Exploring the Chateau Ramezay during a Torrential Downpour

Well, as much as the walking tour through Old Montreal nourished my senses and architectural sensibilities, my stomach was in dire need of nutrition and I was debating whether I should plunk myself down at one of the enticing terrace cafés on Place Jacques Cartier. Then I literally stumbled over this beautiful small park, Place De La Dauversière off to the side of the main square. In the southeast corner of this space is a little gate that looked like the entrance to a garden and with my perennial curiosity I had to go check it out.

A French mansion including large garden in the middle of Old Montreal

The view opened up into a beautiful French style horticultural sanctuary: the Governor’s Garden, an example of garden design of the New France era more than 200 years ago. The beautiful thing is that access is always free of charge and the extensive garden provides a welcome relief of nature in the middle of the stone buildings of Vieux Montréal.

Most of the plants are derived from species cultivated in New France and the garden is subdivided into three sections: the kitchen garden, an orchard and a pleasure garden. Benches invite you to sit down and enjoy the serenity of this green space. At the back of the garden is a ramp leading up to a restaurant, the “Cafe du Chateau”, with a large terrace covered by an awning that features wooden tables. I had found the perfect spot for a lunch.

So I sat down and started jotting down my impressions in my travel journal and perused the menu which features a variety of salads, sandwiches, desserts and refreshments. I decided on some light fare and ordered an endive salad with little balls of goat cheese, covered in pistachios, pine nuts and miniature croutons, followed by a wonderful Quebec cheese plate that featured three different types of Quebec-made cheese, fresh grapes, cut-up green apples, and a paste made from dry dates and toast.

A delicious lunch with a peak at the dome of the Marché Bonsecours

The meal was very savoury and the contrasting tastes of the three cheeses together with the sweet tastes of the fruit and the date paste presented an interesting variety of flavours to my palate. I was enjoying my meal and noticed that from my table I could even see the cupola of the Bonsecours Market peaking out between the old buildings.

Unfortunately my serenity was cut short as the heavens opened up and a tremendous thunderstorm started pelting the city. I decided that rather than wait out this storm on the terrace of the Café du Chateau, I was going to use my time to actually explore the museum that was housed in the adjoining building.

A great welcome to the Chateau Ramezay

The Chateau de Ramezay is a mansion that was built in 1705 for Claude de Ramezay, Montreal’s governor. Fourty years later it fell into the hands of the French West Indies Company which made it its headquarters. After the conquest in 1760 the building was occupied by the British. It is known that General Richard Montgomery and Benjamin Franklin, among other personalities, have visited the Château.

In the spring of 1893 the government owned the building, but it had no use for it and put it up for auction. It was saved from demolition and has been operating as a museum since 1895. For the last four years the building hosts a permanent exhibition about the history of Montreal and Quebec, covering prehistory all the way until the early 20th century.

A “pennyfarthing” and several other authentic everyday items

As the thunderstorm was pelting the city I decided to educate myself a little more about early life in Montreal. The exhibits include historic paintings, furniture, as well as everyday items illustrating life over the last few hundred years in what started out as Ville-Marie and came to be known as Montreal. The items illustrating the day-to-day life of regular people fascinated me the most, such as ladies shoes, a fireman’s helmet or a children’s winter coat, a sleigh and a “pennyfarthing”, an early version of a bicycle, featuring an oversized front wheel and a tiny rear wheel. A loom and various every-day implements further illustrate life in the new colonies over the last couple of hundred years.

Early automobile

Until October 1, 2006 a temporary exhibition is also housed by the Chateau de Ramezay: “Gardening in Paris during the Monarchy” introduces the visitors to the formal gardens of Paris more than 200 years ago. An upcoming exhibition called “Crime and Punishment’ will talk about justice in the new colonies.

I had found the perfect way to deal with the thunderstorm: brush up on Montreal’s history at the Chateau de Ramezay. Now it was time to head back to rest up for my evening explorations of the St. Denis neighbourhood and a tasty Mexican dinner at La Iguana.

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