Saint-Sulpice Seminary and its Garden National Historic Site of Canada

Montréal, Quebec
Detailed view of Saint-Sulpice Seminary, showing the main door and the clock with mounted bells. (© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada.)
Detailed view
(© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada.)
Address : 116 Notre-Dame Street West, Montréal, Quebec

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1981-01-15
  • 1684 to 1687 (Construction)
  • 1704 to 1704 (Significant)
  • 1711 to 1714 (Significant)
  • 1850 to 1854 (Significant)
  • 1910 to 1910 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • The Messieurs of Saint-Sulpice  (Organization)
  • François Dollier de Casson  (Architect)
  • François Vachon de Belmont  (Architect)
  • John Ostell  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Saint-Sulpice Seminary and its Garden  (Designation Name)
  • Sulpician Seminary Garden  (Other Name)
  • The Old Sulpician Seminary  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 1980-019,2004-009, 2004-034


Approved Inscription:  Montréal, Quebec

Dating from the 17th century, this seminary is a rare and striking example of the classical architecture of New France. Since its construction in 1685, the building has served as a residence for the Sulpicians, who, as seigneurs of the Island of Montréal until the end of the seigneurial regime, played a key role in the spiritual and civil development of the city. It is distinguished by its U-shaped plan, central portal, and its clock, all eloquent reminders of the French classical tradition. The east wing, added between 1850 and 1854, is strongly neo-classical with its cut-stone masonry and broad pediment. The remarkable monastic garden behind the seminary also dates from the French Regime. In the French Renaissance tradition, it served both as a vegetable garden and as a place to walk, meditate, and pray. Long associated with the Sulpicians, the seminary and its garden are exceptional witnesses to the work of this religious community and to the early history of the colony.

Description of Historic Place

Saint-Sulpice Seminary and its Garden National Historic Site of Canada is a religious seminary and adjoining garden located on rue Notre-Dame Ouest in the heart of Old Montréal. The site consists of a large, U-shaped stone seminary building of austere appearance, enclosing formal, private gardens and a small courtyard. The stone building is an impressive example of 17th-century classical architecture built during the French Regime. Rectangular in plan, the convent gardens are characterized by symmetry, geometrically arranged subdivisions and intersecting cross-paths that lead to a central focal point. The complex is shielded from rue Notre Dame by a stone wall pierced by the main entrance. Official recognition refers to the seminary building with its various wings, the courtyard and stone wall and the convent garden in the Ville-Marie sector of Montréal.

Heritage Value

Saint-Sulpice Seminary and its Garden was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1980 (expanded in 2004) because;
- of the quality of the architecture, which is a rare and remarkable example of French Regime classicism; of the remarkable integrity of the French Regime convent garden, which served as a means of subsistence, and for meditation and leisure; of the seminary’s long association with the Messieurs of Saint-Sulpice and its exemplary representation of this religious community’s oeuvre and of the beginnings of Montréal and of the colony of New France.

The heritage value of Saint-Sulpice Seminary and its Garden resides in its historical associations and in its architectural integrity as an example of French Regime classicism. Since 1687, the seminary has served as the residence and administrative centre of the Messieurs of Saint-Sulpice who were the seigneurs of the Island of Montréal until the end of the seigneurial regime. The building was inspired by 17th-century classical French architecture, and its garden originally conformed closely to the medieval monastic garden. With the colonization of New France in the 17th century, this European garden tradition was carried to North America by religious orders such as the Jesuits and Sulpicians. The garden survives in its original location with its form virtually intact. The garden’s relationship to the walls of the surrounding institution reflects the inward looking, self-reliant nature of these protected communities and their calm, spiritual quality. The ornamentation of the design and the interplay of geometry within this small structured landscape are reflective of 17th-century tastes.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1980; June 2004.

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements relating to the heritage value of the site include: its location on rue Notre-Dame Ouest in the heart of Old Montréal; the U-shaped, three-storey massing of the seminary set under gable and hip roofs; the central section, flanked by two towers surmounted by pavilion roofs; the two wings of slightly differing design, which produces an asymmetrical appearance; the stone construction and irregular fieldstone exterior walls; the formal composition of the exterior in the French classical style, most apparent in the central portion and the west wing; the main door in the central section with a dressed stone portal of Ionic pilasters and an entablature with the date “1740” carved into it; the neoclassical style of the east wing; the small front courtyard and the two separate gates, one surmounted by a pediment bearing the order’s coat of arms; the clock with mounted bells, and the windows framed by dressed stone; the original placement, design and materials of doors and windows; the interior configuration and finishes; the gardens, rectangular in plan, symmetrical with geometrically arranged subdivisions and intersecting cross-paths that lead to a central focal point; surviving original plant material and evidence of planting patterns; the relationship between the site and the neighbouring Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Church / Basilica National Historic Site of Canada.