Jailhouse library

Morrin Centre

Morrin Centre

Libraries are usually housed in structures specifically built for them. But sometimes they are located in buildings which have had previous uses. The Morrin Centre in Quebec City is a great example of this.

The building opened in 1812 as Quebec’s first prison, housing debtors and murderers until 1867. (A treat on the guided tour is to be locked into solitary confinement to experience the complete darkness a prisoner would have had to endure.)

A year later, it was renovated to became a school, Morrin College, the city’s first English-language institute of higher education. (You can still see where the bars were removed from the windows to create a better learning atmosphere.) At the same time, the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec housed its subscription library on the second floor. Although the school closed in 1902, the library continued on and is there still.

The building was renovated in 2011 and is now called the Morrin Cultural Centre, offering tours of the former jail cells, a recreation of a 19th century chemistry classroom, and the beautiful library.

It is the only English-language library remaining in Quebec City and offers its members a growing collection of 20,000 books, ranging from 16th century masterpieces to the latest modern novel.

I loved the library space, with books lining the walls around the room and the balcony above. Historical artifacts are dotted among the stacks, including a folk-art statue of General James Wolfe, a metal archives box, paper press, and other curiosities.

It’s definitely a calm haven for English-language culture in the heart of old Quebec.