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Visiting the Neoclassical Church of Saint-Eustache, Quebec: The Poignant Heartbeat of a Republican Ideal From 1837

Updated on July 26, 2019
Flag of Quebec
Flag of Quebec | Source
Flag of the Patriotes
Flag of the Patriotes | Source
Church of Saint-Eustache
Church of Saint-Eustache | Source

Towards a Republic forged in historical memories

The Church of Saint-Eustache (1), Quebec, dates initially from 1780 to 1783. Its impressive Neoclassical façade, with a proportionately small pediment, took shape from 1831 to 1833. With its conspicuous, twin bell towers, situated close to the confluence of the Mille-Îles and Du Chêne rivers, the building is thus a rather significant landmark in the district.

It is also deeply significant historically. A close look at the rue Saint-Louis elevation will reveal damage to the stonework dating from 1837. This occurred in the context of the final engagement of British military response to the militia campaigns of the Patriotes movement.

By way of some background, the British civil authorities — which opposed the Reformist Patriotes — had in March 1838 disbanded the Conseil législatif du Bas-Canada / Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, which had been mandated by the Constitutional Act of 1791. Furthermore, prior to its disbandment, they had previously ignored very many of the Assembly's resolutions and proposals. Even these same civil authorities had also banned an organization called the Doric Club, comprised largely of militant Loyalist Orangemen, who had called for the hanging of all Patriote activists (2). However, despite the murderous vituperations of these Loyalist Orangemen, many recent members of the banned Doric Club were willingly recruited by Lieutenant-General John Colborne (3), who was to command a combined force of British army regiments and militias of Orangemen. After a series of engagements, when British forces at first received setbacks but ultimately asserted supremacy, in what proved to be the final military dénouement, the opposing forces converged on Saint-Eustache, dominated by its Neoclassical church building.

On December 14, 1837, as the Battle of Saint-Eustache ravaged the locality, the building was in part the scene of a raging battle engaged in, on the one side, by a total of 1500 soldiers of these army regiments and militias of Orangemen. The unequal struggle was headed on the merely 200-strong (4) Patriotes' militia side by their commander Jean-Olivier Chénier (1806-1837). Many of the Patriotes took refuge in the Church of Saint-Eustache, whereupon this building was set on fire by the British forces; and as men jumped from the burning building many of them were shot.

Commander Chenier himself was killed, his body shown to vanquished Patriotes and left mutilated and on display for a number of days. In all, 70 Patriotes were killed, against the loss of 3 soldiers on the British troops' and Orangemen's side.

As I went along rue Saint-Louis, on which the Church of Saint-Eustache — along with a memorial to the Patriotes in front of the building — is situated, I saw a flag based on the design of the Republican flag used by the Patriotes in the 1830s. (Given the historic importance of the events described in relation to the Church of Saint-Eustache, I have supplied a version of the Patriotes' Republican flag, above, as well as a copy of the current legal flag of Quebec.)

Today by law in Quebec, la Journée nationale des patriotes (National Patriots' Day) is commemorated annually on the Monday preceding May 25.

The Patriotes' Republican aspirations which apparently ended in ignominy and despair amidst triumphalist Orangemen in the deep cold of December 1837 have thus over the course of time seen a resurgence to become an enduring ideal. This ideal has been sanctioned by the National Parliament of Quebec for permanent commemoration, asserted with the inexorable momentum and equilibrium of a poignant historical vantage point remembered at Saint-Eustache, particularly focused on the striking Neoclassical façade of the Church of Saint-Eustache (5).

Interestingly, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal / Montreal Symphony Orchestra regularly records in the Church of Saint-Eustache on account of the building's excellent acoustics.

Saint-Eustache is situated in the Municipalité régionale de comté de Deux-Montagnes / Deux-Montagnes Regional County Municipality, itself within the Région administrative des Laurentides / Laurentides administrative region, Quebec.

July 18, 2019

Notes

(1) See also (in French) https://www.canada.ca/fr/nouvelles/archive/2015/06/eglise-saint-eustache-saint-eustache-quebec-.html

(2) See also: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/doric-club

(3) Later Field Marshal, 1st Baron Seaton; for whom Port Colborne, Ontario is named.

(4) Some sources put the number of the Patriotes' forces at the Battle of Saint-Eustache as low as 150.

(5) Lest it be thought that the Patriotes were identified with confessional and linguistic exclusivity, it may be recalled that various, prominent Patriotes were Anglophone Protestants — including a future Mayor of Montreal — and, although not a few of the lower ranking Roman Catholic clergy sympathized with the Patriotes, senior members of the hierarchy in Lower Canada were strongly hostile to the movement; and Jean-Olivier Chénier, commander of the Patriotes at Saint-Eustache, and whose mutilated body was displayed for a number of days to the glee of Orangemen after the Battle of Saint-Eustache, was excommunicated by the hierarchy, together with members of his family. Some of the Patriotes were influenced by texts associated with the American Revolution — still only some decades distant; a radical Patriote, influenced variously by the Bible and Rousseau, subsequently served as a baptist minister.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Battle of Saint-Eustache http://cgi2.cvm.qc.ca/glaporte/1837
Battle of Saint-Eustache http://cgi2.cvm.qc.ca/glaporte/1837 | Source

Also worth seeing

In Saint-Eustache itself, other noted structures include a monument to the Patriotes, the Mairie (town hall), the Manoir Globensky, the Moulin Légaré, and various others.

Saint-Lin-Larentides, (distances: 41.7 kilometres) has a museum commemorating the birthplace of Canada's first Francophone Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier; the Byzantine-styled stone Eglise de Saint-Lin-Laurentides dates from 1887-1890.

The architectural and cultural attractions of Montreal (distance: 36.7 kilometres) are too numerous to mention here, but of special note, among many others, are the domed Bonsecours Market (Marché Bonsecours), dating from 1847, which was a venue used to house the Parliament of United Canada, prior to Confederation. The Notre-Dame Basilica (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal) was built mainly between 1824 and 1829; many Montrealers attend annual performances of Handel's 'Messiah' there. Fine views from Mount Royal (Mont Royal) may be obtained at St. Joseph's Oratory (Oratoire Saint-Joseph) and the Belvedere (Belvédère). The Olympic Stadium (Stade Olympique) in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district, used for the 1976 Olympics, has the the world's tallest inclined tower, at 175 metres.

...

How to get there: Air Canada flies to Montreal (Aéroport international Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau de Montréal; distance from Saint-Eustache: 26.1 kilometres) from Toronto-Pearson, and from New York-Newark and New York-La Guardia, with wide connections. A number of car rental companies offer service at Montreal-Trudeau airport; road access is possible via QC-13/QC-QC-344 or QC-148. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map location of Municipalité régionale de comté de Deux-Montagnes / Deux-Montagnes Regional County Municipality, Quebec
Map location of Municipalité régionale de comté de Deux-Montagnes / Deux-Montagnes Regional County Municipality, Quebec | Source

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