Sister Helen, the mother superior and mayor of Notre-Dame-des-Anges

Photo: Renaud Philippe The Duty
Sister Hélène Marquis leads a community of 70 religious and 320 residents in Notre-Dame-des-Anges, a small enclave in the heart of Quebec city.

In the fall of 2015, Floribert Langis had to leave his apartment to the street Commissioners, in the district of Saint-Roch of Quebec. Muscular dystrophy had gained too much ground. He moved to the other side of the street, and the stone wall — in the hosting Centre of the general Hospital of Quebec. Without knowing it, he had left behind him his right to vote in municipal elections.

Even if they live in the heart of the city of Quebec, the residents of the accommodation Centre of the general Hospital of Quebec cannot vote in municipal elections. They do not live in Quebec, but rather to Our Lady of the Angels — a separate municipality of 0.04 km2, which is provided to hold elections.


Nearly 400 people living in this municipality to a religious vocation — the first of its kind in Quebec — was established on 1 July 1855, that is to say, the 320 residents of the accommodation centre, and 70 religious. Sister Hélène Marquis endorse the clothes of a magistrate. “It is I, Madam Mayor !” launches the top at the other end of the wire. “Here, there is not a municipal council. “


Since his arrival at Quebec, Floribert Langis has discharged its duty of a citizen. Good weather, bad weather, the regular sessions of the municipal council, has never missed an appointment in the election campaign. It is a sacred ritual, according to him. “I’ve always loved it, the policy… Municipal, provincial and federal levels “, says he in an interview with Le Devoir. He has always exercised his right to vote, except the 5 last November.

Photo: Renaud Philippe The Duty
Floribert Langis is passionate about politics. So it was a shock to him when he learned that he could not vote at the most recent local election.

A few days of the election, his neighbour, Sébastien has been advised that it could not support its candidate for favorite in the city hall of Québec. “How is it, I can’t vote, me ? I still have my head, ” he said, annoyed, at the direction of the hosting center managed by the integrated Center for academic health and social service (CIUSS) of the National Capital. “It was explained to me that it has to do with the religious on the other side. I was disappointed. I was not happy “, ” he says with aplomb, after having locked his wheelchair in his room on the third floor. “I’ve always loved it, the policy,” continues the man, nicknamed “the Survivor” in a chronicle published in the summer of 2005 in the daily newspaper The Sun.


“The municipality, that is me “


Sister Hélène welcomes The Duty in the “red Room” of the monastery, where the count de Frontenac had made his home during the second half of the Seventeenth century. “Okay, what is it that you want to know ?” asks augustine, before prevent : “I don’t have much to say on the municipality. The municipality, that is me… all alone. “


Residents of Notre-Dame-des-Anges benefit in the facts of “all the services of the City of Quebec, without paying taxes,” she explains. “It has always been the poor that have been received here. We have never charged taxes for our residents. But the City would have wanted to have this tax. We said : “Load it up, you, the tax, and to you we give [the recipes].” I said : well, come on ! “


In his eyes, the nursing sisters are forever clear of any debt to the City of Quebec. “We had virtually the whole of the lower town. We have given land “, including that which is now housed in the Victoria park, she says.


The site, which is home to a dozen buildings — including the general Hospital of Quebec —, is connected to the network of aqueducts and sewers of the city of Quebec. In case of emergency, the police and firefighters of Quebec flock. “We don’t often need the police,” notes sister Helena, who lives on the premises since 1953. “It is a quiet setting. There is no conspiracy here. “


The heritage site, on which more than 1,000 fallen soldiers during the Seven Years war (1756-1763) are buried, including the marquis of Montcalm, is obviously in the viewfinder of the ministry of Culture and Communications. “Then, it is necessary to take precautions. If it was a door handle to change it, you should fill out an application “, she says in a tone asked. “[That said], if you want to make alterations, we may not ask for permission to the City of Quebec, but it always does because it has very good relations with the City, ” she adds.


The sisters of the general Hospital have jealously protected their autonomy in the face of the referred annexationist politicians who have succeeded one another at the city hall of Quebec city. “You others, you are lucky. Me, as mayor of Sainte-Foy, I wasn’t doing what I wanted “, they would have launched the mayor Andrée Boucher in 2006, on the sidelines of the inauguration of the spectacular sculpture featuring a nun, the veil in the wind, extending the arms to an old man.


No taxation, no representation


Unlike the other two municipalities to a religious vocation in Quebec still existing — Saint-Benoît-du-Lac and Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague-du-Cap-Tourmente — Our-Lady-of-Angels now has a population that is mostly secular. It does not have its word to say on the composition of the board that directs the destinies of the municipality as it is named, for more than 160 years, by the members of the congregation of the Augustines of the Mercy of Jesus.


The religious elect, to two-thirds of the votes, every three years, their superior. It is assigned automatically as the title of mayor. “Nobody wanted it. The position comes with big responsibilities, ” stresses sister Hélène, indicating that the average age of the nuns is around 85 years. The community has only one professes, which bodes well for the upcoming end of a crazy adventure that spanned four centuries. “Here, there could be 500 soldiers and infirm. They lived everywhere : in the barn, in the barn, in church, everywhere. The sisters took their linen to bandage the wounds. English, French… everyone was treated on the same footing. “


Pious wishes ?


Floribert Langis requests the government of Quebec to allow him to vote in the upcoming municipal elections. “Besides, I’ve always won my elections,” he says proudly. It was the 5th of November last, he says.


Sister Helen made light of the grievances of Mr. Langis. “They are part of the municipality. They can’t vote in the city of Quebec. I wonder what it can do, ” said the superior, looking up at the sky.


A chime sounds. The religious pulls from his pocket a mobile phone. “Sister Helen, hello ! “”Yes… “” okay. “” I’m coming. “It is 15 h battery. Another guest was waiting. “Excuse me, my agenda is as heavy as that of Mr. Labeaume,” she said with a smile, before turning off the lights of the red Room.

Other cases

In Quebec, the five municipalities are exempt from having to proceed to the election of a city council in good and due form, including the three municipalities to a religious vocation : Our-Lady-of-Angels (Capitale-Nationale), Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague-du-Cap-Tourmente (National Capital) and Saint-Benoît-du-Lac (eastern Townships). The other two municipalities, so-called “administered” are Schefferville, in Côte-Nord-du-Golfe-du-Saint-Laurent, which is located between Natashquan and Gros-Mécatina, in Basse-Côte-Nord.

“In 1914, the Augustinians obtain an amendment to the Charter of the City of Quebec, which binds any merger of Notre-Dame-des-Anges at Quebec city in their voluntary agreement. This provision explains why the municipality has survived the process of mergers which have taken place in the region of Quebec for over one hundred years. A few years later, on December 11, 1923, the City of Quebec appendix, with the agreement of the religious, an important part of Our-Lady-of-Angels. […] The integration of the Notre-Dame-des-Anges with its neighbour has been briefly touched on in the years 1970 and 2000 by people who have probably forgotten the legislative amendment made in 1914. “

Source: Richard Leclerc, “The municipalities to religious vocation in Quebec”

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