By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Built in 1725 this upscale house was the home of Pierre du Calvet, a Huguenot, born in Caussade, France in 1735, who immigrated to Canada in 1758. In January 1762, he settled in Montreal where he started a prosperous import-export business. He exported corn and peltries which he loaded aboard trading vessels bound for England and Spain. In return he imported various goods from Europe such as spirits and products for domestic use. He also became justice of the peace in Montreal.
In 1771, at 36 years of age, he married Marie-Louise Jusseaume. The new couple settled in the stone house at the corner of Saint-Paul and Bonsecours streets, across from the Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel. Calvet was a French Huguenot who was a supporter of the American Revolution. From 1780 to1783 he was imprisoned as a political prisoner for providing the American forces with money and supplies during their 188-day occupation of Montreal in 1775. In this very house, he met with Benjamin Franklin, an envoy sent abroad by George Washington, to gain the backing of the French-Canadian population to join the Americans during the War of Independence.
Constructed of locally quarried grey limestone the Pierre Du Calvet house is one of the most beautiful examples of the urban architecture developed in New France. Particularly striking are its massive three-foot thick stone walls with S-shaped anchors that are tied to inside beams to prevent the walls from bulging. The characteristic steep-sloped roof prevented the buildup of snow and the raised end walls served as fire breaks. This type of construction became mandatory after the great fire of 1721, which destroyed many wooden houses within the fortified walls, erected in 1717 to secure the settlement from a British invasion. Montreal received a royal order from France in 1721 banning wood construction – all buildings were to be constructed using stone, but this ban was never fully respected. From the four-hundred houses in 1731 only 44 per cent of them were built of stone. Also requested by the King’s prosecutor – in order to facilitate compulsory monthly chimney cleaning, a ladder had to be installed on the roof at each chimney.
Other owners of the house were Jacques Viger, the first mayor of Montreal, Gabriel Cotte, a wealthy fur trader and founder of the Beaver Club, and Pierre Delvecchio, who bought the building from Angelique Blondeau, widow of Gabriel Cotte. The Ogilvy family restored the building in the mid 1970s to be used for art exhibitions.
Today the old stone mansion, now owned by the Trottier family, is an elegant nine-room boutique style hotel and restaurant, decorated with antique furnishings and family heirlooms. The interior features heavy beamed ceilings and beautifully detailed woodwork. Over the years, the home has hosted many famous guests – among them: Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, and Sophia Loren.
It is also the oldest historical house that is open for public accommodations in Montreal.
The Pierre Calvet house is located at 405, rue Bonsecours, corner of Rue St. Paul in Old Montreal