You can’t help but stumble upon the lovely Chateau Ramezay, must see destination in Vieux Montreal. It’s on the main drag and across the street from the City Hall. If you’re a history buff, it’s definitely worth an inspection. Built in 1705, the chateau is an architectural gem of the ancien régime. It tells the story of major events in 500 years of French history.
It was built for the Quebec’s 11th governor, Claude de Ramezay. There are 15 rooms and a well curated collection of 30,000 objects, including Canadian art, period furniture, artifacts, manuscripts, costumes, and odd items.
In 1929, Chateau Ramezay became the first building in Montreal to be classified as a historic building. It was established as a museum in 1895. UNESCO placed it on its list of “1001 historic sites you must see before you die.” This last bit seems a tad exaggerated to me.
But I would say that the Chateau Ramezay is a nice slice of history and a cute hidden gem in Montreal. Most visitors look at the stone facade and pass it by. Don’t be that person. Unless you hate all things history or edutainment. If you are against edutainment, you’ll likely find the exhibits pretty staid.
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin the the Chateau Ramezay
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The British used the chateau as headquarters, after their conquest in 1760.
But the most curious visitors to Chateau Ramezay were a contingent of American diplomats, including Benjamin Franklin and Benedict Arnold. In 1775, Montreal was captured by the US Continental Army, during a short-lived invasion of Canada.
The diplomats based themselves in this chateau, trying to persuade the Quebecois to join their rebellion against the British.
What To See at the Historic Chateau
Let’s take a self-guided tour. Though there is a guided tour you can sign up for as well. It won’t take more than 60-90 minutes, depending on your penchant for historical detail. If you want to step back in history or learn the back story of Montreal, this authentic little gem is the right place.
1. The First Floor of the Chateau Ramezay
The first floor is a mahogany extravaganza of formal reception rooms. The Salle de Nantes is the centerpiece, with its crystal chandelier and portraits. The mahogany panels were hand carved by Germain Boffrand, chief architect to Louis XIV and Louis XV.
But they’re not original. They panels were transported to Montreal in 1967 for the World’s Fair for display in the French Pavilion. In 1975, the museum acquired and installed them.
the mahogany paneled Salle de Nantes on the first floor of Chateau Ramezay
Along the walls, there are many portraits of people in fancy clothing and powdered wigs. There were even mannequins. To mimic the appropriate hairstyles, the mannequins sport hair fashioned from strips of paper.
Many of the displays in Chateau Ramezay are war related — weapons, guns, captain’s swords, daggers, knives, and the pistol of General Sir James Murray, the first governor of the city.
There’s also a bright red car. It was produced by the De Dion-Bouton Company at the beginning of the 20th century for Montreal’s first motorist.
The Museum also has the Louisbourg Bell. It was cast in France and consecrated in 1724 in the chapel of the Récollets in Louisbourg. The bell has been at the château since its inauguration in 1895, after a public subscription held by Montreal’s newspaper La Patrie.
the Louisbourg Bell
2. The Basement of Chateau Ramezay
To my mind, the more interesting part of the chateau lies in the lower level. It houses a series of rooms that show life in colonial Quebec in the 18th century — a kitchen, dining room, storage rooms. You can listen in on tablets and enjoy the hands on exhibits.
the fireplace and kitchen at Chateau Ramezay
3. The Governor’s Garden
Open June to September free of charge, this is a lovely horticultural garden from the 18th century. the garden was re-created in 2000. It’s a tranquil place, amid the stony streets and urban buildings in that area.
The garden is in the formal French style. It’s divided into three sections: a kitchen garden, an orchard, and a pleasure garden. Surrounding these sections, at the foot of the long walls, is a fourth section consisting of herbs and medicinal plants.
Practical Information for Visiting the Chateau Ramezay
Address: 280 Notre-Dame St. East, Montreal,
Entry fee: $11
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