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::: History of the City of Montréal


Archeological evidence suggests that various nomadic native first nation peoples had occupied the island of Montréal for at least 2,000 years before the arrival of any Europeans. With the development of the maize horticulture, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians established the village of Hochelaga at the foot of the Mount Royal. The French explorer Jacques Cartier visited Hochelaga on October 2, 1535, claiming the St. Lawrence Valley for France. He estimated the population to be "over a thousand". The island has its own mountain, water sources and lush wooded areas, as it has today.

Seventy years later, French explorer Samuel de Champlain reported that the St. Lawrence Iroquoians and their settlements had disappeared altogether from the St. Lawrence valley, likely due to inter-tribe wars, European diseases, and out-migration. Champlain established in 1611 a fur trading post on the Island of Montréal, on a site initially named La Place Royale, at the confluence of Saint-Pierre river and St-Lawrence river, where present-day Pointe-à-Callière stands.


~ Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, founder of Ville-Marie

Paul Chomedy - History of Montreal

In 1639, Jérôme Le Royer de La Dauversière obtained the Seigneurial title to the Island of Montréal in the name of the Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal to establish a Roman Catholic mission for evangelizing natives. Ville-Marie, the first permanent French settlement on the Island, was founded in 1642 at Pointe-à-Callière. Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve would act as governor of the colony, and Jeanne Mance built the Hôtel-Dieu, Montréal's first hospital.

By 1651, Ville-Marie had been reduced to less that 50 inhabitants by relentless attacks by Iroquois. Maisonneuve returned to France that year with the intention of recruiting 100 men to bolster the failing colony. He had already decided that should he fail to recruit these settlers, he would abandon Ville-Marie and move everyone back downriver to Québec City.

Even 10 years after its founding, the people of Québec City still thought of Montréal as "une folle enterprise" - a crazy undertaking. These recruits arrived on 16th November 1653 and essentially guaranteed the evolution of Ville Marie and of all New France. Marguerite Bourgeoys would found the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Montréal's first school, in 1653. In 1663, the Sulpician seminary became the new Seigneur of the island.

Complementing its missionary origins, Ville-Marie became a centre for the fur trade and a base for further French exploration in North America. The bloody French and Iroquois Wars would threaten the survival of Ville-Marie until a peace treaty (see the Great Peace of Montréal) was signed at Montréal in 1701. With the Great Peace, Montréal and the surrounding seigneuries nearby (Terrebonne, Lachenaie, Boucherville, Lachine and Longueuil) could develop without the fear of Iroquois raids. Ville-Marie remained a French colony until 1760, when Pierre François de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal surrendered it to the British army under Jeffrey Amherst during the French and Indian War.

The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the Seven Years' War and ceded eastern New France to the Kingdom of Great Britain. American Revolutionists under General Richard Montgomery briefly captured the city during the 1775 invasion of Canada. United Empire Loyalists and Anglo-Scot immigrants would establish the golden era of fur trading centred in the city with the advent of the locally owned North West Company, rivaling the established Hudson's Bay Company. The English-speaking community built one of Canada's first universities, McGill, and the wealthy merchant classes began building large mansions at the foot of Mount Royal in an area known as the Golden Square Mile, now called the Mile-End.


~ An industrialized city in 1889

Industrialized city of Montreal

Montréal was incorporated as a city in 1832. The opening of the Lachine Canal permitted ships to bypass the unnavigable Lachine Rapids, while the construction of the Victoria Bridge established Montréal as a major railway hub. These linked the established Port of Montréal with continental markets and spawned rapid industrialization during the mid 1800s. The economic boom attracted French Canadian labourers from the surrounding countryside to factories in satellite cities such as Saint-Henri and Maisonneuve.

Irish immigrants settled in tough working class neighbourhoods such as Point Saint Charles and Griffintown, making English and French linguistic groups roughly equal in size. Montréal would surpass Québec City and Saint John, New Brunswick as the seat of financial and political power for both English and French speaking communities of Canada, a position it held for many years. By 1852, Montréal had 60,000 inhabitants; by 1860, it was the largest city in British North America and the undisputed economic and cultural centre of Canada.

Montréal was the capital of the Province of Canada from 1844 to 1849, but lost its status when a Tory mob burnt down the Parliament building to protest passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill.


~ Montréal 1959 as viewed from the lookout

Montreal view from the mountain

After World War I, the Prohibition movement in the United States turned Montréal into a haven for Americans looking for alcohol. Montréal became known as Sin City, due to the abundance of alcohol and burlesque shows, unrivaled in North America at this time. Unemployment remained high in the city, and was exacerbated by the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Canada began to recover from the Great Depression in the mid-1930s, when skyscrapers such as the Sun Life Building began to appear.

During World War II, Mayor Camillien Houde protested against conscription and urged Montréalers to disobey the federal government's registry of all men and women. Ottawa was furious over Houde's insubordination and held him in a prison camp until 1944, when the government was forced to institute the Conscription Crisis in 1944.

After Montréal's population surpassed one million in the early 1950s, Mayor Jean Drapeau laid down plans for the future development of the city. These plans included a new public-transit system and an underground city, the expansion of Montréal's harbour, and the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Tall, new buildings replaced old ones in this time period, including Montréal's two tallest skyscrapers up to then: the 43-storey Place Ville-Marie and the 47-story Tour de la Bourse. Two new museums were also built, and in 1966, the Montréal Métro or subway system opened, along with several new expressways.

Sainte-Helene island

This is an aerial view from April 1967 of Île Sainte-Hélène on the left and Île Notre-Dame on the right, with most of the Expo 67 site in view, except Habitat 67 and the rest of the pavilions on la Cité du Havre. A photo source from the National Archives of Canada. The city's international status was cemented by Expo 67 and the 1976 Summer Olympics.

The mid-1970s ushered in a period of wide-ranging social and political changes, stemming in large part from the concerns of the French-Canadian majority about the conservation of their culture and language, given the traditional predominance of the English-Canadian minority in the business arena.

The October Crisis and the election of the separatist political party, the Parti Québecois, resulted in major political, ethnic and linguistic shifts. The extent of the transition was greater than the norm for major urban centres, with social and economic impacts, as a significant number of (mostly anglophone) Montréalers, as well as businesses, migrated to other provinces, away from an uncertain political climate. Thus bill 101 was passed in 1977 and gave primacy to French as Québec's (and Montréal's) only official language for government, the main language of business and culture, and enforced the exclusive use of French for public signage and business communication.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Montréal experienced a slower rate of economic growth than many other major Canadian cities. By the late 1990s, however, Montréal's economic climate had improved, as new firms and institutions began to fill the traditional business and financial niches. As the city celebrated its 350th anniversary in 1992, construction began on two new skyscrapers at 1000 de La Gauchetière and 1250 René-Lévesque.

Montréal's improving economic conditions allowed further enhancements of the city infrastructure, with the expansion of the Métro system, construction of new skyscrapers and the development of new highways including the start of a ring road around the island. The city also attracted several international organisations to move their secretariats into Montréal's Quartier International: IATA, ICSID, Icograda, International Bureau for Children's Rights (IBCR), International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). With developments such as Centre de Commerce Mondial (World Trade Centre), Quartier International, Square Cartier, and propsed revitalization of the harborfront, the city has regained its international position as a world class city.

Then Montréal was merged by the Parti Québecois government at the time with the 27 surrounding municipalities on the Island of Montréal in January 2002. The merger created a unified city of Montréal which covered the entire island of Montréal. This move proved unpopular, and several former municipalities, totalling 13% of the population of the island, voted to leave the newly unified city in separate referendums in June 2004. After a provincial Liberal government win and an election promise, the demergers took place in January 2006, leaving 15 municipalities on the island, including Montréal.

In 2006, the city was recognized by the international design community as a UNESCO City of Design, one of the three world design capitals. The history of our great city continues with many local personalities in the music, film plus arts fields and the very well known international popularity of our gay-friendly city around the world.

::: Seasonal activities in Montréal


Montréal is a great city in which to experience the four seasons. Most native Montréalers also love to get out and enjoy the city all year-round. Here are some activities you can participate in, while you are in Montréal, followed by a list of some of our amazing festivals held every month of the year.

~ The many events by month


  • Fête des Neiges When the mercury plunges, Montréal warms up and celebrates at Parc Jean-Drapeau. On the program: sculptures, skating, sliding and surprises aplenty! (



  • The Montreal Highlights Festival: A world-class event, The Montréal High Lights Festival warms up winter in the Québec metropolis with the best theatre, museum and culinary delights the city has to offer. Montréal’s major theatres, orches¬tras, dance troupes, museums, and the city’s most renowned restaurants and hotels all join in. (
  • Voices of the Americas Festival: This Montreal festival is held in English and French and celebrates oral literature, text in performance, and spoken word poetry. Writers, poets and artists perform at many venues around the city. (
  • Les Rendez-vous du Cinema Quebecois: Begun in 1982, this annual festival celebrates Quebec’s active movie industry with filmings held throughout the city. (



  • International Festival of Films on Art: A unique event specializing in films about art from across the continent, this festival encompasses works about architecture, archaeology, cinema, dance and design.
  • Music, the visual arts, sculpture, theatre and more: (
  • Festivalissimo: Iberian-Latin American Festival. Film and Art. (
  • Saint Patrick’s Day Parade: Everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day! First held in 1824, this parade celebrates Ireland and all of the many Montrealers of Irish descent. The whole city joins the Irish community for the parade and a green beer in this annual springtime festival. (



  • La Braderie de Mode Quebecoise: Celebrating Montreal’s exciting fashion industry. (
  • Vues d’Afrique: African and Creole film festival. (
  • Blue Metropolis: Montreal International Literary Festival. The world’s first multilingual literary Festival – and the best 5-day literary party there is. Blue Met gathers some 290 writers, literary translators, musicians, actors, journalists and publishers from Quebec and from all around the world for five days of literary events in English, in French, in Spanish and other languages. ( 



  • Montreal Bike Fest: The Bike Fest offers a week of varied cycling activities. Two very special rides make for a spectacular grand finale: 11,000 cyclists take the streets for Un tour la nuit (a night tour), followed by the Tour de l’Île de Montréal, the largest cycling event in North America, with roughly 30,000 participants turning out for a panoramic 45 km circuit. (
  • Montreal Chamber Music Festival: Created in 1995, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival is dedicated to promoting chamber music in all its diverse forms through collaborations with other artistic disciplines. Performances in historic sites by renowned international artists and rising stars emphasize Montreal's cultural richness and diversity. (
  • Biennale de Montreal: Montreal’s art festival, held every two years. (
  • Montreal Museums Day: Once per year, all museums in Montreal open their doors for free and all Montrealers and visitors travel by free shuttle buses all day and night visiting the various excellent museums Montreal has to offer. (
  • Mutek: Music, sound, and new technology festival. (
  • Beer Festival: The Mondial de la bière is an annual event providing members of the brewing industry with opportunities to expand markets, show products and introduce new ones to the public. It is also a festival celebrating the culture of beer, and dedicated to reclaiming beer's noble heritage. A festive atmosphere, the business of a commercial fair and the ambience of beer tasting are all united in this dynamic program which creates a productive and friendly gathering of brewers and beer enthusiasts. The Mondial de la bière is the most important international beer event in North America. (



  • Canadian Grand Prix: Canada’s only Formula 1 race, the Grand Prix brings the world’s best auto racers to Montréal to test their mettle on the demanding circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. (
  • Mondial Choral Loto-Quebec: Artists from here and beyond meet at the Centre de la nature de Laval to celebrate the largest gathering of choirs and vocal groups in North America. (
  • Montreal First People’s Festival: This festival highlights the art, history and traditions of the Americas’ native peoples. The richness and vitality of traditional and contemporary aboriginal cultures are front and centre. Come discover the rich and vibrant culture of our continent’s first peoples. (
  • International Fireworks Festival: The most dazzling nights of the summer are to be found at the 23rd edition of this, Montréal’s renowned international fireworks competition, held in the La Ronde amusement park on Île St-Hélène. (
  • St-Abroise Fringe Festival: Montreal's annual festival of theatre, dance, and performance, and the only bilingual, bicultural festival on the Fringe circuit. (
  • Montreal Baroque: Montreal’s annual festival celbrating Baroque music with performances all over the city. (
  • Fete National: This is Quebec’s provincial holiday celebration with a parade and many events all over the city and the province. (
  • Montreal International Jazz Festival: The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal now annually offers about 500 concerts, of which three-quarters are free of charge, hosting about 2000 musicians, give or take a few, from over 20 countries. About 2 million visitors come from all over the planet to an event has become THE international jazz rendez-vous and a laboratory for the creation of new talent, most recently contributing to the successes of artists such as Diana Krall and Norah Jones. (
  • International Flora: Montreal’s Garden Festival held in the Old Port of Montreal. (



  • Canada Day: Join proud Canadians as they celebrate the birthday of their country with a giant parade, fireworks and other celebrations. (
  • Festival International Nuits d’Afrique: A world-class event devoted to the music of Africa, the Antilles and the Caribbean. More than 400 artists and thousands of visitors meet for numerous indoor and outdoor shows, as well as workshops, handicraft sales, an African market, and alluring exotic cuisine. (
  • Just for Laughs Festival: The world’s biggest comedy festival keeps Montréal in stitches. Some 700 international artists perform at galas, theatre events, stand-up shows and in downtown streets. Over 2 million festivalgoers flock to the festival’s 1,500 shows, most of which are outdoors and free. (
  • Fantasia Film Festival: If you like horror and fantasy movies, this downtown festival is for you, with movies from all over the world shown over a month-long festival. (
  • Montreal Reggae Festival: Feel “Irie” at the annual Reggae Music Extravaganza. (
  • Francofolies: This popular French-language musical event, known for its cultural diversity and rousing outdoor entertainment, attracts over half a million spectators and some 1,000 artists, musicians, stars and budding talents from about 20 countries. Some 150 free outdoor shows and 50 indoor concerts put a song in the heart of downtown Montréal. (
  • NASCAR Busch Series: In 2007, the NASCAR Busch Series comes to Montréal for the first time. No fewer than 35 races are scheduled, including six short tracks and 26 on speedways.
  • Three road circuits: (



  • Roger’s Cup: Every two years, the international Roger’s Cup comes to town, and the elite of the tennis world assemble. No doubt, they’re looking to follow in the steps of Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi, men’s tennis legends who all won at least one title in Montréal. The men’s and women’s tournament alternate each year between Toronto and Montreal. (



  • President’s Cup: The world’s best professional golfers compete at The Royal Montréal Golf Club on Île Bizard. (



  • Black and Blue Festival: A major international party, Black and Blue is hosted by a non-profit organization that supports several gay community groups. A night of dance, plus various other social, cultural and sporting events make for an unforgettable weekend. (





  • Christmas Extravaganza: End-of-the-year celebrations at more than 20 locations for the whole month, including indoor and outdoor entertainment in a magical illuminated setting in Old Montréal. The finale is the New Year’s Eve Grand Bal in Place Jacques-Cartier on December 31. (

NOTE: The above mentioned details may change without notice and we suggest you review it before you make any travel plans to visit our city. Thank you for your interest !

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