Cultural hub for English-speaking Quebecers celebrates 200 years

Click to play video: 'Quebec community centre celebrates its role in Canadian history'
Quebec community centre celebrates its role in Canadian history
WATCH: A community centre in Quebec City is celebrating its role in Canadian history. The Literary and Historical Society of Quebec has long acted as a hub for Quebec's English-speaking community. As Franca Mignacca reports, this year marks its 200th anniversary – Mar 9, 2024

When Quebec author Louisa Blair returned to the province some 30 years ago, she couldn’t help but marvel at the book-lined walls and long wooden banisters of the Morrin Centre.

Located at the heart of Quebec City’s heritage district, the centre has served many purposes over the years, but has long acted as a cultural hub for the city’s English-speaking community.

¨It was very kind of a secretive place in a way because at that time anglophones were pretending they didn’t exist in Quebec so not many people knew about it and it was a real little gem,” said Blair.

The Morrin Centre is also home to Canada’s oldest learned society — the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (LHSQ) — which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.

Founded in 1824, the LHSQ wasn’t always located at the centre, but after two fires and a few setbacks, it moved its operations to what was then known as the Morrin College in 1868.

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“In many ways [the LSHQ members] were an early scientific institution and they were an early publisher and they were an early collector of Canadian history,” said Blair, author of The Anglos: the hidden face of Quebec City.

It was an important chapter in the history of Canada, the intellectual history and it’s been forgotten because it’s Quebec and people think of Quebec as a purely francophone city.”

The LHSQ went on to become the custodian of what is now the Morrin Centre, taking care to preserve parts of the college, as well as the prison cells in the basement, which have since been turned into a museum.

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It oversees the centre’s vast collection of library books as well, some of which are temperature-controlled as they date as far back as the 18th century.

“This is the biggest, oldest and only English library in Quebec City. We have over 28,000 books,” explained Anthony Arata, cultural heritage coordinator of the Morrin Centre.

The centre has also acted as an important gathering place for anglophones and francophones alike.

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It’s an intersection of cultures Arata is hoping to represent in a custom tartan he’s had commissioned to commemorate the LHSQ’s 200th anniversary.

Arata carefully chose the tartan’s colours to reflect the LHSQ’s past: red to represent its British heritage, blue for Quebec, black to represent the cinders of the fire it survived, and a thin line of green to represent the Plains of Abraham.

“If it weren’t for the LHSQ, the Plains of Abraham would probably be condos,” said Arata. “It’s really them that decided to preserve this special landmark that’s very significant here in Quebec.”

The tartan is still in the process of being weaved in Scotland, but will eventually be sent off to the centre where it will be turned into bowties and scarves. Swatches will also be kept in the National Archives to preserve the piece of history.

The centre will also continue to celebrate the 200th anniversary with special talks and workshops, and outdoor projections across Old Quebec this spring.

“The 200th, in a country that’s not that old, is pretty significant,” said Jeanne Lebossé-Gautron, the centre’s programming director. “It sort of signifies this long-lasting line of literature and history and just cultural information that we keep transmitting to people.”

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