Morrin Centre, Quebec / The Literary and Historical Society

“Inspector Langlois told me a body has been found in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society.” Gamache watched her as he spoke. “It wasn’t a natural death.” (Bury Your Dead, Chapter 3)

The Literary and Historical SocietyFounded in 1824 and housed in Morrin College (now the Morrin Centre) since 1868, The Literary and Historical Society of Quebec was Canada’s first scholarly order. Their aims are diverse but the preservation of Canadian history and the pursuit of knowledge are writ foremost in their charter.

That said there are plenty of bodies buried in their basement. . . .

The first structure to stand where The Literary and Historical Society now resides was part of Fort Quebec. Erected in 1712, the stronghold, known as the Royal Redoubt, housed soldiers and prisoners during the height of the Colonial Wars. Due to malnutrition and the prevalence of disease, many of these prisoners perished before the fortress was finally razed in 1808.

The Literary and Historical Society JailIn 1812, Quebec’s first prison or the “common gaol” opened its gates at this location. Severely overcrowded and exceptionally filthy even for the time, the jail saw no running water until the 1850s. It housed both men and women and over a dozen of those men were hanged, their bodies strung out over the main entrance. Closed in 1867, remains of the gaol can still be seen in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society. Among the remnants is this graffiti (pictured here) from one Christopher Paul, an English sailor who was imprisoned in 1850.

In 1868, Morrin College, Quebec City’s principle English language institution welcomed its first class of students who sought higher education in Divinity, Law, and the Arts. While persistently underfunded and suffering from low enrollment, the college was very progressive for its time and admitted female B.A. candidates. One notable graduate was Dr. Margaret Ethel Fraser who went on to run the American Women’s Hospital Services in France during World War One.

The college shuttered its doors in 1902 and eventually became what the Morrin Centre is today. The Centre, by way of oversight from the Literary and Historical Society, now hosts concert performances, corporate events, and weddings. But, the real highlight of this Quebec City treasure is the English-Language Library which houses over 20,000 volumes of rare tomes. The Centre itself urges you to visit this hallowed hall and tell them what the room reminds you of—“Scenes from Louise Penny’s Bury Your Dead? Disney’s Beauty and the Beast? The magical library in the Harry Potter series?”

To plan your visit, go to

Did you know that Tours Voir Québec offers a 2½-hour Bury Your Dead walking tour?

Have you taken the tour?

Discussion on “Morrin Centre, Quebec / The Literary and Historical Society

  1. My favorite site from the books. I could imagine myself in this marvelous building. A visit to Quebec tops my bucket list and a visit to the Literary and Historical Society is a must see. When reading BYD for the first time, I went to the L&HS website and read all I could find on the history of the building and the Society. A precious gem in a perfect setting…Old Quebec City.

  2. Susan Mekinda says:

    After walking around the city, and finally finding the Center, we were unable to tour because it was closed – such a disappointment! But an excuse to visit again.
    We loved the city.

  3. Julie says:

    The Lit and His is just what I imagined it to be, except not quite as shabby-chic as I thought, hahaha. It is beautiful, and I can imagine Gamache and Henri sitting and reading, contemplating that the night is, indeed, a strawberry!

  4. Connie Scharf says:

    Being a lover of books and in a family of lovers of history, we would love to visit here someday. I’m always amazed that European and Canadian places welcome dogs. When we were in Germany visiting our daughter, she explained that it’s because they are so well trained. Anyway, we will visit–with or without dogs, and look to see if Gamache and Henri are there!:)

  5. Amy says:

    My husbands and I were fortunate enough to visit Quebec City this past September. It was amazing! We did a 2 hour walking tour with Tours Voir Quebec, but not the BYD tour because they are only offered on certain days; however I mentioned that I was a Louise Penny fan and our tour guide Richard happily pointed out BYD tidbits! We went to the Lit and His and I struck up a conversation with a kind librarian ; she even showed me a trap door in their back office! I have a picture of the library and the couch Armand occupied. So many great sites to see from the book! We ( I should say I- my husband was walked out at this point!) walked all around the Plains of Abraham; went to Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. St Andrew’s was under construction so we could not go in. Hit some of the restaurants mentioned in BYD. Everyone was so pleasant and kind, especially to this non French speaking tourist! I plan on going back for Winter Carnival in Feb with a childhood friend. If any of you get a chance to go, jump at it! The history is amazing! I would highly recommend the tour!

    • Kathy King says:

      My husband and I spent quite a bit of time in Quebec in the past. The company we worked for had several metal producing plants in Chicoutimi and Beauharnois. So we had the opportunity to explore a lot of the Quebec area. Love it. And the Gamache books take us back to so many memories of the places we visited. Mont Tremblont is my husband’s favorite skiing spot. We are no longer traveling but we travel through the series of books. I’m reading number 17 and will cry when I no longer have any to read. Already pre-ordered the newest one.

  6. Paul Hochman says:

    Sounds like a terrific trip, Amy!

  7. Julie says:

    I’m rereading Bury Your Dead – just started it, and have just had the first description of the Lit and His in the novel – and probably the most fulsome. After this, the place becomes “a familiar place” that doesn’t require much description. I love Louise’s description of the “oddly small” General Wolfe, looking down on the readers from his aerie. I’d quite forgotten him, and was surprised to see him in the pictures.

    Looking at the photos on the website, we can see that the people from the Lit and His are more than a bit more youthful and energetic than those in the book – no doubt, this is why the fictional version is a little more shabby…

  8. Deniz says:

    I wish I’d known about this place last time we were in Quebec City. Love the idea of a Bury Your Dead walking tour!

  9. Marian Stanley says:

    Visited this wonderful place because of your book! Thanks for giving me this unique experience.

  10. Donna Estevez says:

    I have taken the tour and could write on for pages about how wonderful Tours Voir Québec is, my awesome guide Marie, the city and the Morrin Centre. I would go back in a minute and I would take the tour again, because there is just so much to absorb. I was there in early March, very very cold, still snow covered and it was the perfect time for me to really get the feel of the novel and what winter can be like (Florida girl that I am)
    Before the tour, I explored the city on my own, but it came alive with Marie.
    I was able to go to the Morrin Centre twice, once as part of a social for a meeting my husband was attending and then again with the tour. I could sit there for hours, just soaking it all in. It made my librarian soul so happy to see that it is a “working” library as well as an archival resource for historical information. Anyone is welcome to use the resources and for a small membership fee, you may borrow books. The collection is quite good and I especially liked the children’s section. (little plug there)
    The reason I joined my husband for this meeting was solely because of “Bury Your Dead” and it was an experience of a lifetime. Thanks to everyone, Ms. Penny for her stories, Marie from Tours Voir Québec, the city and its people. I recommend it with great joy.

  11. Mary Cochrane says:

    I was on book tour in 2013 and had Quebec City tour also. The top tour guide was Jocelyne . We are returning on August 13 2019. Another great Girls trip I am a big Gamache fan plus love Quebec City and Eastern Township Waiting to got new book on August 26

  12. Jan says:

    I’m just now reading the Gamache series. Reading book 6 now where Gamache is in Quebec visiting Emile after the accident. I’ve looked up a lot of the places that have been mentioned in the book and now Quebec is at the top of my bucket list.

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