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Great Day Trip : A Visit To A Monastery

Summer is half over, so are probably your annual vacations; out of necessity, many of us have opted for local or regional destinations this year, either day trips or short stays here, there and everywhere… offering ‘some’ type of attraction, where hotels, restaurants and leisure services are available. Some of these ‘theme’ vacations are kids-oriented, some sports-oriented, water-oriented; whatever-oriented yours are, it’s totally fine and you deserve it! What if I were to suggest an activity that is a multi-combination of art-history-culinary-nature-religion-…? What if I told you it is FREE? What if I added that it is within a 30-minute drive? Well, get your agenda out!

From Hawkesbury and Grenville, head east on Route 148; shortly after the village of Marelan, intersecting Route 148 is Montée Hall which will  bring you to the Half Moon Lake district; follow indications at intersections and you will have reached the Monastery of Virgin Mary Consolatory! Welcome… and as the greeting formula on their internet site says, ‘Come and you shall see!’

If you ever had the opportunity to visit the Trappist monks’ Abbey and Monastery in Oka, your experience will be somewhat comparable, depending of your approach: it may be deeply spiritual, inquisitive in culinary delicacies, appreciative of byzantine art, or strictly a great family visit in a gorgeous natural setting: all of the above are allowed and welcomed, no need to be Greek Orthodox. You are required to dress decently and sacraments are reserved for Orthodox only.

The monastery is the only Greek Orthodox one in Quebec and is under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Canada; it was founded in 1993. Two nuns came from Macedonia to establish it in rather difficult conditions: 235 acres of dense forest set on a hill in the Laurentians on which stood an old farm and farmhouse were purchased from an English-speaking family with the objective of transforming it into a monastery. The farmland itself was overgrown, the house in ruins: love, sacrifice and hard work, plus new nun recruits and volunteers worked miracles and transformed it into what it is now…although there is much left in the plans to do and to raise funds for! And although prayer still remains their main duty, today’s 24 nuns share many other responsibilities, from sunrise to sunset. The nuns are from various origins but share a common language: greek; they are all dressed in a black robe and their order is semi-cloistered.

Since that the purchase of this property was conditional to being run as an agricultural business, the nun administrators decided to keep the goats that were still roaming the property and to go into the cheese-making business: some of them registered at l’Institut de technique agro-alimentaire de Saint-Hyacinthe in order to get a commercial permit, which they did successfully. And so in 2000 was born the cheese factory, ‘Le Troupeau Bénit’; it produces ten varieties of cheese, their star cheese being their goat feta ‘Fêt’à la Grecque’: but the prototype recipe had to be adjusted many times before they reached the ideal combination: not too salty, not too grainy, with a subtle creamy taste… They also produce pastries, yogurt, ice cream, jams and soaps. Their cheeses, home-grown vegetables and other products are now sold in select IGAs and public markets. These ‘businesses’ are their main source of fundraising in order to finance their expansion projects; from the gigantic structure already in place, it is obvious they have big ambitions for their estate. But from what we witnessed when visiting on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the Greek communities from Quebec and Ontario are taking good care and great pride in their monastery and it will turn out to become a great success! Thank you Sisters for your kind reception!

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