A Toponymical View of Old Montreal’s History
November 18, 2016 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator Oliver Marshall
Chagouamigon alley is so short and narrow that it almost escapes the eye when passing by it! It is located in the middle of a quadrant formed by Saint-Paul, de la Capitale, Place Royale and Saint-François-Xavier Streets. Its name was inspired by a former trading post located on the shores of Lake Superior in what is known today as the state of Wisconsin. The modern alley borders what was formally a place where people would assemble and organize massive fur trade fairs, dating all the way back to the 17th century.
Go down Chagouamigon alley’s southern extremity and you will find another one of Old Montreal’s unscathed historical emblems: De la Capitale Street. Its name might lead you to thinking that it is a toponymical homage to Montreal when it was named the capital of united Canada between 1844 and 1849. Well that’s where you’re wrong, because archeological evidence has proved that this street’s name dates all the way back to 1689! Its name actually refers to the bastions which served as defensive reinforcements to the fortifications surrounding the city. The capital then referred to the central divide in these bastions, the exact location of today’s De la Capitale Street.
In the mood for a journey through time? Go to Saint-François-Xavier Street, between Notre-Dame and Saint-Sacrement Streets, and turn down De L’Hôpital Street. This short avenue is located on a small path which until 1672 allowed residents of the city to go to the hospital and the Hôtel-Dieu’s chapel. Only but a small part of this former path remains today.
What better way to finish off this article by honouring the man who designed Montreal’s first street plans! In July of 1672, De Casson, a man of many talents (military chaplain, missionary priest, superior of the Saint-Sulpice divinity school and historian!) put on paper the very first vision of Montreal’s urban fabric. Interestingly enough, both Notre-Dame Street and Saint-Paul Street are center axes to his plan, which is still true in modern plans.
Though traces of the anciently fortified city are rare these days, Montreal’s toponymy draws a necessary portrait of the city’s cultural and historical evolution since it was founded almost 375 years ago. Every name has its own rich history which deserves our closest attention!