Description of Historic Place
Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery National Historic Site of Canada is located in Mount Royal Park within Mount Royal Cemetery National Historic Site of Canada, in Montréal. Founded in 1854, this attractive park-like environment covers 113 hectares. Inspired by both formal traditions and the picturesque style, the design of the cemetery combines the site’s remarkable natural topography, majestic trees, lawns, and winding paths with more formal areas containing grave markers, monuments, and commemorative elements of different styles and sizes. Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery is an illustration of 19th century rural cemeteries. Through the variety and historical significance of many of the persons buried there, the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery commemorates many aspects of the history of Montréal, Quebec and Canada. Official recognition refers to the cemetery in its defined boundaries, delineated by a wrought iron fence.
The Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery was designated as a national historic site of Canada in 1998 because:
- it is an outstanding example of a cultural landscape which includes a large variety of funerary monuments of high quality and historical interest.
- several of the funerary monuments in the cemetery are of exceptional historical, social, architectural or artistic value. The monuments are a remarkable illustration of the many facets in the history of Montréal, the Province of Quebec and Canada.
Located on Côte-des-Neiges Road, the main entrance to Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery consists of two pavilions that remain from the original portal. The site includes various buildings of historical value including the administrative building, the chapel and the first charnel house, now a mausoleum. The site also includes greenhouses, various service buildings and eight mausoleums. Numerous monuments and gravestones of great artistic, historic and symbolic importance make this a significant site, conducive to contemplation and evocative of the past. Northwest of the administrative building, the cemetery offers panoramic views of the Université de Montréal, Saint-Joseph Oratory and Westmount’s summit.
Adapted to a diversified topography, Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery offers sinuous, romantic roads on a checkerboard plan designed by Henri-Maurice Perrault and his followers. The long avenues lined with trees reflect French traditions while winding paths and wooded islets recall rural American cemeteries of the 19th century. Uneven terrain at the cemetery’s northernmost section features winding pathways, while the abundance of high quality funeral monuments within the more formal areas the grounds create the impression of a garden of cut and sculpted stones. Religious symbolism is omnipresent, as are the reminders of mortality. The diversity of monuments and family vaults in this vast “French garden” provides insight into the social, economic and political history of the city of Montréal. The cemetery contains approximately 65 000 monuments, 71 family vaults and is the final resting place for more than 900 000 individuals. Today, the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery and its 139 hectares and 55 kilometres of roads and pathways is one of the largest cemeteries in Canada.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, December, 1998
Key elements that contribute to the heritage value of this site include:
- its location in Montreal, enclosed by Mount Royal Cemetery National Historic Site of Canada, the Université de Montréal campus, the Mount Royal Park and Côte-des-Neiges Road;
- the natural drama of the site with its variable topography that includes a plain, a plateau, and the summit of Outremont;
- the landscape of 113 hectares laid out in a park-like manner with planning in the picturesque style, defined by curvilinear paths, plots and plantings, including lawns and mature trees, shrubs and plantings of natural appearance, often arranged to form perspectives;
- the definition of the cemetery’s boundaries by a wrought iron fence around three quarters of its perimeter, and by fences, walls and gates in their original location, designs, materials and craftsmanship;
- the panoramic view of the Université de Montréal and its tower, Saint-Joseph Oratory and Westmount’s summit.
Landscape elements that contribute to the heritage value of the site, including:
- the original plan of the cemetery;
- the landscape design adapted to the site’s diversified topography;
- the network of paths and avenues in their routes and extent;
- the abundance of trees and shrubs;
- the burial-free plain on the south side of the cemetery;
- the abundance of religious symbols, such as crosses and statues;
- the pathways lined with family vaults.
Buildings and structures that contribute to the heritage value of the site, including:
- the cemetery service buildings and structures, in their massing, construction, materials and finish, including the charnel house, transformed into a mausoleum in 1994, the chapel, the administrative building, the two entrance pavilions which are remains of the original portal, the 71 family vaults and the 8 mausoleums;
- the funeral monuments, which constitute a significant collection of funeral sculpture, many created by renowned artists for historically significant persons, their design, locations, and inscriptions, including statues, steles, cists, recumbent figures, altars, colonnades, pillars, cippus, obelisks, urns, and Celtic crosses, and their various materials, such as buhr-stone, sandstone, marble and granite.