A Tradition of Caring for the Poor
The Augustinian Sisters of Hôpital général de Québec looked after the poor, sick, and aged for more than 300 years. They cared for wounded soldiers and provided assistance to residents in need. Today, they have retired to their convent, and their hospital has become a non-religious home care centre for seniors in need of assistance. From a heritage perspective, this great complex of former hospital and convent buildings contains some real treasures.
A unique heritage
Hôpital général and the Augustinian Convent form a large architectural complex composed of some twenty wings built between the 17th and 20th centuries. The buildings dating back to the French Regime are among the oldest in Québec and, even more importantly, are the only ones that were spared the ravages of war and fire.
A hospital for the poor
In 1692 Mgr. de Saint-Vallier, the second bishop of the diocese of Québec, purchased the property from the Recollects order of monks to found an institution modelled on the general hospitals of France. He wished to find a solution to the pauperism that was rampant in Québec at the time. The general hospital would be a hospice for the infirm, the poor, and the destitute aged.
Four Augustinians from Hôtel-Dieu were appointed to run the new establishment. A few years later, the Augustinians of Hôpital général became independent so they could recruit their own new members.
Expanding to meet needs
The hospice was set up in the old monastery of the Recollects, who had moved to the Upper Town. The first unassuming stone building soon proved to be too cramped, and Mgr. de Saint-Vallier had four additions built (the prelate, the hospital, the apothecary, and the bakery) between 1710 and 1715.
At the same time, a new windmill made it possible for the Augustinians to begin producing their own flour. To support their charitable endeavours, they earned extra money by milling the grain from the royal granary. The mill was rebuilt in stone in 1731. It stands to this day, right nearby on boulevard Langelier.
From court to hospice
In 1713 Mgr. de Saint-Vallier returned to Québec after a long absence. Wishing to work more closely with the poor and dedicate more of his efforts to the general hospital, he asked the Augustinians to set up a small apartment for him in the prelate. From then on, the man who had been chaplain to King Louis XIV and knew life at court spent his days with the least fortunate. Until his death in 1727 he lived continuously in this apartment, which has been fully preserved.
Pulling together in hard times
When the British laid siege to Québec in 1759, the general hospital located safely away from the battlefields served as a place of refuge for civilians fleeing the bombardments. The Augustinians provided the same care to all: French, British, and First Nations combatants alike. Hôpital général would later provide asylum to the residents of Lower Town who lost their homes in the inferno that ravaged the city in the mid-19th century.
A historical treasure worth protecting
The site’s invaluable treasures include the Recollects building, which was erected between 1680 and 1684 and still features some of its original decor. The refectory where the Augustinians had all their meals also still has its original woodwork. The furniture and liturgical vestments used by Mgr. de Saint-Vallier have been so carefully preserved that Pope John Paul II was able to sit in the bishop’s chair when he visited Québec City in 1984.
The oldest building is the Notre-Dame-des-Anges Church built by the Recollects in 1671–1673. It has undergone many changes since, but has retained many features dating back to the French Regime, such as a carved altarpiece and a painting created around 1670 and attributed to Recollect Claude François (a.k.a. Frère Luc); the carved, gilded high altar created by Noël Levasseur in the 1720s; and the side chapel where Mgr. de Saint-Vallier was interred in 1727.
Explore every part of North America’s oldest religious complex. Once you’ve toured the chapel and the choir, visit the original wing (the Recollects area) with its grand staircase. Finish in the Frontenac wing, where the beautiful dining hall harks back to the time when this was the residence of the Governor of New France.
Early 18th century. Collection of the Augustinian Sisters of the Québec General Hospital Monastery.
Mid-18th century. This kit may have been used during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. Collection of the Augustinian Sisters of the Québec General Hospital Monastery.