(Présence-info) Mayor Denis Coderre announced on Monday that the City of Montreal would like to acquire in the near future the sizable property of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, located at the corner of Pine and Park avenues.
"This acquisition will make it possible to preserve the site's natural and built heritage and to give it an importance consistent with its rich history," declared Mayor Coderre before the media and a great number of religious people gathered in the chapel that connects the convent of the Hospitallers to the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal.
The cost of the purchase is still unknown, and has yet to be determined. "You must understand that we are in the middle of negotiations. Today, we are not setting an amount," said the mayor. Both the City of Montreal and the congregation would like for the sale to be completed, "at fair market value," within the next six months.
Since 2012, the religious sisters of this congregation have been pondering their future and that of their enormous property that includes a convent, a museum, three chapels, gardens, and service buildings.
"Our numbers are diminishing, and those of us who remain are aging," explained Marie-Thérèse Laliberté, Superior General. The congregation has therefore considered several offers.
"There were two requirements," said Sister Laliberté. "The future purchasers had to respect the values that we have always striven to maintain here. Furthermore, we would like for the community to be able to continue living on the premises, where the sisters have given their entire lives to care for the patients of the Hôtel-Dieu, our neighbour."
"At the beginning of 2015, the City of Montreal expressed an interest in our project. We did give the elected officials a heads-up," said Sister Laliberté, casting an amused look at the Montreal mayor.
On March 30, 2016, the congregation received a letter from Mayor Coderre announcing that the City wished to acquire the site and to respect "the fundamental principles that had guided the religious sisters throughout their entire history."
"You have my word," said Mayor Coderre to the sisters. "We are here to protect this heritage. We would like to give the property a new vocation, but with due respect for the community's values."
"We are not here to build condos," he emphasized. "We would like to make this exceptional treasure more accessible to Montrealers. We wish to acquire it, protect the values and principles associated with it, ensure that the population has access to it, and that it can benefit from these magnificent premises."
Present during the announcement, Luc Ferrandez, borough mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal and leader of the opposition at City Hall, applauded this "fantastic decision" and thanked Mayor Coderre for this "wonderful project that the future generations will undoubtedly appreciate and that other cities worldwide will envy us for."
Addressing the religious sisters, Mayor Ferrandez said that Montrealers "are grateful for the tremendous work that you have accomplished, with humility, and with a result that goes beyond anything that could be accomplished by companies or by ambitious men. You preserved this place with your daily work."
"There probably is no other place in Montreal that brings culture, heritage, and nature together as well as the Hôtel-Dieu site," he added.
Dinu Bumbaru, Policy Director of Heritage Montreal, was ecstatic at the City of Montreal's announcement. "This is a unique place that requires an original strategy that varies from the strategies too often used. The nonpartisan commitment of Montreal society by its institutions in this case is remarkable," he said.
"We have everything we need to do something that we will be proud of." Dinu Bumbaru pointed out that the project displays a promising alliance "of political forces, community strengths, and Montreal's founding spirit that stems from the religious sisters."
However, the sale of the property of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph is conditional to obtaining the authorization of the pope. "You will be working on that, Most Reverend Lépine?" Mayor Coderre asked the Archbishop of Montreal, who attended the press conference.
The religious sisters specified that the crypt that houses the remains of Jeanne Mance, cofounder of the City of Montreal and founder of the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, is not part of the acquisition. Mayor Coderre also announced that the City will help the sisters move to the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal's Masson pavilion in the spring of 2018.