In 1639, a hardy band of women headed by Marie Guyart and Madam de Peltrie came to Quebec in answer to a plea from the Jesuits. They needed an order of nuns to come and teach French to the native girls. Marie Guyart, who is better known as Marie de l’Incarnation, had joined the Ursuline Order after the death of her husband. She left her son to answer God’s call. And it’s lucky for all of us of Canadian decent that she decided to come to Canada. Her letters to her son contain some of the most valuable information on life in the early colony. She recorded ship arrivals and other information of great historical interest. She was also a strong woman in a man’s world and she had to fight the authorities to keep any control over her convent and school. She usually lost, but not gracefully!
Today, the remains of the huge complex which developed over the years is located on the Rue Danconna. There are three areas to visit. The museum closes earlier than the chapel and the Marie de l’Incarnation Center, so we bought our entrance ticket first, and then we visited the chapel and center.
The chapel is the final resting-place of General Montcalm. There is a plaque on the wall in his memory. It is a beautiful and peaceful place. There is an oratory to Marie, which was constructed in 1972. It has modern stained glass windows depicting events in her life and an impressive granite monument with her name and dates.
The Center tells the story of Marie Guyart's life both in France and in Canada. We were taken on an escorted tour through the different displays. It was a small museum, but our guide knew her subject well. They have a tiny little store selling postcards and religious items.
The museum itself deals more with life within the school and the convent. They have displays on the native Amerindians and also on the main founders Marie and Madam de Peltrie. The museum itself was built on the foundation of Madam de Peltrie's house. Be sure to look for the painting of Marie; it was done to replace the one lost in a fire that destroyed the convent. It was painted by Hughes Pommier, and if you take the ghost tour, you will be glad you paid special attention to it.
You will leave this complex with a new respect for these women, who gave up comfortable lives in France to travel for 88 days and arrive in a wild land of brutal climate and primitive accommodations. They taught reading, math, and household knowledge. Marie learned to speak Algonquin, Montagnais and Huron, in order to be able to teach the native girls about Catholicism, in addition to practical household skills.
Marie Guyart was a wife and mother, a mystic and a businesswoman. She has been beatified by the Catholic Church. Her cause for Sainthood has been revived in recent years.