UBC Graduate Research

“Réparer les pots cassés” : The Adaptive Reuse of a Roman Catholic Church into a Community Mental Wellness Center Binette, Isabelle


In Quebec, the abundance of steeples in the landscape inspired a folklore tale called La Chasse-Galerie where lumberjacks that made a pact with the devil, had to avoid contact with a church steeple as they rode a flying canoe up in the air to save their souls. But the 60s’ Quiet Revolution marked a rupture between the French population majority and Christianity with an abandonment of religious traditions and plummeting numbers of church attendance and funding over the last decades. Fast-forward to present day, multiple churches have and are closing down, left abandoned, demolished or sold. However, churches still act to this day as symbols of a system of institutional repression for a majority of Quebec francophone population. To overwhelm this symbolism, this project imagines a province-wide program of adaptive reuse for a selected group of the multiplying abandoned Roman Catholic churches, and turns them into mental health support centers. This thesis project isn’t a conservation moment, but a decidedly new response to this symbolism. It allows these symbols of the past, that the population now associates on a cultural level with to remain, at the same time as making room for a decisively new cultural anchor where both programmes now coexist side by side. This thesis first addresses the history of the Roman Catholic religion in Quebec and its intertwinement with the francophone majority’s identity, and compares the current state of the Roman Catholic religion in Quebec and the Rest of Canada. Then, an analysis of the Roman Catholic church typology concentrates on the elements relevant to distinguish a Quebec traditional religious architecture language. After taking position on heritage preservation, adaptive reuse and a programme, the site of Rimouski and its closed Saint-Germain Cathedral is selected for the second part of this graduation project. Finally, a proposal is made to adapt the Cathedral into a Mental Wellness Center to respond to an urgent need in the province for mental health services.

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