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  • Chantal Brocca

Le Monastère des Augustines

In 1639, three young Augustinian nuns pursued a perilous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on the orders of their French King to go and heal the bodies and souls of the inhabitants of New France, a string of settlements across the Saint Lawrence river which came to be known as Québec City. The dedication with which the Sisters carried out their important mission led to the birth of Le Monastère des Augustines, the very first hospital in North America and eventual epicenter of the many gems that litter the old cobbled streets of Québec City, proclaimed in 1985 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Built over green cliffs hanging over the narrowing St. Lawrence river, the city and its surroundings boast an incredible landscape of waterfalls, canyons and lakes, rife with lush greenery that can only breed a mentality that naturally lends itself to living harmoniously with and through nature. Just across the river one finds the Île d’Orléans, a haven for agrotourism and city dwellers hoping to escape the stresses of a life that never seems to stop taking. Littered with charming, isolated cottages built in a beautiful, old French style and large family run farms that stock the city’s plentiful farm-to-table restaurants with seasonal organic fruits and vegetables, the island gives the impression of being the perfect retreat into simple living.

Back in Old Québec, there are plenty of historical sites to visit, made all the more unique by the varied cultures and societies that occupied the perfectly positioned colony. Perhaps this is where Québec draws most of its charm; its multicolored roofs characterizing an identity defined by a melting pot of diverse heritages cultivated over centuries to become something inimitably Québécois, with traditions that emancipated themselves into a distinctly separate character.

It is with this spirit that Le Monastère des Augustines pioneered a distinctly unique take on contemporary wellness. Back in 1990, as a testament to the natural aptitude towards holistic health and community values of the region, the Augustinian Sisters, now in dwindling numbers, got to thinking about how they could perpetuate their heritage, mission, and vocation to helping others long into the future. The concept became an innovative heritage conservation model of hotel-museum-wellness center that won them the prestigious Phoenix Award in 2016, translating centuries of health care into a contemporary language that can be enjoyed by old and new generations alike.

Nestled in a corner of the old town, where most of the old schools and buildings have been kept exactly as they were first built, the walls of the Monastère aesthetically convey the harmonious interplay between modernity and history that characterize its particular social and cultural mission.

What makes the concept so unique is that everything, from the meals to the décor and placement of the rooms, to the programs available to wellness retreaters, was designed with the intention of preserving tradition – and since the Sisters threw nothing away in four centuries, that also means a profound dedication to sustainability.

Especially when it comes to nutrition, a fundamental pillar of the nun’s holistic healing traditions, the center goes above and beyond by growing their own sprouts and herbs, as well as developing and promoting their own locally produced medicinal herbal teas based on recipes used by the nuns over 300 years ago.

What really distinguishes the Monastère is the history that resides in its interiors. The ancient archives, found in the white walled vaults just beneath the lobby, hold the collective history of healing, heritage and identity of a people spanning four centuries. Old artifacts, religious paintings and the work of the Augustinian nuns line the walls and corners of every floor, acting as an immersive museum.

In only a couple of days, Le Monastère des Augustines has proved to be more than a simple wellness center, digging back into a healing philosophy and wisdom accumulated over centuries by people whose sole vocation in life was to selflessly improve the lives of others.

The increasingly varied afflictions of our contemporary day and age are inciting people more and more to step back from modernity and take a look at the natural and spiritual practices which have been shunned in the name of progress, making Le Monastère a guidepost, as well as a perfect little haven, for future generations to pass on methods of healing based in community values, self discovery and interconnectedness with the environment.

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