The Château Ramezay
Constructed in 1705 as a private residence for the Governor of Montreal, the Château de Ramezay has withstood the previous three centuries in an excellent state of preservation. Today, it’s the oldest private museum in Quebec, offering visitors a glimpse into Montreal’s earliest days.
Born in Burgundy, Claude de Ramezay came to Canada as an army lieutenant when he was 26 years old. An ambitious man, he rose quickly through the ranks, and was named Governor of Montreal in 1704. A year later, he ordered the construction of a grand residence for himself and his family. The fledgling city didn’t have funds for such enterprises, so Ramezay paid for the construction himself… and wound up bankrupt, as a result.
The Château has changed hands a number of times in its long history. Ramezay’s family eventually sold it to a fur-trading company, and it also served as the Faculty of Medicine for the University of Montreal. At the end of the 19th century, the building was slated to be demolished, but it was saved by the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal, who converted it into a museum in 1894.
Perhaps the most curious occupants of the Château Ramezay were a contingent of American diplomats, who included Benjamin Franklin and Benedict Arnold. In 1775, Montreal was captured by the United States’ Continental Army, during a short-lived invasion of Canada. Before their assault on Quebec City, the US diplomats based themselves in this chateau, from where they organized efforts aimed at persuading the city’s French population to join their rebellion against the British.
Because Claude de Ramezay had the foresight to build his house in stone, it survived the fires which claimed almost all of Montreal’s earliest buildings. It’s a straight-forward home, a two-story structure divided neatly into about a dozen rooms. The museum which today occupies the house is nicely arranged, leading visitors on a tour through the history of the city, its relations with the First Nations, the fur trade, and strife between Montreal’s British and French residents.
Audio clips in each room introduce a “character” from the history of the chateau, including the stonemason who built the house, Ramezay himself, the servant who brushed his wigs, and Benjamin Franklin. On the bottom floor is the kitchen. Here, next to the fireplace, was a contraption I’d never seen before: an elevated running-wheel for a dog, which would turn the roasting spit for the pig.
A visit to the Château Ramezay can be rather quick; it’s neither as large nor as time-consuming as the nearby Pointe-à-Calliére Museum. Once you’re done inside the chateau, don’t forget to check out the restored French-style garden around the back.