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Toronto Star,

May 19, 2010.

By Carol Perehudoff

 

I don’t dare sit down in this glass-encrusted dress. If I break one of the attached silvery rectangles, not only will I damage a piece of art, the splinters would be a serious pain in the you-know-what.

 

“You’re the first person to try it on,” says designer Jessica MacDonald as I twirl around Espace Verre, a glass arts school, studio and exhibition centre housed in a former firehouse in southwest Montreal.

 

I’m not sure how I convinced Jessica to let me try on the dress or how it fit over my hips after the almond croissants this morning at Patisserie Kouign Amann, but it’s a great introduction to “Montreal, City of Glass,” a year-long celebration of the city’s most translucent art form with more than 100 glass-themed events. That’s reason enough to visit, but I’m also on the trail of a mystery: “The Mystery of the Disappearing Windows.”

 

This intriguing headline on the website of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel appealed to my inner Nancy Drew. It’s hard to sleuth in a glass couture outfit, however, so reluctantly — and carefully — I shed the dress and accompany my guide, Marie José, to Old Montreal, where the chapel was founded in 1655 by Canada’s first female saint, Marguerite Bourgeoys.

 

Unfortunately the church doors are locked. “How am I going to solve the Mystery of the Disappearing Windows now?” I ask.

 

“Do you mean the disappearing glass at Notre-Dame Basilica?” Marie José asks. “There’s a mystery there.”

 

Either there’s an awful lot of vanishing glass in Montreal or I’m mixing up the two Notre Dames. To find out, we head down to Notre-Dame Basilica at Place d’Armes Square. Completed in 1829, this towering neo-Gothic basilica is a stained-glass showcase containing windows from three different historical eras. Like celestial skylights, three rose windows are set in the ceiling; in an unusual touch, the side windows depict historical rather than biblical themes.

 

“But what about the mystery?” I ask, gazing up at a scene of Jacques Cartier coming upon the Iroquois village of Hochelaga (today’s Montreal).

 

“It started with arson.” Marie José leads me to the back of the church. “In 1978 someone set fire in a confessional, causing millions in damages. During renovations, five stained glass windows were found behind a brick wall. They’d been walled up and forgotten for more than 80 years.”

 

Two of the windows, St. Peter and St. Louis, now hang in the Basilica’s Sacred Heart Chapel. Masculine and medieval-looking, they glimmer with deep tones of blue, burgundy and gold.

 

“Why would anyone cover them up?” I ask.

 

Marie José offers a solution. “The windows were right behind the altar, so parishioners couldn’t see the priest during services because of the sun shining through.”

 

Well, that’s one mystery solved. It’s not my original mystery, however, so the next morning I return to Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. The current domed church dates to 1771, the foundations of the original chapel now mere stone traces deep in the church cellar. I hunt up Karine St-Louis, head of educational programming, who gives me a rare peek into the cellar’s depths.

 

An eerie-looking room with ancient timber supports, it lay abandoned for decades, filled with dirt and debris. Then, during an archaeological dig here in 1996, two stained-glass angel fragments were found.

 

“They were part of a much-larger window made around 1855,” Karine says. “It was either the Assumption of Mary or the Immaculate Conception.”

 

“Who made them?”

 

“We don’t know.”

 

We visit one of the angels — now on permanent display in the chapel museum. Backlit, the angel glows with a luminous calm, his green wings and golden hair framing an unreadable expression. It’s hard to imagine that before Canada was even officially a country he stood watch in the chapel, then waited more than a century to re-emerge.

 

“Who saved it, I wonder? And what happened to the rest of the window?”

 

Karine smiles. “That’s the mystery.”

 

“Why would anyone remove it?”

 

This is something she can solve. “Like anything, glass goes in and out of fashion.”

 

From stained glass angels to couture cocktail dresses, it certainly does. Evidently it can disappear and reappear, too, carrying with it fragments of history. Montreal may be the City of Glass, but it’s a city of secrets, too, making me wonder what other mysteries lie hidden behind its historical walls.

 

http://www.thestar.com/travel/northamerica/article/811043--montreal-a-city-of-glass-and-secrets

 

Here is a video by Ms. Carol... a little bit funny!

http://www.thestar.com/videozone/811042

"In the end, I've come to the conclusion that Montreal is alot like glass. It shimmers its tiny shiny pieces that make up an incredible whole. And if you catch it in the right light, it's iluminating! "

Edited by ChrisDVD
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Nice article. It sort of goes well with the city, seeing city hall try to get rid of their bad image. Hence the glass... see-through :P. The city of Montreal and city hall wants some transparency.

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