The Morrin Centre in Quebec City, has a history nearly as varied and long as Quebec itself. Touring this one building will walk you through the history and significant changes in the life of the city.
Morrin Centre: The Redoute Royale, 1712-1759
Quebec City had a rough start after being founded in 1608, reaching about 30 homes by 1650, and 100 by 1663, but then experienced rapid growth with a population of 1300 by 1681. In 1712, the Morrin Center location was built to be a Redoute Royale, a defensive structure adjacent to the city walls. During this time, the fortification was used as a barracks, and also to hold prisoners of war.
Morrin Centre: The Prison, 1759-1867
In 1759, the British captured Quebec, and the Redoute Royale became Quebec City’s prison until it was turned into a store house in 1787. That structure was demolished in 1808, and the current structure was built to be Quebec City’s prison which took it’s first prisoners in 1812.
As horrible as we think of our prisons being, prisons at the time had none of what we take for granted in our current systems. The new ideas of John Howard, a British prison reformer, were put into practice here. New ideas for the prisoners included: being required to bath weekly, divided by the severity of their crime to reduce influence of hardened criminals on those with more minor infractions, prisoners inhabited individual cells, and were put to useful work. These changes made Quebec’s “common gaol” quite cutting edge for the time.
By 1867 the facility succumbed to complaints that it was inadequate. At the time of its maximum occupancy, prisoners were living 5-6 to a cell, and there were over 100 successful escapes. Not exactly a stellar record. It was closed and the prisoners moved to a new prison, a building which today houses part of the Musee Nationale des Beaux-Arts du Quebec (MNBAQ).
Morrin Centre: The Morrin College, 1868-1902
Morrin College was the first college for English speaking students in Quebec City. It was founded in 1862, but operated out of some rooms rented within a Masonic Temple until 1868, when it moved into the remodeled former prison. (Honestly, if we did that today, there would be some truly awesome T-shirts: “My kid & my money go to Morrin Prison College.”) The college only held regular classes until approximately 1902, and at it’s maximum enrollment had 9 paid professors and 28 full-time students. However, it did graduate a total of 46 students with a B.A., including women who were accepted in co-ed classes beginning in 1885.
Morrin Centre: Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, 1868-present
The Morrin Centre’s final and current use, is as the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec. The Society was founded by the Earl of Dalhousie, George Ramsay, in 1824, and after several moves to different location, moved to the current location in the Morrin Centre’s building in 1868. The purpose of the society was to gather historical documents about Canada and to republish rare manuscripts, and it also encouraged research in all fields. While public institutions have taken over much of this original focus of the Society, it has in turn its mission to restoring the historic site and preserving and serving English speaking culture in Quebec City. The building now houses a private lending library of English-language books.
Morrin Centre: The Tour
When I toured the center, the tour lasted about an hour, and was filled with the Who, What, When, Where, and Why – as well as including enough funny and interesting tidbits to hold my attention the whole time. We started just outside the front entrance with an overview and early history, before proceeding chronologically in time, from the prison cells to a college classroom, to ending in the lending library where we were free to spend some time browsing.
For more information on the Morrin Centre and tours, go <HERE>.