Rural Quebec is home to one of the most substantial groups of heritage religious buildings in the world. Institutional cores composed of historic churches, presbyteries and convents organise village centers and even small communities have imposing Catholic churches that tower over the countryside. The decline of organized religion in Quebec has left many of these heritage buildings neglected or vacant. Among the more respectful recycling of these structures are projects with community programs that provide continuity with the buildings’ original vocations.
Saint Jacques is a small farming community 90 kilometres north of Montreal. The convent of the Sisters of Ste. Anne is part of an historic institutional core that includes a stone church, a presbytery, a college, and a post office. The municipality purchased the convent from the sisters in 2002 and the building has been repurposed as a community center. The recycling initiative conserves the convent’s high ceilings, detailed wood work and plaster finishes and provides space for public meetings and community activities.
Many original features of the building exterior had been lost over time. Structural repairs and extensive artisanal tin smith work were required to restore the convent’s central dome. The study of historic photographs led to the reconstitution of such elements as a ceremonial stair, the entry balcony, and a crucifix installed on the dome. The restoration of such historic religious elements within the context of a secular program gives new meaning to traditional symbols and assures cultural continuity.