The Bonsecours Market: A Testament to a Booming City
July 14, 2016 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator Oliver Marshall
It is pretty clear to both you and I that Montréal as we know it today is quite different from Montréal in 1850.
Back in the days, the young city was already the economic powerhouse of Canada and had great ambitions. This was in part due to the massive demographic boom which completely transformed the cityscape: The city’s population skyrocketed from 9 000 to 60 000 from the turn of the 19th century to the mid-1850s*.
There is no better tribute to Montréal’s blooming prosperity than a portside monumental building which illustrates how the city went from a trading village to a grand metropolis. The awe-inspiring Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal was built with this in mind and continues to thrive in honour of the city’s rich heritage.
A centre with many callings
Since 1844, the date when the Bonsecours Market was conceived, it has always had many uses. It was open to the public, but also hosted many exhibits and all kinds of other events. In order to erect a building that would be able to accommodate all the people that were under its spell, the City decided to launch a contest amongst the city’s best architects to come up with the most splendid building plans. British architect William Footner won the contest but his team went way over budget so architect George Browne took over and finished the project. The final result was and still is breath-taking: a 163-meter long rectangular building with impeccable interior décor, an elegant banquet hall and an exquisite music hall.
Readers of our article Place d’Youvilles’ Hidden Secret are already aware that in 1849 a massive fire reduced Canada’s parliament to ashes on the grounds of the former Sainte-Anne market. The MPs were all temporarily moved to the Bonsecours Market and worked there until they could resume their occupations in Canada’s new parliament. The building was even used as Montréal’s City Hall for 25 years!
A historical emblem in need of preservation
In the 1960s, the building was in very rough shape and was not open to the public because of this, and the City would have torn it down if not for an important mobilization in favour of its preservation and restoration. After said projects followed suit, the building would serve as the headquarters of the municipal government for almost 25 years until 1990 when it opened up to the public anew. Today, all are welcome to stroll through the Bonsecours Market and discover local artisans, admire exquisite exhibits and take part in special events.
Ever since construction first began in 1860, the Bonsecours Market’s quintessential dome has made it a major landmark in Old Montreal. Though the city only had 60 000 residents at the time, it was clear the construction of this beautiful building symbolized much hope and ambition for the future of Montréal.
*LINTEAU, Paul-André. Brève histoire de Montréal. Édition Boréal, Montréal. 1992, 166 p.
Featured in publications