140 year-old Grey Nuns building, once a convent, now ready to welcome students
The Grey Nuns building, located on Guy St, just steps away from Ste-Catherine St., is a building all Concordia students have walked in front of. Some may have noticed its beauty, tucked away behind the many trees on the lot, a building that is clearly so much older than those surrounding it. It is also Concordia’s most newly acquired, yet oldest, building.
This building – which dates back to the 1870s and was purchased by Concordia University in 2007 for $18 million – has been given a new purpose: to accommodate students. The building also has a daycare facility. Concordia has been working for years in order to renovate the building while keeping its historic presence intact. This was accomplished with the help of the Sisters and the government of Quebec. The project cost $15 million, according to The Gazette.
Renovations began after the sisters left the building, in April of last year.
A few renovations were done to the west wing in order to accommodate some students, about 245, back when the building was originally purchased.
The Concordian was able to get a glimpse into the building to check out the (almost) completed product during a media tour on Aug. 12. The tour was lead by Clarence Epstein, senior director of Urban and Cultural Affairs, and Peter Bolla, associate vice-president of Facilities Management.
The Grey Nuns building is an H-shaped with a surface measuring 375,000 square feet. The land the building on, which Concordia also owns and which once served as a very large garden, measures 8 acres.
Now that the renovations have been completed, the building can now accommodate 355 more student beds, meaning that 600 students can now live in the building.
The seemingly untouched chapel is now filled with tables and lamps, so that students can work in silence while surrounded by historical pieces of art, gorgeous high ceilings, and stain-glass windows. The chapel fits up to 240 students. Red, modern lounge chairs were added to the front of the chapel. The red accessories were chosen, according to Epstein, to connect the history of the religious coding to the university’s coding of the space. The tables even have incorporated plugs, so that students can plug in their laptops and cellphones.
“[The chapel] allows for people to learn, to grow, to transform themselves, to reflect on their work and to get some private, individual study,” Concordia President Dr. Alan Shepard said. “…It has some exquisite 19th century art on the walls, which has all been left for us by the Grey Nuns. We are certain that students will find this to be incredibly productive space, quiet reflective space. It’s in keeping with the heritage of the reflective nature of this space, originally.”
The hallway leading to the chapel is filled with beautiful photographs created several years ago by the faculty of fine arts. The faculty commissioned artists to photograph and interpret the departure of the sisters, Epstein explained. “These works have now been hung permanently in this corridor to make that connection between their legacy and the new purpose that the site has for the university,” he said.
Fourteen group rooms were created, each with a white board and tables where six people can work comfortably. Students will be able to reserve these study spaces through the library. These rooms were originally used as administrative offices for the sisters.
Another 300 study spaces were added throughout the building. The room that served as a temporary chapel before the permanent chapel was built was converted into another space for both study and fun. Tables and chairs are on both sides of the room, and leather couches are in the centre so that students can relax. There is even space in the front of the room for a stage, for special occasions or concerts. The large windows fill the room with natural light, and the colorful lighting that was added during the renovations adds a young feel to the building.
The renovations allowed the school to add some beautiful glass doors to the building, in order to separate common areas, which will be open to all students, and areas reserved to students living there. In order to enter the building, students will have to scan their student IDs. Although most of the walls remained white, a few colorful touches were added to ceiling in different parts of the building, giving the building a younger, warmer, modern touch.
The Grey Nuns building has a state-of-the-art kitchen, where the food delivered throughout campus will be produced from now on. There is also a second option for those living in dorms; a second kitchen reserved for students who wish to cook for themselves. This new plan, a first for Concordia, is called myPantry. Students can simply order their groceries through the building (the cost is included in their rent), store the items in the mini fridges in their dorm room, and cook them when they please in the common kitchen. Cooking lessons will be offered, and a nutritionist will visit to give students pointers. This kitchen even has a smoothie bar.
The dorm rooms are small but cozy, and the large windows let in a lot of natural light. All the rooms include a bed, an armoire, a chair, a desk, a mini fridge, and a sink. Some also have semi private and private bathrooms. Communal, newly renovated bathrooms are available for those without private bathrooms. The showers are unisex.
The building also has multipurpose rooms with game tables and big screen TVs, so that students can relax.
Those visiting the building were able to go to a part of the building that is not usually open to the public: the crypt in the building, where many of the Grey Nuns were buried. The crypt in not accessible to those in the building, although it is possible to see the room from outside.
Different dorm sizes (and prices) are available for students who wish to live in the Grey Nuns residence. Thirteen different room options are available, all varying in size, most of them single but some doubles, most with sinks, some semi private bathrooms (toilet and sink), and some with full showers. The least expensive single room with sink costs $720 per month, or $6,024 with tuition for the year, not including the meal plan. The most expensive room, the private room with full bathroom, costs $850 per month, or $7,111.67 with the school year, including tuition. A single room in Hingston hall costs between $525.04 per month and $684.56 per month, while single rooms in the Jesuit residence costs $831.74 per month. Both the Jesuit residence and Hingston hall are located at the Loyola Campus. The Grey Nuns building is the first to be located in Concordia’s downtown campus.
It is important to note that these prices do not include the meal plan, which costs $3,950 per year, with $125 in flex dollars.
This building was built in order to accommodate the Grey Nuns, who were founded by Marguerite d’Youville and three of her partners back in 1737. Architect Victor Bourgeau, a known and respected architect who specialized in religious building, was hired for the job. The H Shaped building has three wings, the inner outdoor area once having been reserved for gardening.
The Grey Nuns lived in the building until 2013. Originally, the nuns had planned to stay until 2022, but chose to leave early. They left most of the things in the building behind, only taking with them what was most linked to their history; wooden panels, for example, with the name of every nun to have ever lived in the building.
During the tour, Epstein recounted the day that Margaret d’Youville’s remains left the building, on a snowy day last year. Some of Concordia’s staff were invited to attend the ceremony.
“We were fortunate to be invited to the deconsecration of the chapel, where they removed the remains of Marguerite d’Youville, and officially made this space use as a profane site. and that is when the university began studies to convert it into a space for student use,” Epstein explained.
He explained that all sisters were brought in from various convents to witness Marguerite d’Youville’s final departure. The remains were brought down the aisle. Sisters lined the aisle while carrying the flowers of their namesake, marguerites.
“When the doors of the chapel opened, there was this flood of willowy light snow that kind of blew into the chapel as she was leaving. There was a limousine waiting for her and police accompaniment, to take her to the basilica for her final blessings. It was very special,” Epstain said.
Students can now apply to live in the residence. The Grey Nuns building is located on 1190 Guy St. The main entrance is located on Guy St. For more information, visit http://www.concordia.ca/maps/buildings/gn.html.