Old becomes new again: how a Quebec City monastery is transformed into a modern wellness center, while its history and legacy remains in tact.
I’m about to share one of Quebec City’s best kept secrets with you. Le Monastère des Augustines is tucked down a quiet side street in Old Quebec. Once you discover it, you may went to spend your whole holiday there. Back in 1639, a small group of Augustine sisters became the first Catholic nuns to arrive in the New World. They traveled from France to heal the bodies and souls of those living in Canada (New France at the time). The sisters founded the first hospital in North America, north of Mexico. At one time, 225 sisters lived at the monastery. Today, only nine remain. The average age of the sisters is 85 years old. Looking for a way to preserve their legacy, they opened a museum at the monastery, with the building and its antiques entrusted to all of Quebec. They decided to renovate the 377 year old monastery, creating a non-profit healing hotel to finance the museum and keep their heritage alive.
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The construction of the wellness center and hotel was a 25 year project, and it cost $45 million to design and build.
The end result is quite impressive. It’s an open-concept design, with soaring glass windows and minimalist steel structures. These provide a stark contrast to the preserved wood beams, stone flooring, religious paintings and antiquities found throughout the building. Inside Le Monastère des Augustines, there’s a museum, a hotel with two different styles, a wellness center, and a restaurant. The center focuses on health, harmony and creativity. I should also mention that while the monastery does preserve the history of the Ursuline nuns, it is no longer based in any religion or creed.
For hundreds of years, over 45,000 artifacts were acquired by the sisters. The museum not only provides a home for thousands of antiques collected by the sisters, but it offers a glimpse into their lives. The trunk shown above is the “Trunk of 3 Keys”. Each of the three sisters had their own key, and each key had to be inserted into the trunk to open it. It was very interesting to learn about how the monastery operated and how the sisters lived. As technology improved, their knowledge of healing and health did as well. New medical instruments and procedures were introduced and these were displayed at the museum. Here are a few of my favorite heirlooms from the museum that serve to explain their teachings, purpose, and contributions to society.
This wooden contraption stood at the entrance to the museum. In the 1800s, women who gave birth to illegitimate babies would leave them with the sisters. The baby would be placed inside this wooden container, and it would be spun so it faced the interior of the building. One of the nuns would collect the child, and that would be the last time the mother saw her baby. Between 1800 and 1850, over 10,000 infants were left at the monastery for the nuns to raise or adopt to other families.
We were taken to the basement of the monastery to see the vault, which is currently closed off to the public right now. It will open in the future for tours. It was constructed in 1695 and the original staircase from 1756 is still in use. This is classified as a National Historic Site of Canada. As this vault was never destroyed by fire, it is one of the oldest in North America. The vault was used as a storage place, but the sisters also hid here during battles. In 1759, the British soldiers took the monastery in a battle and stayed there with the sisters.
Religious heritage is celebrated here, but it is also used for non-religious purposes. This room is open to visitors for concerts, to attend mass, or simply to meditate. When we visited the choir, there was a man practicing the pipe organ that sounded lovely.
Le Monastère des Augustines is a non-profit organization. The profits from the hotel room rates are reinvested in social missions, primarily to take care of those who care for others. Ten percent of the rooms are reserved for those who are visiting their family members in the hospital at a vastly discounted rate. The caregivers of elderly people can stay for free at the hotel to recharge for a week (as determined by applying through a government program).
There are two floors of rooms. One floor has the authentic rooms, and the other has the contemporary rooms. The authentic rooms offer a unique experience to stay in a renovated monastic “cell”, designed in the spirit of the original rooms of the sisters. The furniture (except the bed) is original. Everything in the room is made locally in Quebec by artisans. While there is free Wi-Fi, there are no TVs and no phones. There are six shared bathrooms on the floor. Out of the 33 rooms, 28 of them are single occupancy, making it a popular choice for solo female travelers. Rooms start at $84/night.
The contemporary rooms combine the rustic design of the monastery with modern influences. These rooms are similar to hotel rooms, each with a private bathroom. There are both single and double occupancy rooms available. These rooms start at $104/night and go as high as $225/night during high season.
Wellness and Holistic Health Center
There are programs for health, workshops, and scheduled events for those staying at the hotel and those wishing to drop in for a class. There are activities for harmony and creativity, such as yoga, meditation, or crafts (painting, colouring, scrapbooking). There are consultation packages for nutrition and inner health. The center offers workshops that deal with universal subjects like happiness, introduction to yoga, the quest for meaning, and mourning.
For guests of the hotel and wellness center, a typical day starts with movement and meditation, allows an hour for creative efforts (drawing, making art), has yoga sessions or guided walks, and ends with film screenings or readings.
We attended a session on cardiac coherence, which is a breathing exercise done three times a day for health and vitality. It follows the rule of “365”: breathing three times a day, six breaths a minute, for five minutes. I would love to integrate this into my daily routine more as both Justin and I felt revitalized after simply taking those moments to breathe.
There’s also a small shop with special tea blends arranged by the sisters, and an essential oil with their own scent. We purchased an air diffuser and one of the essential oils, and I’m always brought back to the monastery when I use it at home. Our whole apartment smells amazing, too! There is a small counter at the shop serving coffee, tea, juices and desserts. They had some Sweets from the Earth vegan desserts available, too.
The restaurant focuses on healthy, fresh, and organic meals. The decor is very serene and natural in shades of brown and green, with wooden decorations on each table. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Keeping in the tradition of the Augustine sisters, breakfast is eaten in silence. We were delighted to hear that there’s always a vegetarian/vegan option available, and the entire salad bar is vegan! The salad bar is included in the price of the meal. It had a variety of greens, bean and lentil salads, hummus, breads, minestrone soup, and more. Our main entree was a delightful tofu and vegetable dish, topped with a light pesto sauce. Everything was incredibly satisfying and exceptionally tasty.
If you’re visiting Quebec City, be sure to spend at least an afternoon at Le Monastère des Augustines, exploring the museum, taking a yoga class, and dining at the restaurant. I’d love to return to stay the night and attend some classes and workshops. Please note: a majority of the workshops are in French, but some are offered in English.
This Quebec City monastery is not your typical tourist attraction, but offers a unique and unforgettable experience. The history of the Augustine sisters shines brilliantly and harmonizes with a healthy and fulfilling modern culture. Just as the sisters aimed to cure the sick and wounded, this wellness center offers tranquility and balance for the mind, body, and spirit.
Le Monastère des Augustines
77, rue des Remparts
Please visit the official website for hours of operation and program details.