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Musée Chateau Dufresne-Nincheri – Montréal
Situated in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough, diagonally across from the Botanical Gardens and straight across from the Olympic Stadium lies one of Montréal’s hidden gems.
Considering the number of times I’ve attended baseball and football games, as well as concerts and other events at Olympic stadium:
I’d guess that I’ve gone past this place at least 300 times over the years.
It really is hard to believe it took me a whole 52 to years to stop and visit, but we finally took care of that earlier this summer.
So what’s so special about this Musée?
It offers visitors a unique glimpse back into the homes and the daily lives of some of the city’s well-to-do business leaders from the first half of the 20th century.
The exterior of the building is modeled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles, but inside it actually contains two separate homes that each had their own entrance.
The Chateau was built by two businessmen brothers Oscar and Marius Dufresne, for their respective families.
The Beaux-Arts style mansion which contains 40 rooms and roughly 20,000 square feet of living space was built between 1915 and 1918 for a reported cost of slightly over 1 million dollars. Yes, that was very much a princely sum in those days.
Our guide explained that the main reason for the high cost was due to inflated prices for quality construction materials because of shortages caused by World War I.
Despite the materials shortages, high prices, and longer waits, the Dufresnes spared no expense in building their homes.
I spent the better part of an afternoon with my jaw hanging open. Truly, no one builds opulently decorated homes like this today. Because of the required craftsmanship and the costs of materials and labour, only the super-rich can afford this.
The Dufresne brothers made their fortune in their nearby family shoe business in the then bustling town of Maisonneuve, which was eventually annexed into the city of Montreal.
At the peak of production the Dufresne & Locke shoe company employed about 400 workers and produced several thousand pairs per week; shipping all over North America and Europe, and as far away as Egypt.
I’d really love to show you the indoor pictures I took of all the lovely wood moldings and doors (oh the doors!), plus the marble floors, and murals, and frescoes, and mantles, tapestries, and furniture…. Unfortunately in its infinite wisdom the city of Montréal has forbidden all photography inside the building. A little detail not mentioned on their website, that I didn’t discover until arriving camera in hand – so sadly I have no interior pictures to show you – grrrr!
Many of the paintings, sculptures, mosaics, tapestries, and stained glass windows in both homes were done by Italian-Canadian Florence-trained artist Guido Nincheri.
Nincheri had an interesting arrangement with the brothers over a period of several decades, whereby he provided much of the artwork for their homes and in exchange was given the use of a nearby building owned by the brothers, as his studio. The studio is where he produced his for-profit pieces.
After the death of the brothers, the Chateau changed hands several times before the city took possession of it in the 1950’s. From 1967 it sat abandoned for a number of years. Left to squatters and vandals the building fell into deep disrepair.
In the early 70’s with the stadium going up across the street for the 1976 Olympics, the city’s mayor had the idea that a refurbed Chateau Dufresne would be a great place to hold banquets and other Olympic related events for visiting dignitaries.
Thanks to generous donations from local philanthropists the Chateau Dufresne was brought back close to its former glory.
After the Olympics it became home to the Montréal Contemporary Art Museum, which later moved into bigger digs downtown. In 1997 the building was turned into its own museum and switched to its current name in 2014.
With free parking on-site the museum is open Wednesday to Sunday with guided tours on weekends, in French only, at 1:00 and 3:00 pm. Self guided tours including interactive media and narration on i-Pads is included and is available in several languages.
Admission is $14.00 for adults, $13.00 for seniors and students, and $7.00 for children. This also includes access to the nearby Nincheri studios.
If you ever find yourself at the botanical gardens or the Olympic stadium complex, I suggest you set aside an extra hour or two and take the short walk across the street to visit this place; you won’t regret it.
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