M385 | The Place d'Armes, Montreal, QC, 1828

The Place d'Armes, Montreal, QC, 1828
Robert Auchmuty Sproule (1799-1845)
1828, 19th century
Watercolour, graphite and ink on paper mounted on board
23 x 34.9 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Painting (2229) , painting (2227)
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Executed from the north-east corner of Place d'Armes, this view looks across the square towards the old Notre-Dame Church. In the left foreground, quarried limestone is being cut for the new church, which can be seen looming just behind the old structure. The soft grey limestone used as a building material in Montreal throughout the nineteenth century was obtained from the quarries of Mile End, a district about one and a half miles north-west of Place d'Armes. A number of figures - in addition to the stone masons - are visible and, although rather contrived and clumsily painted, they succeed in imparting a sense of liveliness to the scene. In the centre, a man scurries out of the path of the approaching stage coach, while in the right foreground a parish priest greets an elderly man supporting himself on a cane. Notices can be seen posted on the side of the building to the right. One announces passage to Quebec on the new steamship Swiftsure, and the other a play starring Clara Fisher (1811-1898). This work, like other watercolours of Montreal by Sproule (six in all; one lost), served as the basis for an engraving by W. S. Leney (1769-1831) and was published in Montreal in 1830 by A. Bourne (1795-1886). All six were re-issued as a set of chromolithographs in 1871. (Excerpt from: GRAHAM, Conrad. Mont-Royal - Ville Marie : Early Plans and Views of Montreal, McCord Museum of Canadian History, p. 76.)

Keys to History

The Church of Notre-Dame was the most prominent building in Place d'Armes when it was built in 1672. This view of Place d'Armes, executed in 1828, looks across the square towards the old Notre-Dame Church.

But by 1823, the Sulpicians of Notre-Dame decided to built a new parish church. The old church was not large enough to accommodate Montreal's rapidly expanding population, nor did it adequately reflect the Catholic French-Canadian population of the city. The Sulpician order wanted something grander - a basilica.

Construction of Notre-Dame Basilica began in May 1824 and ended in 1829, supervised by the New York architect James O'Donnell (1774-1829). Up until 1888, when the New York Life Insurance building went up across the street from it, the new church was the tallest building in Place d'Armes.

  • What

    This painting of Place d'Armes in Montreal is a watercolour with graphite and ink on paper.

  • Where

    The limestone seen being cut in the lower-right corner of the painting was most likely taken from the quarries of Mile End, a district about one and one-half miles northwest of Place d'Armes.

  • When

    The new Notre-Dame Basilica was the first major building in Canada to be built in the neo-Gothic style that was popular in the 19th century.

  • Who

    The artist of this work, Robert Auchmuty Sproule (1799-1845), was an Irish watercolourist, miniaturist and drawing master who came to Canada in 1826.