Rose-de-Lima Bonneau in Three Parts
February 28, 2018 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator
Sister Rose-de-Lima Bonneau (1859-1934) was an elegant and determined woman who beautifully incarnated the social devotion of Montréal’s religious communities. In celebration of the International Women’s Day on March 8, Héritage Montréal proposes three places to visit to follow the legacy of this heroine who dedicated her life to come to the aid of the city’s poorest.
Our 21st-century eyes are used to looking at a host of large highways and urban boulevards, and are marvelled when faced with some of Old Montreal’s smaller streets. Bonneau Street is a prime example of this as it often draws curious passersby to explore its discreet intricacies. This street that leads to de la Commune Street was re-baptized in 1922 by municipal authorities to honour the work of Rose-de-Lima Bonneau, a former Mother Superior at the Saint-Charles Hospice. This street was originally named rue de la Friponne. Suffice it to say that this toponym incarnated a far less virtuous piece of history! Indeed, it was an 18th century tongue-and-cheek reference to the fact that the King’s munitions merchants, who had set up shop there, had rather dodgy sales tactics.
The Montreal General Hospital
Rose-de-Lima Bonneau entered the service of the Sisters of Charity of the Montreal General Hospital on August 28, 1878. The Sisters were a branch of the Grey Nuns, an order of nuns founded in 1737 by Marguerite d’Youville. The history behind this exclusively female organization and their name is really quite interesting. At the time, people viewed women who took to the streets to help the poor as being rather audacious, and dubious to some. Their critics erroneously believed that the nuns would sell bootlegged liquor to those stranded in the streets, and started to call them “grey”, a term which, at the time, meant “drunk”. It turns out (imagine our surprise!) that the nuns weren’t hustling booze, but rather navigated the hustle and bustle of the city to deliver tender care.
In 1747, they took over the Montreal General Hospital, and commissioned major renovations to the building as it was neglected by its founders, the Frères Charon. It was to welcome the poor and the sick until 1871, after the Grey Nuns moved out. The buildings of the former hospital were partly demolished and served as mere storage units, before the entire complex was refurbished in 1981 by the Desnoyers Mercure & Associés architectural firm in the spirit of restoring its original benevolent vocation. It was fully completed in 2013, and was a real marvel thanks to its brute masonry, its impressive stone details and a gable roof, all details that masterfully represented 18th-century functional architecture.
The Accueil Bonneau
The most famous emblem of Rose-de-Lima Bonneau’s legacy is most definitely the men’s shelter which bears her name to this day. It originated as a part of the Saint-Charles Hospice, and was founded on May 7, 1877 next to Montreal’s port. Under pressure from new development in the district, the hospice was razed to make way for the Fourneau économique, a larger charity on Champ-de-Mars Street. Then, the Vestiaire des pauvres, another charity, opened in 1904. Under the management Rose-de-Lima Bonneau, until her death in 1934, the charity served over 800 meals per day, and offered many programs and services to sustain and support the city’s most vulnerable inhabitants. Unfortunately, it was devastated by an accidental explosion in 1998, but this historic institution was rebuilt by JBC Architectes in its original grey-stone composure. The firm would later earn an Orange Prize from Save Montréal in the recycling/renovation category.
Sources : Service des archives et des collections Les Sœurs de la Charité de Montréal «Sœurs Grises»
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