The nuns, known as the Sisters of Charity, became so paranoid of possible pilfering of their precious items that they kept people off their property with fences and a full-time security guard.
When they finally sold the property, the nuns negotiated a deal to allow themselves to move out over 21 years. The sisters delivered the west wing to Concordia in 2007 and the central section and chapel in 2011.
They will only give up the north and south wings in 2018 and 2022.
So the nuns are still there but much of their valuable treasure has already been moved to Old Montreal.
Back in the final days before the sale, few outsiders were welcomed in to poke their nose around.
In Feb. 2000 I repeatedly phoned to ask for a tour of the building for the purposes of writing an article. I was always turned down flat.
So one day I knocked as a regular citizen and I was given a long and generous tour of the facilities.
The nun giving me a tour of the building explained that the nuns - purportedly servants of the poor - had instead become custodians of posh items with which they had been entrusted over the decades.
They blamed local Protestants for the initial conspicuous opulence of the property. The 1871 building has so much fancy detail because, they claim that anglos pressured them to create an attractive property that would look good in the neighbourhood.
So the building greets visitors with an impressive door, behind which stands a neo-Roman chapel that was the jewel of the building.
|Sister Marguerite, devoted to the poor, would never have done this|
Higher up on the wall there was a colourful portrait of God atop a cloud.
And the centerpiece was the wooden tomb of Saint Marguerite d’Youville, the servant of the underprivileged and founder of the mission.
I've read about treasures in the basement, referred to as a sort of catacombs but I did not visit that.
The facility, built to house 800, had a mere 300 living there in 2000, a number which had dwindled to 250 a couple of years later. In 2000 the residents were aged 53 to 103.
There are surely even fewer living there now. Those living at the site spend their time praying, I was told.
Nuns have become expendable in recent years because many of their tasks have been taken away by government. They had a hospital on the site long ago but that is long gone. There's was also an old-age home there which closed in the 1970s. They also had a school which taught such things as knitting and sewing but it too was shut in the 1970s.The orphanage closed after 31 kids burnt to death on the fourth floor on Feb. 14, 1918. The sisters remain very keen on praying against fire. They also note that the blaze could have burnt the whole place down but somehow miraculously stayed in one small corner of the property, thanks to Sister Marguerite no doubt.
There was still a 12-room women's shelter on the site in 2000 but it's likely gone now too with the arrival of students.
The building was to be integrated into a huge skyscraper in 1975 and the nuns even sold the property to the Swiss for this purpose, but the development never happened and the sisters regained control of the property.
My favourite part of the property is what you see from the outside: the cross has been sitting at Guy and Dorch since 1752, that's 261 years.
It's painted red to represent the blood of a double murderer. In fact it's a bit brownish but it's supposed to be red.
That wooden cross sure has stood up over the years, although I suspect the lumber has been replaced a couple of times during those two-and-a-half centuries.
The monument was put up to remember a double-murder committed by one neighbour on another near the site. A guy named Belisle pretended that he was going away but in fact killed a robbed a couple of thrifty farmers that nearby named the Favres. He returned two weeks later but he had a suspicious amount of wealth, which gave him away and he was hanged, with the cross warning against misdeeds.
And like Belisle, the Grey Nuns gained too much wealth to be legit.