In the days of New France, the “Redoute Royale”, or Royal Redoubt, stood on the site of the Morrin Centre.
Redoute Royale in 1727 (ANQ)
These enclosed defensive works were adjacent to the original city walls.
Initially used as a military barracks, they came to house prisoners of war. Prisoners were captured on boats in the Saint-Lawrence or marched up along frozen rivers following raids on New England towns by the French and their Amerindian allies. Many died in the cramped and disease-ridden conditions of captivity. Some were traded for French prisoners held in Boston, but others stayed on, namely one Esther Wheelwright who later became mother superior of the Ursulines.
Quebec City Common Gaol (1813-1868)
The current neoclassical structure was built between 1808 and 1813 as a common gaol. It was the first gaol in Canada to reflect the ideas of British prison reformer John Howard. Howard was opposed to houses of detention and called for houses of correction. Lashings were replaced by cellular confinement, work, and education. Prisoners were divided up according to the severity of their crime. Despite these reforms, public hangings occasionally took place from a balcony above the main door.
The prison soon became overcrowded and Howard's reforms could not be properly applied. Prisoners were transferred to a new gaol on the Plains of Abraham in 1867.
Morrin College (1862-1902)
Morrin College was the city's first English-language institute of higher education. The school initially shared rooms with the Masonic Temple, moving into the old gaol after its conversion in 1868.
The school was founded on the initiative of Scotsman Dr. Joseph Morrin, former mayor and prominent Quebec City doctor.
Morrin College students and teachers c1891 (LHSQ archives)
Through affiliation with McGill University, general Arts degrees were offered. Pastors for the Presbyterian Church were also trained.
The college admitted women into the B.A. program from 1885 onwards, approximately 20 years before Laval University. Due to the scarcity of students, classes were co-ed, which was even more uncommon for the day. A lack of funds and students obliged the College to close at the turn of the 20th century.
Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (1824-present)
Founded by the Earl of Dalhousie in 1824, the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec was the first learned society in the country. After several moves and two fires, the Society settled into the northern wing of Morrin College in 1868.
Its original aims were diverse. The Society gathered historical documents about Canada and republished many rare manuscripts. Research in all fields of knowledge was actively encouraged. Scholarly essays were published regularly in a series of Transactions, some making a significant contribution to the advancement of knowledge.
Over the years, the Society played a part in creating institutions that would take over many of its traditional roles. For instance, it fostered the foundation of the National Archives of Canada. It was also active in the preservation of Canada’s built and natural heritage, helping to save the Plains of Abraham from developers and eventually fostering the creation of the Historic Sites and Monuments board of Canada. The Society’s activities gradually became centred on the services of its lending library, providing access to English-language books in a largely French-speaking city.
Recently, the Society has reassessed its mission and is now the main promoter and driving force behind the Morrin Centre project.