Montreal in the Plural

By Johnston, Penelope | History Today, August 1993 | Go to article overview

Montreal in the Plural


Johnston, Penelope, History Today


The new exhibition |Sharing Our City' which opened in June and runs for six months at the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History at Pointe a Calliere, focuses on the cultural diversity of Montreal's inhabitants. In keeping with the theme of the museum, which reflects the five centuries of settlement in the city, and its extensive trade network, the exhibition tells the story of the various immigrants to Montreal and looks at the problems they faced when settling in a new city.

The exhibition takes place on the second floor of the new Eperon building, which opened last year, on the site of the nineteenth-century Royal Insurance Company, demolished in the 1950s. Echoing elements of this previous building's appearance, the Eperon has been designed to incorporate in its basement the archeological excavations of 500 years of life on the site.

The earliest remains found beneath the museum are of the Iroquois Indians (Indian settlement in the Montreal region can be traced back at least 2,000 years) and include arrow tips, harpoons, pieces of pottery and wood carvings. A friendly encounter with the Indians of this area is mentioned by the French navigator Jacques Cartier in 1535, on his second trip to the North American continent. However, archaeologists have yet to find the precise location of the village he mentions, called Hochelaga.

In 1611, Samuel de Champlain, the founding father of New France, set up a temporary trading post, which was later abandoned. Then, in May 1642, Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, planted the French flag and with forty settlers established the first official settlement, Ville-Marie, as a base from whence to convert the natives. Several houses and a small fort on the point were built, followed a yea later by a Roman Catholic cemetery, the remains of which lie in the eastern corner of the Eperon basement. Excavations have revealed the graves of thirty-eight settlers, seven of which can clearly be seen at the Eperon.

Its location meant that Ville-Marie quickly became a commercial centre where soldiers, farmers, nuns and tradesmen exchanged goods. On display from this period are dishes, cast iron pots, nails and ammunition from France. …

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