Monklands (Villa Maria) – Then & Now Montreal
By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
In 1795, James Monk, Chief Justice of Lower Canada, bought a property from lawyer William Dummer Powell that originally belonged to the Décarie family. In 1803 he built a two-storey stone residence on it which he called “Monklands”. Built in the Neo-Palladian style, original elements, such as the prominent chimneys, the paneled main door with sidelights, the multi-paned windows, dormers and a projecting columned entrance portico with a balcony above, are still visible today.
James Monk willed the property to his niece, Elizabeth Ann Monk. In 1844, the family leased Monklands to the Crown as the official residence for the Governor General of Canada. Modifications were made to make it into a more imposing residence. Modified and enlarged by architect George Brown, a ballroom, dining room, and servants’ quarters were added to meet the needs of this prestigious office. The house became the official residence of three governors general. Sir Charles Metcalfe (Tenant from 1844 to 1845), who established Montreal as the capital of United Canada, Lord Charles Murray Cathcart (Tenant from 1845 to 1846), and Lord Elgin (Tenant from 1847 to 1849).
In 1849, following the burning of the Parliament Building, situated on what is now Youville Square, by a Loyalist mob, Montreal ceased to be the capital of Canada and “Monklands” lost its vice-regal residence function. Sébastien Compain and Angelo Gianelli, co-owners of Dillon Coffee House and Hôtel Cosmopolitain on Place d’Armes leased the property and transformed it into a hotel.
The estate remained property of James Monk’s heirs until 1854, when it was purchased by the Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys, who opened it as a convent and boarding school for girls, and called it Villa Maria. The first enrollment of forty-five students was a mixture of French and English students from Canada and the United States. Academic courses gave students a strong foundation in the arts and sciences. In the early 1900’s Villa Maria graduates were accepted into Canadian and American universities.
Building expansion was needed and in 1855, the wing of “Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes” was built, followed in 1870 by the wing of “Notre-Dame-des-Anges”, and in 1908 and 1930, the wings of “Saint-Michel” and “Sainte-Marguerite”. In 1885 and 1937, “Sainte-Cécile” wing (now the music wing) was built, and in 1984, they built the gymnasium.
Many distinguished guests visited the school including: King Edward VII (1860), Duke and Duchess of York (King George V and Queen Mary, 1901), many Governors General, in particular Viscount Monck (who came accompanied by Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George-Etienne Cartier, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee).
James Monk’s house still belongs to the congregation as a private secondary school for girls, and is one of the oldest remaining Palladian-style villas in Canada. Because of its excellent state of conservation and the historic importance of its various occupants, it was declared an historic monument in 1951 by the Canadian government.
Monklands (Villa Maria) is located at:4245, boulevard Décarie, Montréal, H4A 3K3
Source : Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Villa Maria, Fraser-Hickson Library, Parks Canada, Patrimoine Ville de Montreal