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As fire continues to burn at historic Montreal monastery, worries mount about what has been lost

As large plumes of smoke continued to rise from the Monastère du Bon-Pasteur in downtown Montreal on Friday, the future of the nearly two-century-old building and what it holds inside are shrouded in doubt. 

Provincial and municipal officials met Friday morning to assess the damage at the historic site which caught fire Thursday.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and Culture Minister Mathieu Lacombe are holding a news conference at this hour.

The heritage building near the corner of Sherbrooke and de Bullion streets now serves as a multi-service centre. 

It includes a seniors’ residence, a housing co-operative, a daycare and condominiums. In less than 10 days, the monastery was set to be the venue for the Concours Prix d’Europe, a week-long singing competition.

WATCH | CBC’s Rowan Kennedy explains what’s left in the aftermath of the fire:

as fire continues to burn at historic montreal monastery worries mount about what has been lost

What it looks like at the scene of the Bon-Pasteur monastery fire

2 hours ago

Duration 1:08

CBC’s Rowan Kennedy explains what’s left in the aftermath of Thursday’s destructive blaze.

For Taïka Baillargeon, the nearly-two-century old monastery isn’t just a symbol of the city’s past.

It’s also a success story — a shining example of how to breathe new life into a historic institution and turn it into a vibrant gathering space for Montrealers.

“It was one of the first buildings that was revamped, restored, re-used with a vision of having private and public [usage],” said Baillargeon, who is the assistant policy director at Heritage Montreal, an organization that works to promote and preserve the city’s cultural architectural heritage.

“This is really sad because it still stands as an example of what we should do in terms of re-using our historic buildings.”

No one was seriously hurt in the fire that broke out around 4:30 p.m. Thursday. It’s also not yet clear how badly damaged the monastery is, but the fire department said they believe it will not be total loss.

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement, warning of increased pollution in Montreal because of the smoke. 

Fire burns and smoke rises from heritage building
Firefighters respond to a five-alarm fire at the former Monastere du Bon Pasteur, a 19th century heritage building on Friday May 26, 2023 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

The monastery was built in 1846. The freestone building has a central body that is crossed by three perpendicular wings. A presbytery was added in 1896. It was designated a heritage building in 1979. It was then acquired in 1984 by the Société immobilière du patrimoine architectural de Montréal (SIMPA).

Heritage Montreal is housed in the monastery. Baillargeon says the group’s archives may have been lost in the fire.

Baillargeon described the fire as a “huge, huge disaster.”

“These techniques, these materials, we cannot find them again. We cannot rebuild a Bon-Pasteur as is. That’s the most terrible part of it,” she said.

“These buildings confine in themselves so much knowledge, so many things, so much history and we will not be able to have those back.”

WATCH | More than 100 fire fighters battle the blaze:

as fire continues to burn at historic montreal monastery worries mount about what has been lost 2

Fire crews fight flames at Montreal monastery

3 hours ago

Duration 0:48

Watch crews work to extinguish the five-alarm fire at the historic Monastère du Bon-Pasteur in Montreal on Thursday.

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