Ville-Marie: The Cradle of Montreal Transcript


Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance intended to create a society under the auspices, or protection, of the Virgin Mary. Their goal was to establish this Catholic society with the First Nations who were already present in the area but didn’t have a permanent settlement in the space where Maisonneuve and Mance wanted to locate their mission.

Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance were part of the Société de Notre-Dame, a Catholic group, founded in France, that sought to regain its grandeur and prestige.

There had been several wars in Europe, and the Société de Notre-Dame was looking to cultivate new followers under the Catholic faith. This was the mission of Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance, and forty people committed to going with them.

The site was chosen specifically to create a settlement, to build a fort and be a base for their mission. We know that Jacques Cartier had come in 1535 and visited Hochelaga and we know that Champlain visited in 1611. It was judged then as a place to establish trade. Champlain even tested the suitability of the area for agriculture.

This location was quite strategic. They could see around them very well but at the same time they were isolated from the rest of the island which offered the occupants some protection. The settlers co-existed with the Indigenous groups.

We don’t know precisely what daily interactions took place, but the archaeological traces lead us to believe that the Indigenous people came to Fort Ville-Marie. The French were allies of the Algonquins and objects have been found — fragments of pottery, arrowheads, glass beads — suggesting exchanges of goods. Wampum beads, as well, suggest bartering between Europeans and the Indigenous people.

Can we imagine that they learned specific techniques for fishing or hunting, or using certain tools? It’s possible.

But we know that they protected themselves from the Iroquois, the Iroquois attacks. For example, in June of 1643, there was an ambush that killed many of the French who were part of the initial group that established Fort Ville-Marie.

In 1643, a cemetery was created where some of these people were buried and it is part of our archaeological museum.

Around this time, they begin to realize that the original mission to increase followers of the Catholic faith isn’t possible. The Indigenous groups weren’t converting. They needed to find another way to keep their mission alive and so they gave a concession of land on the other side of the river to a man called Pierre Gadoua.

He was the first to settle outside of the fort. It was January 1648 and they increasingly require assistance, more people and in 1653 they began to recruit — 100 people came to settle permanently, and then a few years later another influx of roughly the same number — 90–91 people.

These influxes of settlers lead to crowding in the fort. They needed space, and with the King taking over the colony and the departure of Maisonneuve, it is at this time, I would say, that the fort ceased its military operations.

The thing that the archaeological remains have taught us was the location of the fort during the time when they sought to position the fort on the point. With the discovery of the cemetery nearby, we knew roughly where it was.

But by finding some key remains, such as the corner of the bastion, and thanks to treatises on military engineering of this period, we could restore the positioning of the fort.

That is one of the main things that I would say archaeology has enabled us to discover, followed by the cultural material, the artifacts, and the biofacts, as well, that allow us to understand the diversity of wildlife.

We found evidence of turtles, eagles; we found beaver in very large quantities. So we know that there were many animals on the point and in the surrounding area.

We also found artifacts that testify to the richness, and importance, of religious life.

Of course we knew it was a religious mission to begin with, but archaeology confirms this knowledge of New France with beautiful 17th-century objects. There are three incense boats that were used in Catholic rituals. We found a fragment of a sanctuary lamp. We also found rosary beads.

Another thing that archaeology allowed us to discover is the importance of metal. Let me tell you, metal is the “black gold” of this era.

We found slag, indicating that the settlers tried to extract iron ore at this location, which is exceptional for New France at this time… it would be the first case of iron ore extraction, or at the very least, an attempt to extract ore.

We found a lot of objects associated with armaments: parts of guns, lead balls, fragments, axe heads, files. This tells us that edge tool makers and blacksmiths were crucial in this society where we had metal armaments, metal tools and other similar equipment.

So, the archaeological excavations revealed, among other things, a better understanding of this aspect of their life and a good many other things as well.