Manoir d’Youville outside of Montreal was named after Marguerite d’Youville, founder of the Grey Nuns and the first Canadian-born saint. Photo by Bill Gladstone

Manoir d’Youville a place to disengage from the world

By  Bill Gladstone, Catholic Register Special
  • April 13, 2013

CHATEAUGUAY, QUE. - Since the nuns who owned the property until recently didn’t care for directional road signs, you may have to stop for directions on the way to Manoir D’Youville on the St. Lawrence’s south shore, just southwest of Montreal.

Situated on a tiny island called Ile Saint Bernard, most of which is an unspoiled nature reserve, Manoir d’Youville is a rustic retreat offering nature hiking, boat tours on the Chateauguay River, apple picking in season and lots of Canadian and Catholic history.

Although definitely not for people seeking luxury accommodations, the Manoir offers surprisingly economical rates beginning at $65 for a single room and $95 for a double, inclusive of three square meals a day. The facility, which was purchased by the nearby city of Chateauguay in 2011, attracts many corporate and religious groups for business and spiritual retreats.

It is named after Marie Marguerite d’Youville (1701-1771), Quebec-born founder of the Grey Nuns, otherwise known as the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, who was the first native- born Canadian to be elevated to Catholic sainthood. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII in 1959 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

Her remarkable life story is told in a series of two dozen framed drawings in the hallway outside the dining room.

The first mansion on the site was built about 1675 but the Grey Nuns did not acquire the property until 1765. The only vestige of the early period is a masonry tower that was built as a grist mill. Dating from 1688 and maintained in good condition, it is one of the oldest windmills in North America.

For a time after the Grey Nuns acquired the property, they were the seignorial overlords of the adjacent farmland. They established a school, a bakery and, of course, a nunnery that remained active for nearly two-and-a-half centuries. Row upon orderly row of small white headstones, in a rectangular cemetery on a height of land beside the apple orchard, attest to their long presence here.

The original mansion was rebuilt and enlarged over the course of the 19th century. Modern wings were added in more recent times. The current managers plan to add a spa and more luxurious elements, hoping to bump up the property into three-star territory.

Right now it has the ambience and feel of a comfortable hostel, complete with a satisfying range of nourishing foods in the cafeteriastyle dining room.

Don’t check in expecting to find telephone, television or WiFi Internet in every room of the Manoir d’Youville: it is clearly a place to disengage from the world.

Indeed, the walls in the older building are so thick and solid that the engineers declared it would be easier to tear them down and rebuild from scratch rather than drill to lay the proper cables. (But rest assured, WiFi is available in the main lobby.)

The fresh breezes and sounds of the nearby St. Lawrence are rather to be savoured. So are the opportunities for observing wildlife in the nature reserve, home to some 225 species of birds as well as deer and many other animals.

Slightly farther afield is the Battle of the Chateauguay National Historic Site, a museum and interpretive centre on the spot where a force of British militiamen, army regulars and aboriginals fended off an invading American army of some 3,000 men, a decisive stroke in the War of 1812.

At busy highway times the drive from Montreal may take up to an hour over the Mercier Bridge, but can be done in half that time if you have good directions.

(Gladstone is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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