Finding an ancestor at the Morrin Centre in Quebec City

Written by Claire Sewell

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The Morrin Centre is located in Quebec City and is also home to the city’s only English-language library. Originally built as a military barracks in 1712, it became a prison in 1813 and was refurbished to house Morrin College in 1862. In 1868 it also became home to the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, and the library was established at this time.

My husband and I visited the Morrin Centre because we had read about the beautiful library online. I also discovered an ancestor, Jonathan Sewell, during our time in the city. Sewell was a lawyer and judge who helped establish the Society, and he served as its president from 1830-31. As a librarian myself, it was a great thrill to discover this and to find his portrait at the Morrin Centre.

The library itself is historically beautiful but comfortable and welcoming as well. Visitors may be surprised to know that it is a fully operational library, and members can check out books! The library maintains a well rounded collection that even includes many older books still in circulation.

For instance, I came across an original copy of The Complete Book of Cats with photographs by Walter Chandoha from 1957. It still included the date due slips in the back with stamps throughout the years!

I particularly enjoyed the homey seating area in the children’s area that shows the staff is truly dedicated to serving its users. The librarian on staff was very friendly and answered my question about the library’s service platform. The library also includes a spiral staircase and upper level that, although this area was closed, inspires a sense of awe at the space as you look up.

We really enjoyed exploring the library and seeing the variety of books available. A Discovery Tour is available, which I highly recommend, because it includes a tour of a preserved section of the prison and college classrooms. The Morrin Centre is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in Quebec City learning about the city’s history and visiting a unique library.

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