Society, a non-profit organization, still owns the Château and its collection of over 30,000 objects acquired over the years (See Collections). It oversees the Museum and its members, including one hundred volunteers. The Québec Government has declared the institution a « certified museum/ Musée agréé ». It is the oldest of its kind in the province and one of the oldest in Canada. According to a team of experts in conjunction with UNESCO, it is one of the 1,001 historic sites you must see before you die. Tourism Québec has named it one of 10 « must-see » museums in Québec.

Today, in the heart of Old Montréal, stands an exceptional structure, a testament to our past, brought to life by Montrealers whose joint efforts continue to preserve the spirit of the site and of our community.