The city of Dorval plans to buy and restore a historic shoreline manor house, built 150 years ago by Désiré Girouard, the municipality’s first mayor.
The city of Dorval plans to buy a historic home that was once owned by the municipality’s first mayor. The house, originally called Les Quatre Vents, has had various owners and been through several architectural modifications in the 150 years of its existence. Most recently, it served as a retirement home for an order of nuns, the last of whom vacated in 2020.
“The property is historic and must be preserved for the public,” says Dorval Mayor Marc Doret. “It has a beautiful view of the southeast of Dorval Island, which you don’t see from other perspectives.”
The mayor added that while the structure has not been neglected, it requires considerable restoration and renovation work, including a new roof. “Also, it may have asbestos in it,” he says.
Major modifications to the structure throughout the years—including the addition of a pseudo-Spanish stuccoed facade that was never part of the original building—will make it impossible to completely restore it to its original state. “There were originally gabled windows that are no longer there,” Mayor Doret says. “And at some point a third floor was added. We may be able to restore the tower but we’ll need an engineering study before making any decisions.”
The property, on the Lake St. Louis shoreline at the foot of Dahlia Avenue, has a long history that predates the current structure, which was built in 1873 by Désiré Girouard, Dorval Village’s first mayor (more about him later). Wood houses on this piece of land predated the current structure by about 200 years. The first was built in 1685 by settler Jacques Morin, the second by Jean-Baptiste Bouchard Dorval in 1691, and the third by Antoine Picard in 1732. None of them remain.
The current stone house was built in 1803 by Antoine Picard’s son, Jean-Baptiste, and enlarged and renovated by Jean-Baptiste’s grandson, Désiré Girouard, in 1873. He named it Les Quatre Vents because the wind blew onto the property from all directions. Mr. Girouard became the first mayor of Dorval Village in 1892, and died in 1911 at the age of 74 after being thrown from his sleigh on a street in Ottawa.
Les Quatre Vents was modified by successive owners before it was bought in the late 1950s by a religious order: les Soeurs missionaires Notre-Dame des Apôtres. An annex—a non-descript postwar building—was added to the north of the house during the 1960s to house a novitiate. Since 1976, the property has been a retirement home for sisters of the Congrégation de Notre Dame.
“The annex is institutional,” Mayor Doret says. “The best way to describe the inside is that it looks like a hospital with nursing stations. There is a chapel on the ground floor. The sisters lived very simply with communal bathrooms, and they ate in a cafeteria-style space downstairs. It’s very utilitarian.”
By contrast, the historic house, called “the manor,” retains many architectural elements of the past. “Having been in the house, I think it makes you appreciate those who lived in those times,” the mayor said. “There are stone and tile floors, a curving wood staircase with a railing that allows you to look down to the first floor, and painted tiles embedded in the walls.”
The house was first a summer residence and later a year-round home for Mr. Girouard and his family. “Desiré Girouard was a very interesting character,” says Mayor Doret. In fact, historical accounts describe him as highly accomplished. A lawyer who had studied law at McGill University, he won a seat as a Conservative in the House of Commons in 1878, and held it until he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1895. In 1910, he was appointed Deputy Governor General.
Given the coveted location of Les Quatre Vents, the property has captured the interest of developers. However, says Mayor Doret, “the zoning is not residential; it’s religious institutional. And council will not change the zoning.”
Once restored, the house may be maintained as a show home “to show people how it looked in 1908,” he says. “It’s also possible that we can offer our local historical society offices on the third floor. We don’t know yet. We’ve given the mandate to the city’s director-general to begin negotiations with the nuns to purchase the property. The next step will be to gather a group of architects who can advise us about restoring it.”