Continuity and Innovation
The primary objective of Institut Canadien de Québec, founded in 1848, was to develop French Canadian culture and literature. In fact, its reading room was the city’s first public library. Today the Institute is mandated to manage the city’s network of public libraries. Its main project is Maison de la littérature, an innovative focal point for literary life in Québec.
A founding cultural player
French Canadian culture hit its stride in the mid-19th century. A system of French institutions of higher learning was established, and organizations such as Institut Canadien de Québec spurred development of a culture that the French-speaking majority could call its own. The Institute hosted lectures and had a private library with a reading room. Prompted by Mayor Simon-Napoléon Parent, the city joined forces with the Institute in 1897 to create Québec’s first public library, housed in the new town hall.
A broader mission
In 1944, with financial support from the city and a generous donor, the Institute moved into the old Wesley Church, which had been turned into a concert and lecture hall. The public library was located in the basement. The Institute became a lively cultural centre that put on shows and offered training in the arts. In the same period, branches of the library opened in other parts of town.
Wesley Church, constructed in 1848 for the Methodist community, was the first place of worship in Québec in the Neo-Gothic manner. Working with a shoestring budget, the architect chose an original style common in England’s working-class cities, characterized by the lack of bell tower. The gable walls were raised higher to fill the aesthetic gap.
Religious services at the church ended in 1931 with the founding of the United Church of Canada—the parishioners chose to attend Chalmers-Wesley Church on rue Sainte-Ursule from then on.
Institut Canadien and Maison de la littérature
In 2000 a publicly commissioned work of art by Luc Archambault entitled Nous sommes un peuple was installed at Institut-Canadien—the organization devoted to promulgating Québec culture—to mark the organization’s 150th anniversary. It expresses the pride of Quebecers as a people.
Similarly, in 2014 Maison de la littérature opened at this location. The goal of this centre unlike any other in Canada is to showcase Québec’s literary heritage and promote all forms of current literary creation.
The innovatively remodeled building continues to house the public library but also features a reading room, an art workshop, writers’ rooms, a comic strip and illustration studio, and offices for literary organizations. There is also a permanent exhibition on Québec literature and a literary bistro equipped with a stage for book launches, readings, gatherings for authors, and symposia. The brand new wing is reserved for writers in residence.