MONTREAL -- The Stewart Museum on St Helen's Island is closing immediately and permanently after 66 years, its board announced Tuesday.

The museum, located in the historical fort on the island, in Parc Jean-Drapeau, was founded in 1955 and had almost 27,000 artefacts and documents about the establishment of New France and other local history.

The museum hasn't survived the pandemic, which has brought a nosedive in its finances, but a plan to bring its collection to downtown Montreal was already in the works.

"A particularly challenging financial context and uncertainty about the future led us to make this sad decision," said Monique Jérôme-Forget, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the McCord Stewart Museum, in a statement.

The McCord Stewart Museum is the body that runs both the McCord Museum in downtown Montreal and the Stewart, since their merger in 2013.

While the Stewart will exist no more in its unique location, its collection will be brought downtown and combined with the McCord's, on Sherbrooke St. across from McGill University.

"We felt it would be preferable to accelerate the physical integration of the two museums, which was already planned and announced as part of our new museum project, and bring together their collections and programs in one location downtown at the McCord Museum," said Jérôme-Forget.

The Stewart's mission was to "preserve and showcase these artefacts that bear witness to the voyages of exploration, scientific advances, feats of arms, beliefs and daily lives of our ancestors" iin the settlement of Europeans in North America, the statement said.

The McCord Museum, meanwhile, has a slightly different mandate, focusing on "life in Montreal, past and present."

In the last year, the Stewart's operating costs have grown while foundations that used to support the museum have decreased their donations. 

Revenues have dropped 95 per cent as the museum has been closed for most of the year.

There were also longer-term problems, the statement said: "The difficulty of regaining a significant clientele since the Stewart Museum reopened in 2011," it said, partly because of its one-of-a-kind setting.

"Due to its island location, the Museum has continued to face this problem despite all the efforts and resources invested in it since 2013," the museum's board wrote.

“Closing this museum is heartbreaking for us," said Suzanne Sauvage, the museum's CEO.

“But the soul of a museum is its collections, and fortunately, with the support of our teams, we’ll be able to increase public and research access to this precious collection.”

The relocation of the collection will happen over the coming year, "which will maintain jobs for several months," said the statement. "Every effort will be made to limit layoffs by reassigning some affected employees to the McCord Museum."

For now, the collection will be available virtually, including through a new digital platform to be launched next fall.