Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
February 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia




[This article was publihed in 1948. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]

Montreal, a city in lat. 45° 30', long. 73° 35', on the island of Montreal, formed by the St. Lawrence river and two branches of the Ottawa which flow into it. Chosen by Iroquoian Indians for an important settlement owing to the abundance of fish in the inshore waters of the Lachine rapids, it owes to the same rapids its present unique importance to the commerce of North America. Nature, enabling ships to penetrate the land for a thousand miles from the open sea, here marked the end of ocean navigation, and also the beginning of inland navigation for a further 1,200 miles by river and lake to the heart of the continent.


In 1535 the French navigator Jacques Cartier, having discovered the St. Lawrence the year before, ascended the river to this island. He was well received at the Indian stronghold of Hochelaga, on the plateau at the foot of the precipitous face of what he named at once le Mont Royal. The town, a group of "long-houses" within a circular stockade, near the present gate of McGill University on Sherbrooke street , had probably 3,500 inhabitants. On the same plateau, sheltered from the north-west, by the mountain, the Hochelagans had their communal farm, growing maize, squash, beans, and other crops.


Champlain, the next European to see mount Royal, in 1611 paid this island the first of a series of annual visits to trade with Indians who came down from the back country to meet him with their furs; but Hochelaga and its people had disappeared. Champlain even planted a garden, with seeds from France. No attempt at colonization was made, however, till a religious group in France, the Société de Notre Dame de Montréal, chose this as the best strategic point for mission work among the Indians. The 21 pioneers of this new "Ville Marie", headed by Paul Chomedy, Sieur de Maisonneuve, landed on May 18, 1642, and set 'up their altar on La Place Royale, where the Customs House now stands. A small fort was built, and close by Mlle Mance established a little hospital.


It was in the chapel of that Hôtel Dieu that Adam Dollard and his heroic comrades took the last sacrament before going out to die at the Long Sault in defence of the colony. For over a century the Iroquois made almost ceaseless war on the settlers, who unwittingly took the other side in an ancient tribal feud, and many of whom were captured, tormented, and slain. The town grew nevertheless, owing to its importance as a centre of the fur-trade; part of the ridge between the lower levels of the present St. Paul and Craig streets was enclosed in a stockade; a strong stone wall took the place of the wooden fortification about 1725 ; but Montreal was still smaller than Quebec in 1759 when Wolfe's victory won that stronghold for the British. On September 8, 1760, Montreal itself surrendered without a fight. The Chateau de Ramezay, the residence of a former French governor, - now preserved as a museum, - became the headquarters of a British general. In 1775 it became the headquarters of an invading army in revolt against Britain. Under its roof Benjamin Franklin set up his press, and printed a futile proclamation calling the French Canadians to join in the revolt. The invaders' subsequent attack on Quebec having failed, the whole colony was swept clear of them in 1776. In the War of 1812, two American armies set out to join in the capture of Montreal ; but one was defeated at Chrysler's Farm on its way down the St. Lawrence, and the other at Châteauguay, south of the river. Montreal, therefore, though it has more than once changed hands in the course of a war, has never since Indian raiding days experienced the horrors of battle.


Of the British merchants who settled here after the change of flag, many were Scots; and a group of these in 1783 formed the North West Company to compete with the English Hudson's Bay Company in the western fur-trade. Employing hundreds of French-Canadian voyageurs, expert canoemen and familiar with Indian ways, the new company built up a huge business, and its partners became the merchant princes of Montreal . The two companies, after years of hot and often bloody conflict in the west, joined forces in 1821. The fur-trade of the united Hudson's Bay Company then ceased to enrich the citizens; nevertheless, for many years those who had been concerned in the North West Company gave leadership to the city's business. But the general commerce of the port grew fast as tidal waves of population flowed in to the country above, first, the United Empire Loyalists, creators of Ontario, whose original headquarters were in Montreal; and then the flood of immigrants from the British isles after the Napoleonic wars. When Upper and Lower Canada were joined to form one province under the legislative union scheme of 1840, the seat of government was established in Montreal. In 1849, however, the parliament building was burnt down by a mob, and the good Lord Elgin, the governor-general, was attacked in the streets, in anger at the passing of the Rebellion Losses Bill. After that, the work of administration and legislation was done at Quebec and Toronto, each having the honour for a few years at a time, till Ottawa was chosen as the permanent capital.


Montreal, however, proceeded to her destiny, endowed with a unique geo­graphical position. Thanks to the pertin­acity of energetic citizens bent on developing this natural advantage, the government in 1844 began to dredge a ship channel through the shallows of lake St. Peter, then only a few feet deep. To-day ocean liners of 30 feet draught ascend in safety to a harbour second only to New York , in capacity and equipment, on the whole American continent. The first steamboat seen on the St. Lawrence was built by John Molson at Montreal in 1808, and plied between that city and Quebec. The Allan Line started its ocean steam­ship service in 1853.


In 1928 the city saw at her docks 1,607 ocean vessels from all parts of the globe, with a tonnage of 5,494,062; besides 5,873 vessels, of 13,735,403 tons, coming down from the lakes by river and canal. Even in such a year of severest depression as 1930 the ocean vessels numbered 1,197, of 4,434,589 tons, and the inland craft 4,390, of 12,857,160 tons. Imports and exports in 1928 totalled 12,589,126 tons; in 1930, 9,687,769 tons. In grain shipment Montreal is supreme. Though the shipping season is only about 7½ months, 211,295,379 bushels were handled in 1928, 90,694,208 in 1929, and 81,669,864 in 1930. (In 1904 the export of grain was only about 565,000 bushels.) New York, the second grain port in the world, with a full twelve months to work in, handled 84,782,462 bushels in 1928, 68,895,992 in 1929, and 48,717,000 in 1930. Electric locomotives on the 70 miles of Montreal's Harbour Railway haul about 250,000 freight cars in a season. The grain elevators hold 15,162,000 bushels; the cold storage warehouses have a capacity of 4,628,000 cubic feet. The floating dry dock, leased to the Vickers Company, is 600 feet long and takes ships of 30 feet draught. The harbour commissioners are appointed by the Dominion government, and the capital expenditure, about $60,000,000 up to 1931, is advanced by parliament; but full interest, as well as current expenditure, is paid from the revenue of the harbour itself.


Both of the Dominion's great railway systems, the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, with a total mileage (including lines outside Canada ) of about 46,600, have their headquarters here. The city's manufactures are extremely varied. Contributing largely to their yearly output of some $600,000,000 are railway cars and locomotives, the Canadian Pacific shops employing, in a busy season, 5,000 men,-structural steel, textiles, clothing, footwear, sugar, flour and other foodstuffs, tobacco, pulp and paper, rubber goods, leather, machinery, furniture and other woodware, electric goods, paint, cement and glassware. Factories now stretch for miles west of the city along the Lachine canal, as well as east along the river.


Of the Dominion's eleven chartered banks, with their paid-up capital of $145,024,560 and assets $3,143,756,013, five have their head offices here, - the Bank of Montreal, founded in 1817, the Royal Bank of Canada, the Banque Canadienne Nationale, the Banque Provinciale du Canada, and Barclay's, - their paid-up capital being $82,500,000 and assets $1,859,021,508. The three life insurance companies with head offices in Montreal had, on December 31, 1930, policies in force amounting to $2,934,907,791, the Sun Life alone having $2,863,701,000.


Along with the rapid growth of Montreal's trade, the population has increased till it far exceeds that of any other Canadian city. As the people spread into the surrounding country, many suburban municipalities sprang up, and several were annexed to the city, which has grown in area since 1860 from 5,000 acres to 32,155, or one-fourth of the island. The city proper stretches for 12½ miles parallel with the St. Lawrence and seven miles across the island to the Ottawa, or rivière des Prairies. Its population, reported in 1871 as 115,000, has risen to 1,116,800. In 1944 Lovell's Directory estimated the total at 1,333,364; and the population of Greater Montreal, including the three cities of Westmount, Outremont, and Verdun, and 11 towns adjoining, is now about 1,537,620.


Of the 218,000 dwellings in Greater Montreal, approximately 118,000 are occupied by French-speaking and 100,000 by English-speaking families; the latter include families still speaking some Yiddish and other tongues, but the children attend schools where English is the language of instruction. Considerable districts, especially in the east half of the city, are almost wholly French. Of the 315 places of worship, 118 are Roman Catholic, 47 United Church, 49 Hebrew, 36 Anglican, 23 Presbyterian, 12 Baptist, and 4 Lutheran. The largest are the Roman Catholic cathedral of, St. James on Dominion Square , copied from St. Peter's at Rome on a scale of 1 to 3; Notre Dame Parish Church on Place d'Armes, seating 10,000; and St. James's United Church .


The greatest centre of higher education in Montreal is McGill University . Opened in 1829 on property bequeathed in 1813 by the Hon. James McGill, and since generously endowed by other Montreal citizens, this is one of the leading universities of the continent. It has 3,000 students, including those in the Macdonald College of Agriculture and Household Science at Ste. Anne de Bellevue where also the teachers are trained for all the Protestant public schools in the province. The French Université de Montréal, developed from a branch of Laval University, Quebec , has about 5,000 students. A great building has been erected for this university on the northern slope of mount Royal.


The Catholic School Board of the city has 225 schools, with 110,000 pupils; the Protestant School Board has 51 schools, with 36,038 pupils. These institutions are supported by the school taxes of the Catholic and non-Catholic (including Jewish) citizens respectively; the school taxes of "neutral" bodies, such as banks and incorporated companies, are divided in proportion to the numbers of Catholics and nonCatholics in the population. The neighbouring municipalities have their own school boards. A very large number of children, including boarders from distant localities, are educated in conventual institutions by religious orders devoted to this work, and in other independent schools both Catholic and Protestant.


The city has many literary, musical, and amateur dramatic organizations, including both English and French branches of the Canadian Authors' Association; but there is little or no book-publication here, except in French. Of the 60 theatres, nearly all are exclusively devoted to motion pictures. The civic library, though housed in a handsome building in the east end, has no branches. There are three independent public libraries,-the Fraser Institute, the Mechanics' Institute, and, outside the inner city, the fine public library of Westmount. The Sulpician Fathers, to whom the seigneurie of the island was granted in 1663, have a magnificent library, now temporarily closed, and McGill University has a library of the highest rank.


The wealthier residential districts, on the slopes of the mountain, and the adjoining city of Westmount, show many individual examples of fine domestic architecture, besides an increasing number of large apartment blocks. Smaller blocks, two, three or four storeys high, containing from four to twenty apartments, are common. Many, especially in the French quarters, are reached by outside stairs. Large hotels and a vast number of rooming houses accommodate the thousands of tourists, chiefly from the United States, who flock to Montreal. Among the architectural landmarks, apart from the churches, down-town are the City Hall, the Court House, and the Bank of Montreal, and up-town the Canadian Pacific Station, the Grey Nunnery and other convents, and the Art Gallery. The sky-line has been greatly altered in the last few years by towering office buildings, including those of the Bell Telephone Company and the Royal Bank, and the vast classical structure of the Sun Life Assurance Company on Dominion Square.


Of the main public services, only the water supply is managed by the city itself. The Montreal Tramways Company, which laid the first tracks in 1861 and electrified its system in 1892, has the sole privilege of running street cars and omnibuses. There are 300 miles of track and 100 miles of bus routes. The Montreal Light Heat and Power Company supplies the city with gas and electric current. It has developed water-power plants for generating current at three of the St. Lawrence rapids, - Lachine, 16,300 h.p.; Cedars, 206,400; Soulanges, 16,650, - and at Chambly on the Richelieu, 22,575; with a steam plant at LaSalle, 22,000. It also buys current from Shawinigan on the St. Maurice, and from Rivière des Prairies, and obtains further supplies from the Beauharnois works on the St. Lawrence, making 700,000 h.p. altogether available, or double the present requirement. There are 7,844 electric power and 231,090 light meters in use. The Montrealers also use 228,867 telephones.


The city is governed by a Council composed of the mayor and 35 aldermen, elected biennially. The management is chiefly in the hands of an executive committee of five aldermen, the chairman drawing $10,000, and the other four $7,000 each per annum. The remaining 30 aldermen draw $2,000 each, and the mayor $10,000. The majority of the aldermen are French, and the proceedings are mostly in that language. The city owns 690 miles of streets, 437 miles being paved and 64 macadamized; with 954 miles of permanent sidewalks. The average daily quantity of water pumped, mostly from the city's intake above the rapids, is 121,946,482 gallons. This includes the consumption by surrounding municipalities, nearly all of which buy their water from the city. The city employs 1,000 firemen and 1,600 policemen. Serious crimes are far fewer than in any other city of the size in the United States.


The city's Health Department reports a death rate of 13.92 per 1,000 of population, 16.19 among French Canadians, 11.34 among British Canadians, 6.52 among Jews, and 9.25 among others. The birth rate was 26.80 per 1,000: French Canadians 32.58, British Canadians 17,53, Jews 19.53, others 14. 84. Marriage rate, 9. 62 per thousand,

French Canadians 9.26, British Canadians 11.64, Jews 10.50, others 6.02. The infant death rate has been much reduced, but is still high. Deaths of children under one year number 2,701, or 132.30 per 1,000 of the 20,415 births reported, the separate rates being: French Canadians 148.47, British Canadians 71.01, Jews 25.91, others 173.68. The city has 1,320 doctors and 479 dentists. Of 5,255 beds in 17 hospitals the largest numbers are in the Hôpital du Sacré Coeur for incurables and the tuberculous, 1,500; Royal Victoria Hospital, 800; Miséricorde, 600; Montreal General Hospital, 500; Hôtel Dieu, Notre Dame, and Ste. Justine Children's Hospital, 300 each. In addition, the Hôpital St. Jean de Dieu and the Verdun Protestant Hospital accommodate respectively 3,300 and 800 mental patients, drawn from many points besides Montreal .


The city has 2,191 acres in parks Mount Royal Park with its 463 acres consists of the naturally wooded summit and upper slopes of the mountain,one of seven extinct volcanoes rising abruptly from the flat St. Lawrence plain. The records of McGill Observatory for 56 years show a mean July temperature of 68.9 and a mean for January of 13.0; the highest point reached being 94 in 1881 and 1901, and the lowest 27.1 in 1914. The average annual rainfall for 56 years is 29.3 inches. An average snowfall of 116 inches brings the total average precipitation to 41.2 inches. Hours of sunshine are 43 . 8 per cent. of the highest possible.


Bibliography. A considerable literature has grown up about Montreal . Among the earlier works may be mentioned T. Doige, An alphabetical list of the merchants, traders, and householders residing in Montreal , to which is prefixed a descriptive sketch of the town (Montreal, 1819; reprinted, 1899); Dollier de Casson, Histoire de Montreal (Montreal, 1868; tr. and ed. by R. Flenley, Toronto, 1928) ; N. Bosworth, Hochelaga depicta (Montreal, 1839; reprinted, Toronto, 1901) ; J. Leqoir, Montreal et ses principaux monuments (Montreal, 1859); C Glackemeyer, Chartes et règlements de la cité de Montréal (Montreal, 1865); A. Sandham, Ville Marie, or sketches of Montreal (Montreal, 1870) ; Rev. J. D. Borthwick, Montreal, its history (Montreal, 1875), History and biographical gazetteer of Montreal (Montreal, 1892), and History of Montreal (Montreal, 1897); W. D. Lighthall, Sights and shrines of Montreal (Montreal, 1892) and` Montreal after 250 years (Montreal, 1892); Sir Herbert Ames, The city below the hill (Montreal, 1897) ; N. M. Hinshelwood, Montreal and vicinity (Montreal, 1902) ; and J. C. Lamothe, Histoire de la corporation de la cité de Montreal (Montreal, 1903). More recent works are W. H. Atherton, Montreal, 1535-1914 (3 vols., Montreal, 1914) ; U. Z. Massicotte, Montreal sous le regime Français (Montreal, 1919); V. Morin, La ville aux clochers dans la verdure (Montreal, 1923) ; L. C. Tombs, The post of Montreal (Toronto, 1927) ; R. Tanghe, Géographie humaine Montreal, (Montreal, 1928) ; and T. M. Longstreth, Quebec, Montreal, and Ottawa (New York, 1933).

Source: W. D. LIGHTHALL, "Montreal", in W. S. WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. IV, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 400p., pp. 235-330.



© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College