Hotels Celebrating Past and Future in Quebec City

Step inside Le Monastère des Augustines and the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations where centuries-old history meets modern convenience
 

Le Monastère des Augustines

Le Monastère des Augustines

 

How do you preserve the past while still managing to change with the times? In Quebec City, a place most famous for its centuries-old fortifications and pretty-as-a-picture downtown core, it’s a tricky question. Accommodating the needs and ideals of a modern population while honouring a place’s rich history isn’t easy. But Le Monastère des Augustines, an almost 400-year-old convent-turned-wellness-focused boutique hotel, is doing just that.

Augustinian nuns have been part of the fabric of Quebec City since 1639, when three sisters journeyed there from France to establish what became North America’s first hospital north of Mexico (L’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec), which the order went on to administer for well over three centuries.

Cloistered behind convent walls and caring for countless patients, the sisters were an integral part of the city’s development. But, in recent years, they had to face the harsh reality of their situation: no new postulants and an aging population of member nuns whose ability to maintain their historic convent, adjacent to the hospital, was decreasing year by year. In response, they were inspired to reinvent their home, creating a space where guests from all cultural and religious backgrounds could get up close and personal with the Augustinians’ healing heritage, while taking care of their own well-being, too.

 

A relaxing public space at Le Monastère des Augustines, photo by Virginie Gosselin

 

Opened in 2015 and run by a non-profit with a social mission, the hotel contains 65 rooms divided into two types: “contemporary,” with private bath and a queen, king or two single beds; and “authentic,” which are converted former nuns’ cells with one or two single beds and shared bathrooms down the hall. (The convent’s remaining nuns have taken up residence in a newer wing of the building, closed to hotel guests—though you may run into the sisters in the halls as they go about their business.)

 

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A converted former nun’s cell at Le Monastère des Augustines

 

Decor at Le Monastère des Augustines is minimalist, designed to soothe rather than stimulate; simple white interiors are punctuated with wood or stone structural elements and locally crafted accessories like colourful patchwork blankets. Wherever possible, furniture, art and relics from the sisters’ collections are in use and on display, giving guests an immediate connection with the past. Along hallways, for instance, you’ll find religious portraits by famed Quebec artist Antoine Plamondon, while ancient wooden rocking chairs are available for use in function rooms.

 

Apothecary on display at Le Monastère des Augustines, photo by Virginie Gosselin

Apothecary on display at Le Monastère des Augustines, photo by Virginie Gosselin

 

Located within the boundaries of Old Quebec, the Monastère is perfectly situated as a jumping-off point to see the rest of the city. But its position behind the convent’s own stone walls makes it a retreat you don’t need to (and might not even want to) leave. A day might begin with an early morning breathing and movement class, followed by a nourishing breakfast taken in silence with other hotel guests, then a morning reflexology treatment or holistic health consultation. After lunch (you’re allowed to talk this time, and you might encounter staff from the adjoining Hôtel-Dieu de Québec hospital who are dropping in for the healthful cuisine), you can take a tour of the on-site museum, where artifacts chronicling nearly 400 years of Canadian health care are displayed across several main-floor rooms and hallways. Then work up an appetite with a qi gong, yoga or Pilates class before dinner, which, bien sûr, can be accompanied by a glass of some of the city’s best craft beer.

 

Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations

 

Many parallels can be seen between Le Monastère des Augustines and the 55-room Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations in Wendake, a First Nations community on the outskirts of Quebec City. Since opening in 2008, the latter has served as a focal point for Wendake’s tourism industry, offering guests the chance to explore the history of the Huron-Wendat nation while getting to know its modern-day culture. Decor features indigenous motifs, while the on-site Restaurant La Traite, situated in a ground-floor space overlooking the Akiawenrahk (Saint-Charles) River, serves up refined dishes that include local and foraged ingredients such as venison, sea buckthorn berries and birch syrup.

 

The lobby at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, photo by Virginie Gosselin

The lobby at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, photo by Virginie Gosselin

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Smoked salmon and herring dish, photo by Virginie Gosselin

Caribou decor at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, photo by Virginie Gosselin

 

Visitors can tour the property’s Musée Huron-Wendat for exhibits that give an overview of Huron-Wendat heritage, including their skills in making traditional snowshoes and canoes. Come evening, guests can attend storytelling sessions or even sleepovers in the wooden longhouse—a short walk away from the main building—to hear not just traditional legends, but the morals behind them, too. (In a nod to the benefits of modern technology, however, the longhouse fire is heated by natural gas.)

 

A longhouse at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, photo by Virginie Gosselin

A longhouse at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, photo by Virginie Gosselin

 

Offsite, walking trails around Wendake lead travellers from historic sites to handicraft shops and the picturesque Kabir Kouba waterfall. The hotel can also arrange seasonal activities like snowshoeing, fishing or canoeing, or attendance at the Wendake Pow Wow, held annually on the last weekend of June.

Museum guide Dominic Ste-Marie finds huge value in sharing his people’s traditions and stories with visitors from all cultures—and in discovering them for himself. But it’s the economic and social opportunities afforded by the Hôtel-Musée that he sees as most important; the hotel and museum complex are not just a source of income, but a source of pride for the community, too. “We’re not looking to the past,” he says when describing the impact of the tourism industry on his nation. “We’re looking to the future.”

 

Read more about immersive travel experiences in Quebec City that celebrate the city’s history.

 

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