Montreal – Church of La Visitation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie

1847 Boul. Gouin Est

While one could easily believe that the oldest church in Montreal is in Old Montreal, it was surprising to learn that, in fact, it is rather to the north of the island, backing onto the Rivière-des- Prairies at Sault-au-Récollet where the oldest church in Montreal is located.

It is on these lands, right next to the church, that legendary explorers landed, including Jacques Cartier in 1535 and Samuel de Champlain in 1615. It is also here that the first mass was celebrated with Samuel de Champlain on June 24, 1615.

The current church is not the first place of religious gathering, since a chapel was located in Fort Lorette a few steps from the church. The remains of the building and the chapel and the fort are almost erased. The fort was the place of evangelization for Native Americans until it was moved to Oka in 1721.

The chapel remained active for some time after 1721, but a bigger space was recommended. In 1749, work began and the new and larger church welcomed its parishioners in 1751, making it not only the oldest and only church on the island of Montreal but also the only one dating from the period of the French Regime.

It was enlarged a few times, in 1850 and 1870. The field stone facade still has a very modern look and is stamped 1850, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the church.

Next to the church is the presbytery, the place of residence of the priests. It was built in 1883, as well as the house with skylights, which makes it possible to organize parish activities.

On the site, classified as historical heritage, there are two sculptures: one of Ahuntsic and the other of Nicolas Viel. Information about them differs. One thing is certain, they both perished on June 25, 1625, in the rapid waters of the river. The cause of the overturn of their canoe is often associated with a voluntary act by the Hurons, but this accusation is strong and the proof insufficient for many.

While some believed Ahuntsic was a Frenchified Huron converted to serve the community of Récollet missionaries, it seems that he would rather be know as a young Frenchman who came from Europe to support the church and who approached the way of life of the Hurons who nicknamed him Ahuntsic (Auhaitsique) which means: small and wriggling. It is quite special that the sculpture in front of the church represents him in the clothes of Native Americans.

This visit can easily be combined with the Parc de l’Ile de la Visitation.

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