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Château Ramezay turns 300: The secret garden

The secret garden

Central alley in the Governor's Garden
Photo: Courtesy of the Château Ramezay Museum

Montreal's Château Ramezay Museum turns 300 years old

In Oscar Wilde’s children’s story The Selfish Giant, children play in an orchard very much like the gardens of Claude de Ramezay, the military commander who was appointed Governor of Montreal in 1704. Ramezay immediately built what was soon dubbed "the most beautiful house in Canada" on Notre-Dame Street (today across the street from city hall), whose gardens and orchard – which Oscar Wilde visited almost 200 years later – sloped down to the river.

Ramezay’s manor, converted into the Château Ramezay Museum over a century ago, is now filled with tourists checking out the Château’s furnishings and 18th-century oil paintings. The latter present a veritable who’s who of Montreal: Guy Carleton (the first Baron Dorchester), Jean Talon, François d’Youville, King Louis XIV and Benjamin Franklin, who, when he was sent to Montreal in 1776 to persuade Canadians to join the American Revolution, stayed overnight at the château. There are even wooden chairs with woven rawhide so one can sit and see how comfortable chairs were back then. The fireplaces still smell of smoke.

The immaculately maintained museum reeks of history: Ramezay’s descendants sold the manor to the fur-trading Compagnie des Indes, and in 1775 – when it was called "Old India House" – it became the Canadian headquarters of the American revolutionary army.

What is special about the château’s 300th anniversary this summer is the Governor’s Garden out back. It used to spread over 4,200 square metres and include an orchard as well as vegetable and flower gardens. Today only 750 square metres remain due to urban development, and a typical New France Governor’s Garden has been recreated and can be toured for free. Gardeners dressed in period costumes will answer all of your questions, and the garden itself surely looks much like it did all those years ago when Oscar Wilde himself paid a visit.

Musée du Château Ramezay (280 Notre-Dame E.) is open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., all summer. Surf to www.chateauramezay.qc.ca for more info.

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  • by Heath Abram - August 11, 2005, 9:57 pm

    I remember going on a field trip from school to the Chateau Ramsay. Now I think it’s time to revisit the museum. The gardens look and sound beautiful and you can’t beat having those guides dressed up in their period costumes. I’m a history buff so I know I would enjoy this museum.

  • by Kara Hughes - August 12, 2005, 2:54 pm

    WOW! I didn’t even know that this places exists until I read this article. From the picture the gardens look amazing… it really reminds me of the public “parks” in Paris. I write “parks” because they are huge gardens that are meticulously tended to with elaborate fountains, statues and flowers… they are all over Paris… most of them are the former gardens of one queen or another. They are kept in tip top shape and free to the public. People go to these amazing gardens to eat lunch and relax. I loved going to relax in these parks in between visiting museums and momuments while I vacationed in Paris last summer. Here I rarely take advantage of Montreal’s poor excuse for green-spaces.
    I have to check out these gardens and see what this museum is all about!
    Thanks to the Hour for showing me something new to check out!

  • by Patrick Ducharme - August 14, 2005, 8:21 pm

    The Château Ramezay makes a great start for discovering what Montreal has to offer on the historical, cultural and museum field.
    Some very interesting pieces of history can be found inside the former reknown house. There are a lot of surprisingly well designed furnitures that can ben found inside and no need to talk about some beautiful paintings and fascinanting costumes. And what about the shoes worn for elegant and formal evenings… fabulous! Fashion students will certainly find something attractive there.
    Plus, the Château Ramezay’s beautiful and not too intimidating garden in the back makes a great location for throwing a chic and elegant cocktail.
    An amazing place not to forget in the heart of Old-Montréal!

  • by Maria Jankovics - August 15, 2005, 4:34 pm

    I knew about the Chateau Ramsey but I so far never went to see it perhaps now is the ideal time to do so. I should visit it if for nothing else just to see the gardens and to talk to the people dressed in period costumes. It must really be great to go inside this museum to see how Montreal might have looked like in the 18th Century. I have nostalga for anything antique and historical and if the fireplace still smells of burnt wood that would be an added bonus as this will be a feast not only to the eyes but the sense of smell as well. This would certainly make one think of bygone days. So Chateau Ramsey ‘Bon Fete a Toi’-Happy Birthday and may you have many many more!

  • by Stephen Talko - August 17, 2005, 6:55 am

    On two floors the museum shows part of the early history of Montreal but once you have paid a visit, there is little need to go back since not much changes over the years. There is the customary home baking and fabric weaving in the basement. I first visited the museum when I attended school many decades ago and it has stayed pretty much the same. An hour is plenty of time for a complete visit. Other local museums like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts are much larger and have exhibits that change every few months. As for the gardens I prefer our famous Montreal Botanical Gardens which is many times larger.

  • by Selena Lobo - August 18, 2005, 12:29 pm

    If you are like many Montrealers who have not had the pleasure of visiting Chateau Ramezay than make this summer the time to visit. I remember as a teen being taking on a school visit but I have visited the place on my own and it is truly a beautiful place. The garden is breathtaking and must be seen to be appreciated. It is turning 300 years old but does not look a day over 200.

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