At the Trappists monastery

July 11, 2012

Today I went for a special meeting. I had left a note on Facebook to some friends in Winnipeg telling them I was around, asking if they would like to meet over coffee or something of that nature. My friend Bertand said yes, lets meet over in St Norbert at the old Trappists monks’ abbey, he would bring tea and fruits.

the burnt out Trappist monastery in St Norbert

Sounds better than any Starbucks I’ve been to so this morning I headed South, there were big storm clouds in the skies threatening to loosen their burden on us but they were all over this or that way but nowhere near my direction, I still took the rain gear in case and tied that on the back of the bike. I’ve seen how hard and wet these storms can be. In the blink of an eye you are soacked.


Heading way out of town I am thinking : this would have been a long, long way from town for monks, perfect for tranquility and peace. I turned onto the “Rue des Trappistes ” (trappists street)  then onto “ Rue des ruines des Trappistes” which says : road of the trappists’ ruins. As I approach there is already something “else” in the air, a gentle calmness surrounding the whole place.  I am taken.


street names cannot be more descriptive


Then I saw it, nestled in the trees, and as I approach I saw a man walking with a large brimmed hat and a backpack and I knew that was Bertrand. It was. Ahead was a beautiful stone structure, looking like a church but completely gutted. The beautiful local limestone embedded with fossils and with these other rocks with warm shades of light orange and beige. It was quite the sight. It took your breath away but in a whisper. The area was just… Sacred.

the orangey stones

the monastery, or what is left of it


Betrand explained to me that this used to be the monastery, that the monks left in the ’80’s when the urban sprawl started to reach out this way.  In the old days this was a far away place. The monks then left for another small village further west. In the mean time kids set the place on fire and now all that is left is this stone shell reaching to the skies.


the front facade


The birds all around were singing, the wind in the branches, the river winding it’s way lazily a few meters away. Funny fact, the river is very muddy and used to be called “la sale” (the dirty one)  at some point in history, they decided to call it La Salle, the name of a famous explorer, just to make things a little less literal.


There was a blank grassy area and Bertrand explained that there used to be the monk’s cemetary there but when they moved away, they took their dead with them. I found that particularly moving. As we walk around the sacredness of this place permeates my being. It reminds me of the retreat in Montebello. It’s the same vibration where animals, bugs, all living things seem incredibly at peace, share the same space and live together. I feel a deep longing to absorb that peace. Just be here in silence. It would be enough.


the back yard onlooking the river



As we walk around the building another structure appears, the hostel, where guests would come for retreats, it has this typical French architecture, history written all over it. Around it are endless gardens, them too roaming wildly, not all structured in geometric rows of disciplined growing space. I am awed. There are butterflies everywhere, it’s a picture of what life on earth was at some point before we crammed everything with machines and technology and speed and impatience.

one of the many butterflies


part of the gardens


the old hostel


We sat by a pond on a moss covered bench. We chatted for a good while. Kindred spirit. It’s so good. Betrand is a writer, poet, artist and teacher. He came from France with his family in the ’70s. The tone of his voice, his language is beautiful. I love the European French accent. It is so gentle and it flows like a small brook in the forest.


a place to stop


the pond over grown by green things

After a while, as all things, this meeting had to end. He donned his hat and backpack and headed out on foot. I stayed a bit longer to take photos and absorb a bit more of the place. I would like to come back. They have lighting in the ruins, it must be amazing at dusk and at night. And they also have meditation sessions in the Hostel which has metamorphosed into an art center. Bertrand said they have artists’ retreats there… that would be amazing.



I rode back towards Winnipeg, among the trucks, the cars, the hurry. The sun burns hot, dessicating us. Out here I have had many thoughts about global warming while walking amidst the innumerable air conditioning units churning along, posted in rows on apartment buildings. Life holds on by this thin operation margin on this planet. As we rush to the malls in our trucks and cars, so absorbed in our lives, in the need to pay the bills and try to be happy in the process.

This little island of sanctity, simplicity… I think of the monks, working in silence as nature sings its glorious, brief summer song.  Man, not the conqueror of all living things but a gardener with a tender hand, helping plants to grow.


And the world turns and turns and I turn with it.




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