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Montreal: Views, Maps and Plans

By Conrad Graham

The first European recorded to have reached the Gulf of St. Lawrence was Jacques Cartier (1491-1557). On October 2, 1535, he arrived at the Aboriginal settlement of Hochelaga, situated on the slopes of the mountain he named Mont Royal.

Many years later, in May of 1611, Samuel de Champlain (about 1567-1635), the founder of New France, surveyed the area around what is today Pointe-à-Callières for a suitable place for a settlement, realizing how important this particular location was in the expansion of the fur trade to the west.

Founding and early development of the settlement

On May 17, 1642, the settlement called Ville-Marie was founded by Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve (1612-1672). The main aim of the settlement, whose site was chosen for its geographical location and the proximity of arable land and water, was the conversion of the Aboriginal inhabitants. In the autumn of 1642 one of de Maisonneuve's companions, Jeanne Mance (1606-1673), a nurse who acted as bursar for the small colony, founded the Hôtel-Dieu hospital. In 1645 the hospital's building had been completed outside the fortified enclosure, and by 1659 Jeanne Mance had brought from France three nuns from the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph to act as staff.

In 1657, at the request of de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance, four Sulpicians arrived at the settlement of Ville-Marie from France. In March of 1663 the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice was granted the seigneury of the island of Montreal and this remained in effect until the abolition of the seigneurial system in 1854. The Sulpicians' Church of Notre-Dame was opened in 1683, and this simple, elongated structure remained a landmark on Montreal's horizon for more than a century and a half.

In 1672 Dollier de Casson, then superior of the Montreal Sulpicians, commissioned the layout of Ville-Marie's first streets. Notre-Dame Street, the most important, had a width of thirty feet and ran both east and west from the site of the proposed parish church. Notre-Dame, St. Paul and St. James streets continued to be regarded as the principal thoroughfares of Montreal (name used since the 18th century) until the late 19th century. A wooden palisade was erected in 1685 to protect the expanded town, and in 1717 work began on the construction of stone fortifications that were eventually completed in 1741.

Population growth and urban development

In the late 18th century, Montreal was still a town dependent on the fur trade for economic survival. The census of 1761 lists 5,500 inhabitants while that of 1799 lists 9,000. The city's growth rate was thus relatively slow, as also attested to by the Wright drawing of 1770 and the Walsh watercolour of 1806.

With the Napoleonic Wars came a demand for large amounts of squared timber for shipbuilding. Montreal was able to fulfil the demand, and this expansion of the city's economic base was reflected in a rise in population to 26,154 by the year 1825.

The increase in population resulted in the expansion of the suburbs of St. Lawrence to the north, St. Antoine to the west, and Quebec to the east - all clearly visible in the Duncan watercolours of 1832. A new skyline began to develop: whereas throughout the 18th century the city's primary landmarks were the bell tower of Notre-Dame and Citadel hill, by 1821 the spire of Christ Church loomed to the east of the Roman Catholic church of Notre-Dame, situated on Notre-Dame Street. The main structure of the new Notre-Dame parish church was completed in 1829.

Montreal had always been the last navigable point on the St. Lawrence River, and as early as the 1680s Dollier de Casson had attempted to build a canal circumventing the Lachine Rapids. In 1825, this project was finally realized, and new industries sprang up in the St. Antoine's ward area as a direct outcome of the resulting easier transport of goods.

Gradually, the city's harbour facilities expanded. In 1830 the wharves were rudimentary and stretched for only a short distance along De la Commune Street. By 1848 the wharves were stone dressed and extended for over two miles along the riverfront.

Along with economic expansion came political importance, and in 1844 the seat of the government of Canada East and Canada West was moved from Kingston to Montreal. Through the images created by numerous military artists and resident artists of the 19th century, it is possible to see the gradual transformation of a small frontier settlement into an important city.


Source: "Mont Royal-Ville-Marie. Early Plans and Views of Montreal" ExhibitionText,
McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1992


Allodi, Mary. Canadian Watercolours and Drawings in the Royal Ontario Museum, 2 vols. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 1980, p. 63.

Frederick, Wm. Terrill. Chronology of Montreal and of Canada from AD 1752 to AD 1893..., Montreal: Lovell, 1893.

Jenkins, Kathleen. Montreal: Island City of the St. Lawrence. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966.

Marsan, Jean-Claude. Montreal in Evolution. Montreal: McGill-Queen's, 1981, p. 18.


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