THE CHOICE OF INFLUENTIAL ARCHITECTS
The first architects of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges were inspired by the layout of the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris to establish a balance between the classical spirit and an ode to nature – a widespread movement by the influential philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is therefore a monumental romantic cemetery with winding paths lined with trees, designed by two influential architects.
Henri-Maurice Perrault drew the plans and implemented the winding, irregular paths that give the cemetery a romantic atmosphere. Perrault was the nephew of John Ostell, then Montréal's most famous architect. In 1877-78, Ostell designed the first buildings of the cemetery including the charnel house (which today has been transformed and named Mausoleum Sainte-Claire d'Assise), the chapel and the current Administrative Pavillion.
Another famous architect who left his mark on the cemetery, is Victor Bourgeau who would contribute to the construction of the original entrance doors (they were modified in 1926) and the construction of two adjoining houses. Bourgeau is also known for his magnificent work inside the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal.
A CEMETERY ON THE MOUNTAIN
The development of a cemetery on a mountain has a certain importance, besides the evident advantage of the surface area. In the Catholic religion, the mountain gives hope of the promised resurrection. Notre-Dame-des-Neiges offers a climate of tranquility, meditation and contemplation, in the heart of nature.
The landscape that makes up the cemetery is complex and stands out in three distinct areas:
- The plain: The main entrance on Côte-des-Neiges is a perfectly axial composition representative of Catholic cemeteries: a central cross, two golden angels on its sides on an oval field surrounded by trees. This axis goes up to the imposing facade of the first charnel house of the cemetery (present day mausoleum Sainte-Claire d'Assise).
- The plateau: At the top of the slope of the plain, there is what constitutes the second zone, arranged in a rectilinear pattern. The Notre-Dame-de-la-Résurrection chapel and the Administrative pavilion is located there. The layout of rows of trees along the path is in line with the cemeteries of monumental tradition. The plateau also leads up to the peaks of Outremont and Montreal.
- The summit: It is distinguished by a typical layout of the tradition of New France, a path from the cross that goes up to the Calvary, which many historians at the time have compared to the "sacred mountain", a metaphor ot the Christian soul who seeks to get closer to God.
ESSENTIAL BUILDINGS AND A CEREMONIAL ENTRANCE
During the first 50 years, the foundations and the initial sections were developed, and the important buildings such as the Notre-Dame-de-la-Resurrection chapel and the Administrative pavilion were built. From 1875 to 1900, changes in society and the growth of Montreal lead to the creation of sections reserved for cultural communities, and the installation of majestic monuments.
Before the monumental door made by Victor Bourgeau was installed, the entrance door of the cemetery had a temporary first-version. This one, entirely built in stone, deteriorated and was partly demolished in 1926. According to the plans of Faucher, Aubertin, Brodeur, Gauthier architects, it was only in 1998, that the current door was installed, and embellished with a metal hoop. This door became part of the cemetery's signature aesthetic.
In the decades that followed, the construction of the mausoleums shaped the landscape, as well as the transformation of the first charnel house in mausoleum Sainte-Claire-d'Assise (see photo at the top of the page), in 1994. Located straight ahead after the main entrance on Côte-des-Neiges road, the pond added in front majestically welcomes visitors.This place is now called the Commemoration Place. The choice to integrate water in this gathering place is not insignificant. As a matter of fact, the movements of the water jets draw the eye to the mausoleum, and the soothing sound complements meditation and serenity. Like the mountain, the significance of water in Christianity is also important: it means eternal life. "But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the WATER I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to the eternal life." John 4:14.
These achitectural achievements and the landscape developpment of the cemetery have always illustrated the determination of the Fabrique de la paroisse Notre-Dame de Montréal, to preserve this unique place and modernize it, in line with its its mission and its environment.