Photo : Denis-Carl Robidoux

Founded by Jeanne Mance in 1642 at the same time as the city, the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal is about to disappear, to be replaced by the new CHUM.

And yet, unless they have been treated here or live in the neighbourhood, few people know this hospital. Faced with the imminent dismantling of the Hôtel-Dieu, this documentary addresses a need to rediscover this place and the people who keep it alive.

The film follows several parallel storylines, all linked to the life of the hospital, grouped under three main themes:

The people who work at the Hôtel-Dieu and how they are affected by the prospect of the move. These include cardiac surgeons Dr Basile and Dr Prieto, who have formed a close-knit team since the 1970s, sharing the same office and operating on the same days, right from the start. The two building technicians, Sylvain Caron and Sylvain Grenon, who have become fast friends, have been working side by side for 35 years and take care of the building as if it were a sick patient. Harpist Annabelle and massage therapist Michaël, hired by the Volunteer Auxiliaries Association for patients at the end of life, lived the beginning of their love story on the hospital floors, before the camera’s lens.

The fate of several patients who are regulars at the hospital, their “second home”: for example, Alexandra, an endearing young woman of 26 suffering from cystic fibrosis, Richard, a septuagenarian brought into emergency for open-heart surgery, and Fernand, a 74-year-old who faces his final days with great serenity.

The story of Hôtel-Dieu itself, a character in the film in its own right. We discover the bowels of the hospital as renovations continue. The convent next door, the chapel, the museum, the crypt, the walled garden all serve as reminders of the values of a bygone time. As for the nuns, there are no more than sixty left in their community on the other side of the hospital walls. They have no one to take over their work. The care with which they share their history and their admiration for their founders is a reminder of the care they provided, or in some cases continue to provide, for the sick. Witness to a history that is changing before their very eyes, they helplessly await the end of the institution, not knowing who will be their new neighbours or co-owners.

Like a story-within-a-story filled with humanity, a series of events both large and small unfold within the walls of the hospital during its final two years. The history of the Hôtel-Dieu, inextricably linked to the founding of Montréal, lives on in its final occupants. Each in their own way, they reveal the reasons that kept the Hôtel-Dieu alive for almost 375 years: a sense of family, care, and transmission.

For afterwards, nothing will ever be the same.

Photo : Annabel Loyola