The Residence of the First French Canadian Historian
Maison François-Xavier-Garneau is typical of mid-19th century bourgeois homes in Québec. Its name refers to its most famous occupant, a self-taught intellectual to whom we owe the first book on the history of Canada. The interior of this home was completely and painstakingly restored thanks to financial support from a descendant of the famous historian.
A famous tenant
On the night of February 2, 1866, historian François-Xavier Garneau suffered a fatal epileptic seizure. Barely 56 years old, Garneau had sealed his reputation among Québec’s intellectual elite despite his lack of formal training and his spotty education. In response to the Durham Report of 1839, which described French Canadians as “a people with no literature and no history,” a young Garneau wrote the first complete history of French Canada, a work that earned him the title of “national historian.”
A typical Latin Quarter home
At the time of his death, François-Xavier Garneau had been living at this address for two years. The newly built house had been designed for a successful Québec merchant by famous architect Joseph-Ferdinand Peachy (whose surname people switched to the more French-sounding “Piché”). Here, Peachy, a former student of Charles Baillargé, borrowed the Neoclassical style highly popular with the era’s merchant class.
Maison François-Xavier-Garneau is a typical Latin Quarter house with its gabled roof and fire wall. The symmetry of the openings on the façade, the discreet ornamentation, and the stone siding over brick—features of Neoclassical architecture—bespeak nobility.
The interior of the residence was designed in the same style. The front door opens on a central vestibule dominated by a grand stairway that adds to the sumptuous look much prized by the upper middle class. Radiating from the vestibule are rooms with mantlepieces and door and window frames decorated in the style of Antiquity.
A bourgeois interior
Thanks to the great care taken by the successive owners to preserve it in its original form, Maison Garneau has changed very little. The furnishings and decor you see now reflect the prevailing lifestyle of the moneyed classes in François-Xavier Garneau’s time.
On the ground floor and the first floor, the four carefully decorated and appointed rooms designed for entertaining—the dining room, lounge, library, and ladies salon—are done up in the Victorian manner. The woodwork, wallpaper, mirrors, chandeliers, and fireplaces attest to the occupants’ high social rank. The upper floor contains the bedrooms, which are plainer.
Maison Garneau was equipped with all the modern amenities that comfort demanded—gas lighting, indoor washrooms, and running water on the top floor—all of which distinguished the lifestyle of the more fortunate from that of the people on a lower rung of the social ladder. The basement housed the servants’ quarters and the kitchen. A dumbwaiter made meal serving easier, and a bell system enabled the masters to ring for their staff.
Another feature of the bourgeois home was the widow’s walk, where ladies could take a rooftop stroll protected from unwanted gazes.
Restoration at its best
Maison Garneau has belonged to Louis Garneau Sports since 1998. The founding chairman of the sportswear company is a descendant of François-Xavier Garneau. The company took the former owner’s lead and continued the previous restoration work. Today Maison Garneau is open to visitors by appointment and to the public on special occasions.