Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America, founded by Samuel D. Champlain in 1608. The walled part of the city, Old Quebec, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you’ll find dozens of historical buildings including the Monastère des Augustines.
This cupboard is found at the original entrance to the Monastère des Augustines (founded on this spot in 1639), which is now a museum opened to the public by the the Augustinian sisters. Can you guess its purpose? (Click the tabs above to find out!)
The cupboard (pictured above) is called a baby hatch or baby box or foundling wheel, since when the door closed the cupboard revolved. More than 1800 babies have been left in this box over the past 375 years.
Baby boxes have been used since the middle ages and are in contemporary use in some form in countries such as Italy, Germany and Pakistan. Some U.S. states have implemented a no questions asked program for mothers to drop off unwanted babies without having to provide any details.
This historical foundling wheel at the monastery provided a place for unmarried woman and those who couldn’t look after their infants to leave them anonymously for the Sisters to raise. It dates from the early history of the monastery, established in 1639 by three Augustinian Sisters.
The Monastère des Augustines Museum has an amazing collection of over 40,000 artifacts and written materials documenting their history. The Augustinian Sisters established the first hospital in Canada and North America, north of Mexico, here in 1640. All of the exhibits are fascinating and often, extremely rare. My favorite exhibit was a package of medical instruments used by the Augustinians to nurse soldiers after the Battle on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. This was, of course, where the British defeated the French, setting the course of Canadian history.
The Monastery was converted into a wellness and healing hotel in mid-2015. It provides a delicious healthy menu in the dining room (open to the public even if you don’t stay overnight), 65 rooms (converted from the Sisters’ former cells), yoga, meditation, art, herbalism, massage therapy and sleep enhancement workshops.
The Monastère des Augustines is in the walled part of Old Quebec at 75 Rue des Remparts.