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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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Visual Arts

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