A Summer Walk into Montreal’s Early Years under …

Market Day

Market Day by Liliane Azerad-Goldman

If you are in Montréal on a sunny weekend summer day and if you want to hear and perhaps see the ghosts of early Montréal, take a walk through "Vieux Montréal" (Old Montréal).

The best time to embark on this venture is very early in the day on a Satuday or Sunday where you may encounter Monsieur Dollier de Casson Father Superior of the Seminaire de Montréal and perhaps Canada’s first town planner.

Should you be travelling by car from Bld René Levesque, it is wise to park your car, on McGill Street (not to be confused with Av McGill College), which is the continuation of Cote de la Beaver Hall.

If you are taking the Metro get off at the Square Victoria station and walk south towards the St. Lawrence River (Fleuve St Laurent) on McGill Street and onto rue de la Commune where my trip back into history begins.

In this area you will find a concrete boardwalk running parallel to the river that is open for pedestrians, cyclists and roller bladers.

During the late spring up until the early fall you will find snack bars, toilet facilities, musicians, park benches, etc., scattered throughout the span of the boardwalk.

The history of rue de la Commune dates back to 1651 when Paul Chomedy de Maisonneuve, who was the first governor of Montreal granted to a Monsieur Jean de Saint-Père a strip of land of about 40 arpents in depth. (An arpent is the French measure of land equivalent to about one acre.) This strip of land extended along the banks of the St Lawrence River just about where you will be taking your early morning stroll.

The main purpose of this strip of land was to enable all of the residents of the area to graze their animals in common with others. In other words, it was a public pasture. Originally the street was named Commissioners Street or rue des Commissaires, and only recently had the name been changed to rue de la Commune.

This "commune" was transformed every year to the annual fur fair when the traders would exhibit and sell their fur skins.

It is to be noted that Paul Chomedy de Maisonneuve founded Montréal in 1642 along with Jeanne Mance. Acting on behalf of Société Notre-Dame, de Maisonneuve established the mission of Ville-Marie whose primary purpose had been to establish a missionary post to the Indians.

Later it was granted to a religious order, the Sulpicians, who played a major role in shaping the character of the city for generations.

Upon arrival in "Nouvelle France" de Maisonneuve immediately constructed a small fort on Pointe-à-Callière and within the interior of this fort the inhabitants of the colony resided.

You may wish to refer to the following site in order to understand who these inhabitants were and what did they look like?

My wife, who is a watercolorist, has also depicted one of the characters of this era on her page. You will see a beautiful watercolor of a bread lady.

After several years many of the inhabitants decided to live outside the small fort, and eventually a path was established between the interior and exterior of the fort. Dollier de Casson wanted to respect the route of this path and consequently established the boundaries of rue Saint-Paul.

The street was named in honor of the first governor of Montréal, Paul Chomedy de Maisonneuve.

Walking along Rue de la Commune you may keep in mind that in the early days there did exist a pathway bordering the river that the inhabitants named "chemin de la grande rivière" or the pathway of the great river.

This pathway served not only as a means of travel but also served as place they could tow the boats into the port.

This "commune" was transformed every year to the annual fur fair when the traders would exhibit and sell their fur skins.

You may look at a webcam of Old Montreal – and if you are lucky you might see Paul Chomedy de Maisonneuve and Mme Jeanne Mance founders of Montreal!

It was also this same Dollier de Casson who ordered the first survey of Montreal.

The original plan of "Vieux Montréal" consisted of 10 streets, of which three ran parallel to the river, such as rue Notre Dame, rue Saint Paul, rue Saint Jacques; the other seven ran perpendicular to the river, such as rue Saint Pierre, rue Saint Francois Xavier, rue Saint Jean Baptiste, rue Saint Gabriel, rue Saint Vincent, rue de l’Hopital.

These streets were all named after patron saints.

At the turn of the 18th century Montréal’s population was about 1,500 souls, which gradually grew to about 7,500 in the year 1760, at the time of the British conquest.

If you place yourself within the walled city in the 1740s and 1750s, you would probably take in what is roughly "Vieux Montréal" today. Here are some present-day photos of some of these streets.

It was In 1718 that the French foremost military engineer Chaussegros de Léry encircled the city with a fortified stone wall.

McGill Street was the western edge of the gate of the wall or, as it was known at that time as Recollets’ Gate, and the boundaries extended to the eastern gate known as St. Martin or the Quebec Gate (Place Viger today).

The width was about a quarter of a mile across at the widest point where Place D’Armes is now located.

As you walk on today’s concrete boardwalk bordering the river you may encounter the ghost of the widow of Monsieur de Ramesay, who lived on rue Notre Dame that runs parallel to rue de la Commune.

Claude de Ramesay was the 11th governor of Montréal and administrator of "Nouvelle France" from 1714 to 1716.

In 1705 he had built a chateau on rue Notre Dame which has been named after him. You may want to step inside his former home that now serves as the oldest private history museum in Quebec.

To reach rue Notre Dame take any side street along Rue de La Commune, such as rue Saint-Sulpice, and walk north as it is one street to the north and parallel to rue Saint Paul.

From the very beginning of its existence rue Notre Dame had taken on a very important role, as it was where the parish church and residence of the Sulpicians were built.

The street was named after the patron saint of the City, Notre-Dame and so was the church the Basilique Notre-Dame.

You must step into the Notre Dame Basilica and admire the architecture.

During the 17th and 18th centuries rue Notre Dame was reserved for the religious administrators of the City of Montreal.

Here is a photo of present-day rue Notre Dame. Notice the McDonalds! Monsieur de Ramesay and the Sulpicians must be turning in their graves!

Oh well, at least you know you can have something to eat while you take your stroll!

On rue Notre Dame located across from City Hall you will find the Tourist Information office, where you will be able to secure maps, brochures and most information you request concerning the city.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief history walk of the City of Montreal, from the time of its discovery until 1760, when the English were in control of the City of Montréal.

This article was originally published at Suite101.com.

Back to Montreal Guide

Questions?

If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.

Traveler Article


Leave a Comment