Water at the Crux of the Foundation of Montréal
June 20, 2017 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator
This year marks the 375th anniversary of the foundation of Montréal, and we would like to take a trip back in time to celebrate one of the resources which allowed the small colony of Ville-Marie to become the thriving metropolis that it is today. That resource is water.
The presence of rivers was essential to allow the first pioneers to establish themselves and develop waterside colonies. Unfortunately, these same aquatic cornerstones have disappeared from the landscape as they have since dried up or been converted into canals. In remembrance, here is a brief historical lookback at the two rivers which, at a different time, zigzagged across what is known today as Old Montreal.
When Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance first stepped foot in the future colony of Ville-Marie, they disembarked at the Pointe-à-Callière, the confluence of the Saint-Lawrence River and the Little Saint-Pierre River (not to be mistaken with the Saint-Pierre River, another Montréal river which also disappeared!) Though this waterway bears great historical significance, it cannot be admired today. Why, you may ask? The river was canalized in 1832 to build the Saint-Pierre collecting drain, the first of its kind on the island. However, you will have the opportunity to see a wonderful exhibit on this important river as of May 17 at the Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex.
Mount Royal is mainly known as Montrealers’ favourite nature site, hosting a wide variety of outdoors activity, but it was also the birthplace of many streams and rivers, including the Saint-Martin River. Drawing its water from the summit of our beautiful mountain, the winding waterway flowed down many of Montréal’s districts including Outremont, Mile-End and the La Fontaine Park, to long what is today known as Saint-Antoine Street down to the Chaboillez Square. This impressive river came to its end by flowing into the Little Saint-Pierre River.
Want to know more on this subject? Check out some of the fascinating maps devoted to recording the rivers and streams of Montréal. Among these jewels is the Topographical map of the Island of Montréal from 1542 to 1642, drew up in 1930 by researcher and architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne. More recently, the research led by Valérie Mahaut, assistant professor at the École d’architecture of the Université de Montréal, and her committed students. They masterfully cover the island’s oldest rivers and streams through 13 maps.