I went expecting a Canadian version of a Colonial Williamsburg building and instead got a museum that was basically housed in a Colonial Williamsburg building (well it looked that way only from the outside). When I first heard about the Château Ramezay I thought it might be neat to visit this 308 year old historic residence that is located smack in the middle of Vieux Montreal. Looking back, it’s an attraction I could have just as easily skipped.
My Fodor’s guidebook’s description of it sounded rather enchanting, “Claude de Ramezay, the city’s 11th governor was probably daydreaming of home when he built his Montreal residence. Its thick stone walls, dormer windows, and steeply pitched roof make it look like a little bit of 18th-century Normandy dropped into the middle of North America.” The outside of the chateau is truly stunning and while the hustle and bustle of Montreal is all around, the towering City Hall just across the street, if one were to close his eyes he could easily imagine apple orchards off in the distance, just like in Normandy. The house served as the residence for numerous governors although the building was converted into a historical museum and portrait gallery in 1894 after it was purchased by the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal. Alterations to the chateau took place in 1895 so yes, I had no chance in ever having come close to having seen the chateau as it once was unless time travel becomes a possibility.
Although my guidebook went on to say that “most of the chateau’s exhibits are a little staid”,” I didn’t let that deter me in wanting to visit. I like history and “staidness” is fine with me. However, I should have paid heed to those words. The outside of the chateau retains its 18th century appearance (minus a tower which was a 19th century addition); however, the inside has been completely redone. A few rooms in the basement (or lower level if you will) are the only ones that appeared to retain their historical origins.
I love touring historical houses and was excited to visit one with such a gloried history including when it served as the Canadian headquarters of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. (Ben Franklin himself stayed there when he headed north to Canada to elicit support for the American cause.) While its museum collection was highly impressive (it’s estimated at 30,000 materials including manuscripts, printed works, works of art, furniture, and more) and definitely provided an insightful look into the history of the city starting from its early origins as center for the fur trade in New France to present day. One of the more unique holdings is a bright-red automobile the De Dion-Bouton Company produced at the turn of the 20th century for the city’s first motorist.
I don’t want to naysay visiting the Chateau but just go knowing that it’s not a historical house you are touring but rather one with thousands and thousands of objects so if you’re prone to being easily bored in such a setting or have small children with you who would be bored from the start, skip it. There’s so much to see in Vieux Montreal, especially when just walking its streets, so save your $10 Canadian and use it on poutine instead.
More in this series!
Montreal, Canada-a sneak peek
Montreal’s Atwater Market
Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica
Vieux Montreal-a photo essay
Hotel Nelligan-a review
Montreal’s Mount Royal Park
Osteria Venti-restaurant review
Quebec-not your typical Canadian experience
Montreal trip tips