The Chateau De Ramezay

A few yards from the busy municipal centre of the city of Montreal,

behind an antique iron railing, is a quaint, old building known as the

Chateau de Ramezay. Its history is contemporary with that of the city

for the last two centuries, and so identified with past stirring events

that it has been saved from the vandalism of modern improvement, and is

to be preserved as a relic of the old Regime in New France. It is a

long one-storied structure, originally red-tiled, with graceful, sloping

roof, double rows of peaked, dormer windows, huge chimneys and the

unpolished architecture of the period.

Among the many historical buildings of America, none have been the scene

of more thrilling events, a long line of interesting associations being

connected with the now quiet old Chateau, looking in its peaceful old

age as out of keeping with its modern surroundings as would an ancient

vellum missal, mellowed for centuries in a monkish cell, appear among

some of the ephemeral literature of to-day.

A brilliant line of viceroys have here held rule, and within its walls

things momentous in the country's annals have been enacted. During its

checkered experience no less than three distinct Regimes have followed

each other, French, British and American. In an old document still to be

found among the archives of the Seminary of St. Sulpice, it is recorded

that the land on which it stands was ceded to the Governor of Montreal

in the year 1660, just eighteen years after Maisonneuve, its founder,

planted the silken Fleur-de-Lys of France on the shores of the savage

Redman, and one hundred years before the tri-cross of England floated

for the first time from the ramparts.

Somewhere about the year 1700 a portion of this land was acquired by

Claude de Ramezay, Sieur de la Gesse, Bois Fleurent and Monnoir, in

France, and Governor of Three Rivers, and this house built.

De Ramezay was of an old Franco-Scottish family, being descended by

Thimothy, his father, from one Sir John Ramsay, a Scotchman, who, with

others of his compatriots, went over to France in the 16th century. He

may have joined an army raised for the French wars, or may have formed

part of a bridal train similar to the gay retinue of the fair Princess

Mary, who went from the dark fells and misty lochs of the land of the

Royal Stuarts to be the loveliest queen who ever sat on the throne of

la belle France. De Ramezay was the father of thirteen children, by

his wife, Mademoiselle Denys de la Ronde, a sister of Mesdames Thomas

Tarieu de La Naudiere de La Perade, d'Ailleboust d'Argenteuil, Chartier

de Lotbiniere and Aubert de la Chenage, the same family out of whom came

the celebrated de Jumonville, so well known in connection with the

unfortunate circumstances of Fort Necessity. The original of the

marriage contract is still preserved in the records of the Montreal

Court House; with its long list of autographs of Governor, Intendant,

and high officials, civil and military, scions of the nobility of the

country, appended thereto. The annals of the family tell us that some of

them died in infancy, several met violent and untimely deaths, two of

the sisters took conventual vows in the cloisters of Quebec, two

married, having descendants now living in France and Canada, and two

remained unmarried.

De Ramezay came over as a captain in the army with the Viceroy de Tracy,

and was remarkable for his highly refined education, having been a pupil

of the celebrated Fenelon, who was said to have been the pattern of

virtue in the midst of a corrupt court, and who was entrusted by Louis

the Fourteenth with the education of his grandsons, the Dukes of

Burgundy, Anjou and Berri. Had the first named, who was heir-presumptive

to the throne, lived to practice the princely virtues, the seeds of

which his preceptor had sown in his heart, some of the most bloody pages

in French history might never have been written.

De Ramezay, for many years being Governor of Montreal, held official

court in the Council chamber to the right of the entrance hall of the

Chateau, which is now a museum of rare and valuable relics of Canada's


The Salon was the scene of many a gay rout, as Madame de Ramezay,

imitating the brilliant social and political life as it was in France in

the time of Le Grand Monarque, transplanted to the wilds of America

some reflection of court ceremonial and display as they culminated in

that long and brilliant reign. From the dormer windows above, high-bred

French ladies looked at the sun rising over the forest-clothed shores of

the river, on which now stands the architectural grandeur of the modern

city. How strange to the swarthy-faced dwellers in the wigwam must the

old-time gaieties have appeared, as the lights from the silver

candelabres shone far out in the night, when the old Chateau was en

fete and aglow with music, dancing and laughter.

What a contrast to the burden-bearing squaws were the dainty French

women in stiff brocade and jewels, high heels, paint, patches and

tresses a la Pompadour, tripping through the stately measures of the

minuet to the sound of lute or harpsichord!

"O, fair young land of La Nouvelle France,

With thy halo of olden time romance,

Back like a half-forgotten dream

Come the bygone days of the old Regime."

The servants and retainers, imitating their lords, held high revel in

the vaulted kitchens; while dishes and confections, savoury and

delicious, came from the curious fireplace and ovens recently discovered

in the vaults. These ancient kitchen offices, built to resist a siege,

are exceedingly interesting in the light of our culinary arrangements of

to-day. They were so constructed that if the buildings above, with their

massive masonry, were destroyed, they would afford safe and comfortable

refuge. The roof is arched, and, like the walls, is several feet thick,

of solid stone, lighted by heavily barred windows, with strong iron

shutters. In clearing out the walled-up and long-forgotten ovens, there

were found bits of broken crockery, pipe-stems and the ashes of fires,

gone out many, many long years ago. As indicated by an early map of the

city, the position of the original well was located; in which, when it

is cleaned out, it is intended to hang an old oaken bucket and drinking

cups as nearly as possible as they originally were.

Some time after the death of de Ramezay, which occurred in the city of

Quebec in 1724, these noble halls fell into the possession of the

fur-traders of Canada, and many a time these underground cellars were

stored with the rich skins of the mink, silver fox, marten, sable and

ermine for the markets of Europe and for royalty itself. They were

brought in by the hunters and trappers over the boundless domains of the

fur companies, and by the Indian tribes friendly to the peltrie trade.

As these hardy, bronzed men sat around the hearth, while the juicy

haunch of venison roasted on the spit by the blazing logs, relating

blood-curdling tales and hairbreadth escapes, they were a necessary

phase of times long passed away, but which will always have a

picturesqueness especially their own.

Instead of the white man's influencing the savage towards civilized

customs, it was often found, as one writer has said, that hundreds of

white men were barbarized on this continent for each single savage that

was civilized. Many of the former identified themselves by marriage and

mode of life with the Indians, developed their traits of hardihood and

acquired their knowledge of woodcraft and skill in navigating the

streams. In pursuit of the fur-bearing animals in their native haunts,

they shot the raging rapids, ventured out upon the broad expanse of the

treacherous lakes, and endured without complaint the severity of winter

and the exposure of forest life in summer.

Their ranks were continually increased by those who were impatient of

the slow method of obtaining a livelihood from the tillage of the soil,

when the husbandman was frequently driven from the plough by the sudden

attack of Indian foes, or interrupted in his hasty and anxious

harvesting by their war-whoop, or perhaps was compelled to leave his

farm to take up arms, if the occasion arose, so that in many instances

the homesteads were left to the old men, women and children. The

excitement of the chase and the wild freedom of the plains had a

fascination that many could not resist, so much so that the king had to

promulgate an edict, to stop, under heavy penalties, this roving life of

his Canadian subjects, as their nomadic tendencies interfered with the

successful settlement of the colony.

To the lover of the quaint architecture of other centuries, there is an

indescribable charm in these time-worn walls, which are still as

substantial as if the snows and rains of two centuries had not beaten

against them. The interior is equally interesting in this regard, as the

walls dividing the chambers and corridors, though covered with modern

plaster and stucco, are found to consist of several feet of solid stone

masonry, while the ornamental ceiling covers beams of timber, twenty

inches by eighteen, which is strong, well jointed and placed as close as

flooring. Above this is heavy stone work over twelve inches thick, so

that the sloping roof was the only part pregnable in an assault with the

munitions of war then in use. Upon removing a portion of the modern

wainscotting in the main reception room, there was discovered an ancient

fireplace, made of roughly hewn blocks of granite. A crescent-shaped

portion of the hearthstone is capable of removal, for what purpose it is

not known. With old andirons and huge logs, it looks to-day exactly as

it must have done when Montgomery and his suite, in revolutionary

uniform, received delegations in this chamber, and when Brigadier

General Wooster, who succeeded him, wrote and sent despatches by courier

from the French Chateau to the Colonial mansion at Mount Vernon.

The rooms of state in those days were, it is said, all in what is at

present the back of the house, the rear of the building being the front,

facing the river, down to which ran the gardens.

It may be that the moonlight cast on these panes the shadow of the noble

Sir Jeffrey Amherst, in his red coat, as looking out over the river he

may have seen the smoke of the fire lighted by de Levis, where he burnt

his colours rather than let them fall into the hands of the English.

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