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Victor Bourgeau

Built across Canada, religious institutions have played an important part in shaping our identity.  In Montréal, before the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, churches were constructed across the city to meet the spiritual needs of residents. In the 19th century, one of the most prominent religious architects in Montréal was Victor Bourgeau. His notable career is listed in the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada.

Bourgeau was born in 1809 in Lavaltrie, Québec. Raised in a poor family, Bourgeau was illiterate and did receive proper schooling. In his teenage years, he worked for his uncle as an apprentice joiner and carpenter. In the 1830s, it is thought that Bourgeau met Angelo Pievoni, an Italian painter, who changed Bourgeau's career path. Pievoni was possibly the one who taught Bourgeau draughtsmanship and may have helped Bourgeau learn to read and write. One thing is certain - an exceptional Canadian architect emerged from obscurity.

His first religious commission was in 1839 in Boucherville, where Bourgeau completed altar carvings and other decorative works for several religious institutions. During that time, he was also involved in smaller projects at the famous Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Church/Basilica National Historic Sites of Canada in Montréal.

St. Patrick's Basilica, Montréal, Parks Canada / La Basilique-St. Patrick, Montréal, Parcs CanadaWith Bourgeau's growing prominence in the early 1840s, Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic styles of architecture were popular in Montréal, and these styles would resonate in his future work. Indeed, Bourgeau likely received some architectural training under John Ostell, a popular architect in the city, since an Ostell influence is present in Bourgeau's designs of the period. To support this claim, Bourgeau eventually finished some of Ostell's work after the latter could not continue due to old age.

Bourgeau's style can be described as predominantly Neo-Gothic with a signature emphasis on façades with developed ornamentation and belfries.  Often copying British and American architecture, his style was highly influenced by Thomas Baillairgé.

It was in 1847 that Bourgeau made his name after the completion of the St-Patrick Basilica National Historic Site of Canada in Montréal. The church was constructed as a parish for Irish immigrants and was constructed from 1843 to 1847 in a French Gothic Revival style. Bourgeau was charged with supervising the decorations in the interior of the church and the Saint-Pierre-Apôtre, Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine, Jean-François Rodrigue, 2004results attracted much attention.

In 1851, Bourgeau was the main architect for the Site Historique de Saint-Pierre-Apôtre's presbytery and church, which still stands today as one of the best examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in Canada.

His greatest work were produced from 1857 to 1880, during which period he was Église de Saint-Raphaël-Archange, Ministère de la Culture et des Communications, Jean-François Rodrigue, 2005commissioned to redecorate the interior of Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Church/Basilica National Historic Sites of Canada. By staying true to his preferred style, Gothic Revival, one could say that it made Bourgeau famous yet greatly upset the Catholic Church, his most important client. Roman Catholics were concerned that the Neo-Gothic style was too closely associated with Protestant church designs in the city. From 1865 on, Bourgeau's churches, such as his work on the Église de Saint-Raphaël-Archange, contained Neo-Baroque and Neo-Roman characteristics because it was now the preferred style for Roman Catholic architecture in Québec. He subsequently monopolized religious institutional architecture in Montréal from the 1850s to the 1880s with his new stylistic preferences.Marie-Reine-du-Monde, Montréal, Hydro-Québec, 1999

Bourgeau was asked to be the principal architect for the Marie-Reine-du-Monde-Cathedral National Historic Site of Canada and was sent to Rome to study St. Peter's Basilica in order to create a smaller replica for Montréal. Bourgeau declined the offer, saying it was impossible to duplicate such a masterpiece on a smaller scale while retaining its authenticity. He did however agree to supervise Joseph Michaud, the architect who took over the project.

In the 1870s, Bourgeau collaborated with Étienne-Alcibiade Leprohon and began to work on projects other than churches. Together, they were the head Couvent de la Congrégation-de-Notre-Dame, Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine, Jean-François Rodrigue, 2004architects for the Couvent de Congrégation-de-Notre-Dame built for the Grey Nuns in 1877. This Second Empire style building attracted new clients and helped Bourgeau expand his atelier before he died in 1888 at the age of 78 while making a business call in Montréal.

Bourgeau was undeniably one of the greatest religious architects of Montréal and his work still lives on because of protection and designation of his churches by the City of Montréal and under Quebec's  Loi sur les biens culturels. With over thirty historic buildings associated with his name on the Canadian Register and a complete biographical entry on the Biographical Dictionary of Canadian Architects since 1850, he deserves a distinguished place as one of Canada's greatest architect since 1800.


Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. "Bourgeau, Victor." Accessed February 2, 2011.

KALMAN, Harold. A History of Canadian Architecture, Concise Edition. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2000.