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Montreal's Museum of the First Canadian Female Saint: Marguerite Bourgeoys and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel

Updated on November 19, 2014

Learn All About This Amazing Woman and See Some Great Scenery!

French-born Marguerite Bourgeoys arrived in Montreal in 1653, when the Canadian city had about 50 inhabitants, and persuaded them to build the city's first stone chapel. Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is still an operating church in the Vieux Montreal, or Old Montreal, section, and it has an attached museum dedicated to Bourgeoys.

Tourists should plan on stopping by the chapel and visiting the museum when they are in the Vieux Montreal section, and should allot about an hour to 90 minutes to see everything. We recently toured the museum and chapel, and here are a few of the highlights.

The close-up here is from the only known portrait of Marguerite Bourgeoys. The painting can be seen in the museum. The photos in this review are our own unless otherwise noted.

Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel

``Our Lady of Good Help''

Serving Montreal Residents for More Than 350 Years

The current chapel, whose name translates to ``Our Lady of Good Help,'' is the third church on the site where Bourgeoys first rallied Montreal's colonists to build a place of worship in 1655. That first wooden building was replaced in 1678 by a stone one.

Fire destroyed the stone chapel in 1754, and the current building was opened in 1771.

It is not a particularly large church, or even very distinctive to look at from outside. But it fits right into the Old Montreal neighborhood, and looked very inviting when we approached.

Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum

Marguerite Bourgeoys

Canada's First Female Saint

The first section of the museum is a wall that contains an illustrated history of Marguerite Bourgeoys, who was born in Troyes, France, in 1620. After joining a local cloister, she was asked to travel to the fledgling colony of Canada and arrived there in 1653.

In addition to being the champion of the chapel, she opened Montreal's first school, in a stable, and taught topics including religion. Bourgeoys returned to France to recruit more women from the cloister, and returning to Montreal they led what was considered a fairly radical lifestyle at the time: they were uncloistered.

Bourgeoys died in 1700. In 1982. Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1982, making her Canada's first female saint.

We aren't very religious, so we didn't know much about her before we arrived. We were impressed by her bravery and determination, and how much she helped the early residents of Montreal.

Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum Steps
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum Steps

Visiting the Top of the Chapel

69 Wooden Steps to a Great View of Montreal's Old Port!

After reading about the saint, you walk up 69 steps to the top of the church tower, where there is an outside area that provides a great view of the Old Port and Old Montreal. (Please note: I didn't see any way up to the top for the handicapped or people who have a hard time climbing, so if you want to visit the museum for the tower and need to use an elevator you might want to check first before you pay!)

I enjoyed being outside and seeing the view. There is also an exhibition inside the tower that explains that the chapel became very popular with sailors in the 19th century. The exhibit's displays contain wooden model ships and a church bell cast in 1771 in London.

See below for some of the views from the top of the tower.

This photo is the youngest member of the Goldenrulecomics' family heading up the tower stairs.

Views From the Chapel Tower

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel Statue
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel Statue

The Church's Angels

Beautiful Work From Artist Philippe Laperle

On either side of the tower are two angels from 1892 that were the work of Philippe Laperle. They are the only two remaining of 14 statues installed at the chapel in 1893-1894. The church also has a small statue of the Virgin Mary on the front steeple.

The life-size statues are beaten copper over wood, and are really impressive. It is cool to see them against the backdrop of the city, and I can only imagine what it must have looked like a century ago when there were more than a dozen of them watching over the local residents.

Down to the Crypt...

The Location of the Original Chapel From 1754

Under the current chapel is an archeological site that includes the exact location of Bourgeoys' original chapel from 1754. It turns out the church is the oldest place in Montreal to retain its original foundation, so an excavation in 1996-1997 was able to locate the exact location of the original chapel in building's crypt.

The crypt has numerous artifacts from the early days of the church that were found during the excavation, including bottles, plates and other every day items used by the early settlers.

There are also church objects, including a nice statue of Saint Michael the Archangel defeating the Dragon from 1890.

Francis Back, Montreal Illustrator

Children's Books and Movie Storyboards

After the crypt there is a two-room exhibit dedicated to the work of Montreal illustrator Francis Back. The first room of this temporary exhibit displays Back's art illustrating the history of the region and explains his craft.

The second room is a display of some of his works, including the covers for many historica novels including a paperback version of Jules Verne's The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz. The books were all French editions, so I wasn't very familiar with them.

More interesting were some of the storyboards that Back created for various movies. The photo here is one of the storyboards that he did for ``Babine,'' a movie that came out in 2008. His credits stretch back to 1990 and include ``The Spiderwick Chronicles,'' also from 2008.

There is a drawing area for children that created some much-needed diversion after spending so much time among the more serious exhibits. The museum's website says this is a temporary exhibit but I didn't see any information on when it would close, so if you are going there just for this best to check first that it is still on.

The True Likeness

The Only Known Portrait of the Saint

After returning to the main floor the tour continues in a room containing the only known portrait of Marguerite Bourgeoys. The painting, called the True Likeness, was done by Pierre Le Ber immediately after her death in January, 1700.

The exhibit explains the somewhat fantastic reason behind the portrait's current name. At some point after the original painting was done, someone made the decision that her image wasn't good enough. So someone painted over the portrait, making her look a little less stern and more idealized!

In the mid-twentieth century the painting was restored to its original condition. Photos weren't allowed, so the one here and the more idealized version below are public domain images.

The museum concludes with a room of miniatures depicting the life of the saint and another room dedicated to the sisters and their congregation. The miniatures were a bit corny, to be honest, and we breezed through the congregation room fairly quickly as it was a bit too localized.

We did pop into the church proper, but it was Sunday morning and there was a Mass going on so we weren't able to look at much and I didn't feel it would be respectful to take photos.

The Idealized Version of Marguerite Bourgeoys

The Idealized Version of Marguerite Bourgeoys
The Idealized Version of Marguerite Bourgeoys

Have You Ever Been?

Have You Toured the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum and the Chapel?

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A Short Video of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel

Book Your Room Today

We have used Hotels.com to book our recent vacations, and haven't had a problem yet. You do have to spend a bit of time reading the reviews to make sure the hotel you select is exactly what you want, of course. Sometimes a good price just means that the hotel has had a lot of poor reviews and has dropped what it charges to attract customers!

One other bit of good news is that you get a free night's stay after booking 10 nights. The freebie has to be on a subsequent trip, but it has helped us save money. Check out Hotels.com today:

A View of the Church From Down the Street

A View of The Church From Down the Street
A View of The Church From Down the Street

Top Things to Do in Montreal

We spent almost a week in Montreal, and found the city to be fascinating with a good mix of things to do for adults and children. Here is an online diary where we discuss the various places we visited as well as a review of another Montreal attraction, the biosphere.

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The Notre-Dame Basilica in the Vieux-Montreal section of the city is well worth a visit, as it is considered one of the grandest churches in North America. C...

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Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum

A markerMarguerite Bourgeoys Museum -
400 Rue Saint Paul Est Montreal, QC H2Y 1H4, Canada
get directions

About Goldenrulecomics

Of Comic Books and Family Vacations

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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!

Thanks for visiting!

Now It's Your Turn!

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    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Your travel stories are always so intriguing. Right away I want to know what earned her sainthood and whether her spirit continues to manifest miracles in the lives of her followers and believers today. Thank you for a fascinating story.

    • Max Globe profile image

      Max Globe 3 years ago

      That would be an interesting stop for a traveller! Thanks fro this beautiful, spiritual lens.

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      I always enjoy learning something new. This is a very good lens on the topic. I enjoy reading about people who have dedicated their lives to doing good.

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      This is a trip that I would like to make, maybe this summer! Thanks for a great lens and an idea of somewhere I really would enjoy!

    • trevorjb1406 profile image

      trevorjb1406 3 years ago

      A really nice lens and so interesting! Unfortunately, I am never likely to make a visit as I am UK based.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I love the city of Montreal, lovely lens :)

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Another interesting lens! How interesting it must be for you to explore these wonderful spots. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 3 years ago from GRENADA

      Thanks for sharing this lens about the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel and Canada's first saint, goldenrulecomics!

    • ologsinquito2 profile image

      ologsinquito2 3 years ago

      This is a fascinating lens. I never knew about this saint until now.

    • Egils Petersons profile image

      Egils Petersons 3 years ago from Latvia

      Great lens! Thank you, I didn't know nothing about Marguerite Bourgeoys before.

    • Barnowl LM profile image

      Barnowl LM 3 years ago

      Very informative lens, and lots of nice photos...Keep up the good work;-)

    • Tasha North profile image

      Tasha North 3 years ago

      Thank you for the information, good ideas for us that live in "forever summer" part of the world

    • SweetTeaPam profile image

      SweetTeaPam 3 years ago

      What beautiful pictures! I love travel and history and rarely leave a destination before visiting old chapels. Thanks so much for the history lesson and lovely images.

    • profile image

      grannysage 4 years ago

      I like the True Likeness of the saint better than the Idealized one, for she would have had to have been a strong woman to live in the harsh life in a new world colony.

    • profile image

      Ruthi 4 years ago

      The copper over wood angels would truly have been a sight to see! Thank you for a wonderful introduction to St. Bourgeoys.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 4 years ago from Colorado

      Love those copper clad angels. Appreciated this award-winning lens. Beautifully presented. Congrats!

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Wonderful tour. I especially love the angels you show. Congratulations on your newest purple star!

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 4 years ago from California

      I had never heard of Marguerite Bourgeoys or the Museum/Chapel. Thanks for teaching me :)

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      Lovely travel lens, pinned to my Canada board.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks for sharing this virtual visit to the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum and Chapel! You did a wonderful job of sharing your experiences and making us want to visit.

    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 4 years ago

      Your lenses make me want to travel - well done.

    • ValerieJoy profile image

      Valerie Smith 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for your great lens. It's not likely that I will get to Montreal but at least I've learned something special through your work with this lens.

    • dakadare profile image

      dakadare 4 years ago

      What a lovely place!

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 4 years ago

      I wish I had read this a few years ago. I visited Montreal some time ago, but didn't know about this chapel. Guess I'll have to go again!

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      It seems to me a lovely place to visit! :)

    • Monika Weise profile image

      Monika Weise 4 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

      What a beautiful place!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I will try to visit this museum when I get back to Canada.

    • profile image

      MaggiePowell 4 years ago

      I really love your travel pages... one day I will get to see all of these places, for now I will experience them through your words and photos.

    • EliasZanetti LM profile image

      EliasZanetti LM 4 years ago

      Freat lens! Never been to Marguerite Bourgeoys' Museum and the Chapel but it seems as worthing a visit.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 4 years ago

      Fabulous lens! Found this very fascinating and love the photos- esp the one of the angel!!