Beloved monastery was place of beauty and healing, say devastated musicians, artists
As the flames leaping from the Monastère du Bon-Pasteur in downtown Montreal die down and the smoke abates, Montreal's music and art communities are mourning the loss of one of the city's most cherished cultural spaces.
The heritage building near the corner of Sherbrooke and de Bullion streets housed a seniors' residence, a housing co-operative, a daycare and condominiums.
It has also been home to one of Montreal's most revered classical music venues.
For over three decades, the monastery's 120-seat chapel has played host to hundreds of concerts a year, many by emerging classical musicians. The chapel is "at the heart" of Montreal's cultural heritage, said its artistic director, Simon Blanchet.
"It's a tragedy," he said.
"We're devastated because the Bon-Pasteur chapel is a really important place for music and concerts in Montreal. It's been a springboard for many artists," said Blanchet.
"It's traumatizing for everyone in the music scene. Everyone is in shock."
Although much of the building is in ruins right now, Blanchet is counting on the city to step in to salvage the chapel and protect its place in the city's heritage.
Prix d'Europe scrambles to find new venue
The 111th edition of the Prix d'Europe — a week-long competition for young musicians with a scholarship prize of $50,000 — was set to be held at the chapel in 10 days. Organizers are now scrambling to find a new venue.
Lise Boucher, the head of the Académie de musique du Québec, the non-profit group that sponsors that competition, describes the chapel as a "beautiful" space where musicians have always been "warmly received."
She said she hopes the competition will return there some day.
"For the whole cultural and musical scene of Montreal, it's a huge loss — even if they repair, rebuild or renovate," Boucher said. "It will surely be closed for several months."
For the past 30 years, the building has also been headquarters for Les Impatients, an organization that provides a space where people with mental health issues can engage in artistic expression.
"It's almost like a second home," said Frédéric Palardy, the organization's executive director. "They meet with people. They have a safe space. There's no judgment."
Palardy says the fire caused irreparable damage, consuming a large collection of artwork created by the 130 participants at Les Impatients.
"We lost everything," he said.
Sketch artist and sculptor Brooks Hughes, one of the people that has found refuge in art at Les Impatients, said he was last there yesterday morning.
Hughes, who has a history of depression which is now under control, has been creating works of art there for the past nine years. As a person with reduced mobility, he said otherwise, he doesn't get out much.
"It's very close to home," he said. "It's devastating for a whole lot of people who don't have anywhere to go."
"We're like a little community. We do artwork and we joke," he said.
"My greatest concern is for the people I consider as part of my family and where they're going to go. Will the group stay together? That has upset me the most," said Hughes.
Hughes is determined not to give into despair.
He said he and his fellow artists will continue to heal himself through the power of art, wherever the next studio opens its doors.