OUR LADY OF THE SNOWS, (NOTRE-DAME-DES-NEIGES)
4601 Côte-des-Neiges Road
Montreal, Quebec H3V 1E7
Bella Morte Rating: 5 Tombstones
Our Lady of the Snows (a/k/a Notre-Dame-des-Neiges) claims the distinction of being the largest cemetery in Canada and, more impressively, the third largest in all of North America. Spreading her beautiful mantle over 343 acres, the cemetery contains 34 miles of roadway, 65,000 monuments, 75 family vaults and an incredible one million+ interments and inurnments! Her permanent residents include a veritable “who’s who” of politicians, writers, actors, intellectuals, sports figures…the famous and even a few counted among the infamous. Included in this number are Calixa Lavellee who wrote the country’s national anthem, “O Canada,” and mass murderer, Richard Blass. One of the most interesting, to this writer, is philosopher Christianne Singer who, in 2007, with an “expiration date” of less than six months owing to a diagnosis of metastasized cancer, wrote these poignant words regarding her approaching death: “…When all is destroyed, where there is nothing left, truly nothing left, there is not death nor emptiness as we may believe, not at all. I swear to you. When there is nothing left, there is nothing but Love. All the roadblocks crack. It’s drowning, the immersion. Love is not a feeling. It is the very substance of creation…we do not even need to be connected; we are inside of one another. Indeed, I come only to bring good news: on the other side, I am waiting with Love.”
But we are getting ahead of ourselves...
Originally, the dead of Montreal were served by the Saint Antoine Cemetery; however, once those grounds reached capacity in 1854, property was purchased from politician and physician Pierre Beaubien and Our Lady of the Snows was born. The cemetery, modeled after Père Lachaise in Paris, occupies most of the land on Montreal’s Mount Royal (more on that in a moment). The first administrators reserved the new cemetery strictly for the burial of Roman Catholics; however, over time, any member of the Christian faith was permitted to be buried there. That being said, even today, the lion’s share of interments and inurnments are of those belonging to the Roman Catholic faith.
As mentioned earlier, Our Lady of the Snows is located on Mount Royal. It shares a border with the non-denominational (and aptly-named) Mount Royal Cemetery. Though visitors might miss it, the burial grounds do have one connecting area…this is located where sections dedicated to the military dead in both cemeteries meet. In order to celebrate and recognize the common sacrifice of both Catholic and (mostly) Protestant soldiers, the fencing in this area was taken down and, in its place, the “Cross of Sacrifice” was erected. Affixed to the cross are bronze nameplates commemorating the fallen dead whose bodies were never recovered from the battlefields upon which they were slain. It also bears the names of those soldiers whose graves have been lost to time.
In 1931 an exact replica of the French grotto at Lourdes, where Catholics allege the Virgin Mary visited a young woman named Bernadette Soubirous, was constructed on the cemetery grounds. It was a place of pilgrimage for some years until it was repurposed as a family crypt. Even so, much of the original structure still remains and is certainly worth visiting while strolling the breathtaking grounds of this enormous cemetery.
Our Lady of the Snows is home to ten mausoleums:
- (1978) Notre Dame
- (1980) John-Paul II
- (1982) Saint-Francis
- (1983) Marguerite-Bourgeoys—Dedicated to the Foundress of the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal
- (1985) The Pietà–Contains a life-size replica of Michelangelo’s masterpiece
- (1989) Saints Peter and Paul
- (1994) Sainte Clare of Assisi—Formerly the cemetery’s charnel house
- (1996) Saint Marguerite d’Youville—Dedicate to the Foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal a/k/a Grey Nuns
- (2007) Esther-Blondin—Dedicated to the Foundress of the Sisters of St. Anne
- (2010) Eulalie-Durocher—Dedicated to the Foundress of The Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus
Also of note is the fact that, in1976, a crematorium and chapel complex were erected next to the service area.
Between 16 May, 2007 and 11 September, 2007 a labour strike resulted in a halt on all burials and cremations. This left more than 300 dead in a lamentable holding pattern until the dispute could be resolved. In addition, the grounds themselves were left unattended and in deplorable condition. Happily, the conflict was settled and all returned to normal in the autumn of 2007.
Our Lady of the Snows boasts an astounding range of topographies--from flat, grassy expanses, to rolling hills and tree-lined elevations which offer, among other things, breathtaking views of St. Joseph's Oratory-- a large basilica which is worth a visit if for no other reason than to gaze upon the mummified heart of Brother Andre which is on display to the curious and pious alike. The cemetery hosts more than175,000 annual visitors and we at Bella Morte feel privileged to have been counted among that fortunate number. Indeed, this cemetery ranks as one of our all time favourites and, as such, we would recommend that any taphophile with the time and means avail him/herself of the opportunity to visit. We would also recommend at least two days for complete exploration of this truly vast and beautiful place!