small flourish

Description by sister Marie Morin of the fire at the Hôtel-Dieu, 19 June 1721.


SECOND general FIRE at our monastery, which occurred June 19 1721.

[...]The small feast of Corpus Christi, took place this year on June 19. The general procession of the most Holy Sacrament was more solemn than is customary due to the rain that prevented it from taking place during the day. Our sacristan sisters showed their zeal in adorning the church to the best of their ability and transformed it into a glowing chapel as found in Rome, according to Monseigneur our bishop who returned to this country from there, a few years ago. Gunshots and even shots from canons were fired in front of each church where temporary altars had been set up. Such was the case at our chapel, at the end of the procession, which had not yet arrived at the parish church of the city, to which we are near, when some unthinking individual fired a major gunshot into our church portal, which set fire, in an instant, to the roof of the said church and to the vault, which flared up at such grea[t] speed that many of our friends present at the time could not extinguish it, although they are quite able and knowledgeable. This caused the alarm to sound to alert people to come to our aid, as it was a lost cause. A good nu[m]ber appeared at first, but not for long, because the fire also spread to the house where we housed the ill and to our monastery from the roof of the church, which rose high and was


covered with cedar shingles, as were the other buildings, which burned as quickly as straw, especially with the warm weather and windy conditions at the time.

Our sisters first worked with lay people at stripping the altar and salvaging the ornaments, and salvaged almost everything, except for the dirty linen that had been placed in a very heavy container and up on a second story, ready for bleaching and washing, which we would do once or twice a year, and which burned then and there, leaving only a few albs and surplices, white and small in number.

The fire ignited everywhere; our buildings set fire to those of our neighbours who in spite of all their care and diligence could not extinguish it with water, &c. The first victims of the fire were sieur Saint Onge, Mademoiselle Renaud, Monsieur Perthuis, Monsieur Francheville [Poulin de Francheville], Monsieur Radisson [Volant Radisson], Mademoiselle Després [Guyon dit Després], Monsieur de Belestre, the old menagerie of our hospital, all of which had been constructed on lands to the other side of the rue Saint Paul thoroughfare, so that these houses burned at the same time as ours and created a fire that was frightening to behold. Nothing of this magnitude had ever been seen in Canada. The whole of the lower part of the city was consumed by this fire. There were one hundred and sixty houses, the most beautiful in the city, [that we]re consumed by the fire; they belonged to wealthy merchants of whom a number lost some of what was inside them, while others lost everything. It was not that they neglected to take everything out of the houses, but that outside in the streets everything continued to burn, and even at the river’s edge, providing the opportunity for bandits to steal wherever.

The zeal displayed by our sisters in salvaging what was in the church was so great that they tarried in taking out the most holy tabernacle and its sacred treasure


of the Heavens and the earth. It was taken to the edge of the River by 4 laymen for fear that it would burn. Monsieur de Belmont, head vicar of the diocese, came to the rescue with a few of the priests from the seminary. He opened the tabernacle and carried the Holy Sacrament towards the place in the city that was in greatest danger, accompanied by women and children, since the men were all working to cut off the path of the fire, but without success. Monsieur de Belmont noticing that the presence of Our Lord appeared to be fuelling the flames rather than appeasing them, said aloud that he knew very well that God wished to punish his people and that the sins committed in that place were fanning the fire and inviting the scourge from Heaven, and he let them know that His justice was speaking up against us. The group of women followers threw themselves face down crying out for mercy.

The flames spread at an extraordinary speed before the south-westerly wind, which was strong; they then turned towards the north, where they did little harm carried by the wind. This confirmed the thought [opinion] of Monsieur de Belmont, who carried the Holy Sacrament to the parish church, leaving the justice of God to take its course, and prayed wholeheartedly that pity be taken on his people. Monsieur de Lescoat [Jean-Gabriel le Pape du Lescoat], our confessor, did the same; so consumed with agony was he that he remained crying before the most Holy Sacrament the remainder of the day, making honourable amends to Our Lord along with those present in good standing. Madame La Decouverte [You de La Découverte] was the last house in the fire’s path, which was so close that burning sparks fell onto it, but she, wiser than the others, promised God a considerable sum for the salvation of the souls in purgatory, and the fire ceased instantly.

I returned to find our dear sisters in such a state of consternation that we could not think


in such a situation. The most courageous began to take out of the house all that they could carry; most of them went their own separate ways as if beside themselves and with a fear that made them incapable of being of assistance to themselves and to others.

Most of the men who first appeared to assist us left to give assistance to their friends, who were in a similar predicament to us, so that few of them remained with us. A few Recollet fathers offered a lot of their help and time, as is common for them in such instances. They took out various items of furniture, beds, clothes that were consumed by the fire on the spot. The clothes we were left with were the most tattered and worn. All of our winter items burned. All that remained was what we had on our backs, of which most was worn, and reliance and faith in God, who created Heaven and earth, and who has bestowed his goodness upon us many times. Our second dormitory, with eighteen beautiful cells well adorned and furnished with all that the Rule permits, burned in its entirety, ex[ce]pt for the contents of two cells in bits and pieces, and all of the first [dormitory], the fire having started on the roof of the house. Which is what caused the men who might have gone up to be afraid because of the danger of being consumed by the fire there.

All of our buildings, which consisted of three hundred and fifty feet of solid and profitable structure, were consumed by fire in less than three hours. Our church bell weighing 300 melted as did our bell for observances; which had a sound and tone that was the envy of those knowledgeable on the subject. [...]

Source: Morin, Marie, "Simple and True Story: Annals of the Hôtel-Dieu of Montréal, 1659-1725" (Montréal: Bibliothèque des lettres québécoises, Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1979), p. 292-295. Notes: Extract from the journal for the year 1721. Original conserved at the Archives of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph of Montréal. Annales de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, Orig. ms, 1A 4/ 2-3, Marie Morin, pages 292-295.

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