Located in the Old Montreal district, the grounds of the Old General Hospital were subject to several major floods (notably in 1789 and 1838) as a result of spring flooding of the St. Lawrence. The development of the port and the St. Lawrence waterway did not begin until the end of the 19th century to alleviate this problem.
Here is how the flood of 1789 was told by a sister:
‘As early as December 31, 1788, the extraordinary flood of the river covered in part with ice could inspire some fear by giving apprehension of a heavy flood. But trusting no doubt in the good and sure care of Providence, our sisters at bedtime retired as usual and went quite quietly to take their rest without even stopping to think of putting at least one watchman on sentry duty to awaken the Community in case of accident. It is to be presumed that everyone in the house had heavy eyelids that night, for all slept so soundly that no one heard the tumultuous agitation of the great waters of the St. Lawrence, which intermingled with enormous ice cubes, came to strike the surrounding wall, making their way everywhere and penetrating rapidly into all the buildings of the Hospital and submerging the surrounding area. Mother Lemaire, who was still a very young sister, was the first to wake up to the unusual noise that suddenly struck her ear; she jumped out of her bed, and looking through one of the windows, she was surprised to see water on all sides, the courtyards, the outbuildings, everything was flooded, while the very first floor of the house threatened to become nothing less than a vast lake. Although it was only about three o’clock in the morning, our Sr. Lemaire believed it necessary to sound the alarm and alert everyone to the danger. (…)
‘After our Sisters ensured the safety of all the staff of the Hospital and put the few provisions they possessed away from the invading element, they had to think of rescuing the animals still shivering in the icy water that had gained so much ground and risen so high that there was no longer any way to reach the buildings in the boat: they improvised rafts with which they removed the horses from the stables, took them to the house, in the former children’s room. ‘
(…) ‘As the second floor was completely flooded, and the second and third were completely crowded, there was no other choice but to make the cows climb to the fourth floor, to a small attic above the nave of the church. (…) The poor animals, not having been admitted to the Council, understood nothing of what was claimed to be required of them, so they showed themselves to be in such a recalcitrant mood that more than once the bravest were tempted to abandon the enterprise and those who had to give them the first lessons to teach them to climb the stairs never forgot it for the rest of their lives.’
Source: archives of the Grey Nuns of Montreal-G02, A, 18 – MM.300, Floods of 1789