Quebec wants to protect the property of the Sulpicians

The Minister of Culture and Communications, Nathalie Roy, will be issuing a notice of intent to classify the Sulpicians’ heritage in the coming days. This religious community has made redundant of all its personnel specializing in the conservation and maintenance of its historical treasures.

Nathalie Roy learned of the situation through the Duty. She chose to communicate her concern via the Twitter platform: “I am greatly concerned about what I have learned from reading you, and I am carefully studying the best ways to protect these invaluable collections for the history of Quebec. “Later, during the day, still via Twitter, the minister indicated that she intended to resort to the law:” I intend to protect these assets of inestimable value for the history of Quebec, by using the powers which are conferred on me under the Cultural Heritage Act. “

The Sulpician Jean-Pierre Lussier directed the very rich archives of these religious until 2011. He denounces the attitude of his corporation in this matter. “First of all, I find it unfair and inhuman to treat our employees who have served us so well. In his opinion, he is entitled to an opinion that diverges from that of his leaders. “We are at the mercy of the provincial superiors, you know. In his view, these new leaders have just made a serious mistake. “Change is good, but only if you are competent. These abandoned archives are by far among the most important in Canada, he says. “I wouldn’t take a negative view of the government classifying Saint-Sulpice’s property. “

When she left the Council of Ministers, Minister Roy confirmed to the Duty, in a short telephone interview, that the legal documents are in preparation and that they will be served in a few days on the Sulpicians. “We are not yet ready to receive the goods. But we want to protect the assets that are there. We are in a hurry to act. “

I intend to protect this property of inestimable value for the history of Quebec, by using the powers conferred on me under the Cultural Heritage Act

The Sulpicians’ archives represent the equivalent of a kilometer of textual records. To this must be added 75,000 iconographic pieces, more than 8,000 geographical maps, technical specifications, sound and film recordings, artefacts. By way of comparison, the public archives of the city of Montreal have 4.6 km of documents.


The president of the Canadian Society for the History of the Catholic Church (SCHEC), Mélanie Lanouette, of Laval University, affirms that this heritage disaster apprehended by the Sulpicians has caused a real shock wave in the community of historians. “It is understood that the issue of religious archives has been of concern for a long time. I am reluctant to talk about the need for nationalization, but the government certainly needs to act quickly. “

Several religious communities may soon experience problems with their archives if nothing is done globally, argues Professor Lanouette. “One case at a time,” replied Minister Roy to the Duty.

About twenty religious communities in Montreal are looking for a common place to ensure the preservation and dissemination of their archives, explains Simon Bissonnette, Director General of the Archives and Religious Heritage of Greater Montreal Foundation. The Sulpicians “are not part of this grouping”, he explains.

Professor at the University of Montreal, Catherine Larochelle directs the journal Religious history studies. She considers that “the first issue is the safeguarding of this archival heritage”, but that an equally important and urgent subject is the maintenance of accessibility to this heritage for researchers “, since it is in large part the history of Quebec and Canada which is in question.

The state helps the Sulpicians

Historians Dominique Deslandres, John A. Dickinson and Ollivier Hubert noted, in their book devoted to the history of the Sulpicians, that these religious have been “perceived for a long time in nationalist circles as foreigners who enrich themselves on the backs of Canadians. “. The loyalty of this religious corporation to the British Empire in fact allowed it to be recognized and prominent in power after the uprisings of 1837-1838. They will invest in income properties and in British Crown bonds.

Embezzlement by a Sulpicians’ attorney and dubious investments in two companies, the Detroit United Railway and the British Empire Steel, caused the Sulpicians to take a nosedive from the early 1920s, to the point where, in 1937, they were put under government supervision. A state-engineered recovery plan saves the Sulpicians, strangled by $ 6.5 million in debt, the equivalent of $ 117 million in today’s dollars. The government of Quebec will still pay several millions in the 1940s and 1950s, while the Sulpicians sell certain goods, such as their baseball field where one of the city’s shopping centers, Place Alexis Nihon, will be erected.

Bill 58 makes the Saint-Sulpice library, located on rue Saint-Denis, in Montreal, part of the state’s heritage. This library would become, before being abandoned in the early 2000s, the National Library of Quebec, now the National Library and Archives of Quebec.

By a curious return of the pendulum, could this emblematic building, now abandoned, be used to house the archives of the Sulpicians and other religious communities? It is too early to tell, says Minister Nathalie Roy at Duty. “The Saint-Sulpice building is classified as ‘heritage’. We protect him and watch him. “

For the president of the SCHEC, we must find solutions with variable geometry. “Let’s take advantage of the heritage of the Saint-Sulpice library or find other solutions. But we have to do something! “

For the cultural spokesperson of the Parti Québécois, Méganne Perry Mélançon, the Saint-Sulpice library could be considered. “The aspect of nationalization strikes me as interesting. You have to work on the heritage aspect. It is a disaster in Quebec. We have to go and get that statewide. We must take back the collection. “

The Sulpicians’ collection “belongs to Montrealers and to all Quebecers,” says Catherine Dorion of Québec solidaire. “If the new administrators of this invaluable collection do not understand its importance, it is up to the Minister of Culture to remind them. “

“We need a minister who will assume a certain leadership,” said Liberal elected representative Isabelle Melançon. “Things have to go quickly,” insists the official opposition spokesperson for culture in an exchange with The duty.

With Marco Bélair-Cirino

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