A National Historic Site of Canada and the oldest private history museum in Quebec, the Château Ramezay is a great place to learn about the area’s history.
The Château Ramezay
Built all the way back in 1705, the Château Ramezay has served several different roles over the centuries. Originally a private residence for the military leader and politician Claude de Ramezay, the Château subsequently served as a corporate office, government building, occupying army headquarters and school building before being turned into a museum in the 1890s.
Today, the Château remains open to the public year-round as an affordable and comprehensive museum that covers the history of Montreal and the surrounding area. This includes not only the building itself but also the Governor’s Garden next to it. The garden is a re-creation of what a New France-style garden from the 1700s looked like and is also a nice place to explore. While the museum does have an admission fee, the garden is free!
Hours and Admission
As of July 2021, the museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. Here are the admission prices for the summer of 2021:
- Adults (ages 18-64): $10.50
- Seniors (ages 65+): $9.15
- Students: $7.80
- Youth (ages 5-17): $5
- Children (ages 4 and under): Free
There is also the option to buy annual memberships to the Château. The cost is $50 for an adult, $45 for a senior and $25 for a student. Along with unlimited admission to the museum a membership also comes with discounts on admission to the Sir George-Étienne Cartier and Maison Saint Gabriel National Historic Sites, as well as some other places of interest.
There are three main permanent exhibitions at the Château. The first is Hochelaga, Ville-Marie, Montreal, which covers a vast period of time from the earliest indigenous history in the area up until the 1900s. The second is Life at the Château, which looks specifically at New France and what the area was like around the time the building was built. The final exhibition is And If the Walls Could Talk…, which has a series of audio presentations of stories about the Château and its role in Montreal’s history.
The Château’s collections (which boast tens of thousands of items) are a great place to immerse yourself in the culture of Montreal. There are a huge number of photographs and drawings from local artists that show what life in the area was like.
As well, there are exhibits that cover the country as a whole. There are archeological artifacts from across Canada and an extensive library of old books, journals, magazine articles and the like. While much of the museum’s manuscript collection is held in the nearby Archives Nationales du Quebec, what’s in the Château is still impressive.
The Governor’s Garden
The Governor’s Garden is a relatively recent addition to the Château, as it opened in 2000. The garden is a re-creation of what many gardens in the area were like back in the 1700s, though it’s smaller (at around 750 square metres) than what the original Château garden would have been. The garden is divided into three distinct sections, as was the practice amongst the wealthy in New France. These sections are an orchard, a kitchen garden and a pleasure garden.
The orchard is home to fruit trees, as apples, pears, gooseberries and blackcurrants were all quite popular in New France. The kitchen garden is similar as it’s designed to grow vegetables. Given how harsh Montreal winters can be, the most common vegetables were those who had the best odds of surviving, like carrots, beets and onions among others. Other options included what are known amongst the Iroquois as the Three Sisters, or the most important crops: corn, beans and squash.
As its name implies, the pleasure garden is not meant for growing anything. This area of the garden is for show, with carefully crafted flower displays. Common flowers in New France included lilies, peonies and hortensias.
As mentioned above, the garden is free to visit! The same operating hours from the museum do apply.
Tours and Events at the Château
During non-COVID times, guided tours of the Château are offered throughout the year. They last for about an hour and cover both the museum and the garden. The tour guides are also in costume as they take you through the Château! Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6.50 for students, as of July 2021.
During the summer season (July 1st until September 30th), these tours take place daily. If you want an English tour those begin at 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm. The French tours begin at 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. From October to June, they only take place on Saturdays and Sundays (at the same times).
Unfortunately, until COVID comes more under control all guided tours are cancelled.
An opportunity to take a more in-depth look at the history on display, there are sometimes lecture series with a variety of guest speakers at the Château. The planned 2020 series was set to mark the 125th anniversary of the museum. However, it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
When they do take place, these lectures cost $5 each for the general public and are free for museum members.
Anciennes Troupes Militaires
The Château was built in a time of conflict between French and British forces in North America. Thus, Montreal had plenty of military presence in the time of Claude de Ramezay himself.
To re-create some of this history, during the summer the Anciennes Troupes Militaries de Montreal often dress up as members of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine and the 78th Fraser Highlanders (French and British forces who both fought in battles in New France). You can go watch them do their drills, grab some pictures and enjoy the historical presentation.
From September until the beginning of November, there is the free Pick a Peck of Pumpkins event. Despite the alliterative name the event focuses more on squash, but there are both kinds of the large fruits. Less of a traditional pumpkin patch, this event is more of an informational tour of the fruits and what you can do with them. It’s especially aimed at the younger ones.
The Château also has multiple traditions for the Christmas season. This includes workshops on how to make delicious colonial-style bread and some regular holiday exhibits. Perhaps the highlight are the stockings, as all children can hang one up on the Château fireplace. This isn’t just for decoration either, come back in January and there’s something in the stockings for those who left one!
The History of the Building
In 1705, Claude de Ramezay (at the time the Governor of Montreal) decided to build a new home for himself. The result was a property that sprawled nearly 4 square kilometres, with the main building surrounded by large gardens. Ramezay lived there for around 20 years until he died, after which time the house had numerous other occupants.
While Ramezay’s widow initially rented out the Château to other dignitaries, after her own death the property was purchased by a fur trading company and served as their base of operations for a couple decades. Then, the British government (who now controlled the city) bought it to be the home of the local governor.
During this period the Château also briefly had American hosts when the revolutionary army occupied Montreal in 1775 and 1776. The building was selected as their military headquarters and remained that way until the British regained control of the area. The last noteworthy pre-museum function the Château held was as a school building, first as part of the École Normale Jacques-Cartier and then later as part of Laval University.
Transition to a Museum
In the 1890s, after the building was no longer used for school courses, the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal believed that turning the Château into a museum was the best way to preserve the building. However, the provincial government (the owners at the time) just wanted to get rid of it and put the Château up for auction. Not to be deterred, the society gathered enough public support to convince the city of Montreal to purchase the building to be turned into a museum.
Just two years after this purchase the Château opened to the public as a museum. The Antiquarian Society later gained ownership of the Château in return for giving the city a massive collection of historically-significant books. In 1929 the Château became the first building to be declared a Historic Monument of Quebec. In 1949 it was declared a National Historic Site of Canada.
For more information visit the Château Ramezay website.
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