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)
Founded 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.
In 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 http://www.morrin.org/en/.
Did you know that Tours Voir Québec offers a 2½-hour Bury Your Dead walking tour?
Have you taken the tour?