Montréal, Capital of United Canada – A Parliament Beneath Your Feet

August 2, 2017

One of the most important archaeological dig sites in the country is open to the public

Pointe-à-Callière is undertaking a major archaeological dig and is presenting an outdoor exhibition at the heart of the remains of Canada’s first parliament, buried beneath the ground in Old Montreal. 

Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal’s archaeological and history complex, is opening up one of the country’s most significant archaeological sites, shedding some light on a major period in the city’s history: Montréal, capital of the United Province of Canada, commonly called the United Canada (1844-1849).

From July 18 to the end of October 2017, archaeological digs and an outdoor exhibition will take place at the heart of the remains of the Montréal parliament, which still lies beneath the ground in Old Montréal. From one single location, visitors will be able to assess the historical significance of this archaeological site, stroll through the largest archaeological dig in Montréal, watch archaeological outdoor exhibition, and take part in informative guided tours. The archaeological dig on the site of the Parliament of the United Province of Canada is made possible through the financial support of the Ville de Montréal.

Montréal, capital and birthplace of modern Canada

Few people are aware that Montréal was the country’s capital in 1844. At the time, Montréal played an essential role – economically, politically, and socially. The city was the United Canada’s metropolis, the country’s financial centre. It was also a commercial hub, thanks to its international port. Its citizens included both Anglophones and Francophones. After much debate, several parliamentarians asked that Montréal be made the capital, a choice left up to the Queen of England in the Act of Union. Once this was done, the members sat in the former St. Anne’s Market building, which was converted into the Parliament from 1844 to 1849.

Montréal went on to establish itself as the birthplace of modern Canada, and its Parliament was witness to a major chapter in Canadian history. During the 1840s, significant reforms were adopted: the French language was recognized as one of the official languages of the state, and the Assembly won full control over the budget. Several changes in the administration took place: for example, several ministries (Public Works, Education, Crown Land, Secretariat, etc.) were newly created to meet the needs of the population. In March 1848, the Reformist party, led by Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine and Robert Baldwin, won the election and, in its wake, was recognized by the Governor General as a “responsible government”. This local autonomy within the British Empire was an important step in the genesis of Canadian Confederation. The Parliament of the United Province of Canada in Montréal was therefore a privileged witness to major transformations in the Canadian political system.

In 1849, a riot was sparked by the Royal sanction given to the act indemnifying victims of the 1837 -1838 Rebellions. The parliament building was burned down in tragic circumstances, with Montréal losing its status as the capital. Parliament then sat alternately in Toronto and Quebec City before it was finally moved to Ottawa, in 1857. In 2012, the Government of Quebec recognized the importance of the site designating it a heritage site; in 1949, the Government of Canada designated it as a national historic event.

The largest archaeological dig open to the general public

Located in what is today called Old Montreal, the Montreal parliament and its vestiges lie beneath a former municipal parking lot, on Place D’Youville West, between McGill and Saint-Pierre streets. This archaeological excavation, carried out by Pointe-à-Callière and archeologists of the firm Ethnoscop, aims to document the site, check on the state of the remains, and plam a program for their development. This dig is in addition to those carried out by Pointe-à-Callière from 2010 to 2013 during which hundreds of thousands of artefacts and ecofacts were found. Over the course of those dig campaigns, about 25% of the site was explored.

An outdoor exhibition

In addition to the archaeological dig, Pointe-à-Callière is presenting an outdoor exhibition entitled Montréal, Capital of United Canada – A Parliament Beneath Your Feet. Visitors will get to stroll through the heart of the archaeological dig and exhibition, watching archaeologists at work ! Explanatory panels and a timeline will feature the key players present and political issues on the front burner during this major historical period in Canadian democratic life. There will also be an explanation of the dig and a presentation of the development project for the site, an integral part of the Montreal Archaeology and History Complex, developed by Pointe-à-Callière.

Informative guided tours

Museum guides will lead free tours every 30 minutes, on Wednesday and Sunday, from 12.30 pm to 4.30 pm, until September 24. Note that independent visits of the site can take place outside of these periods until the end of the archaeological dig in October.

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