Montreal, Canada’s second largest city, is located in the Hochelaga Archipelago in southern Quebec, near the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. When the first Europeans arrived in the sixteenth century, the Huron inhabited the region, including a village on the island of present-day Montreal, which they called Hochelaga. The Huron were hunters and farmers, living in long bark-covered houses and surviving on fish, beaver, and deer, as well as corn, squash, and beans.
In 1535, the French explorer Jacques Cartier, while searching for a Northwest Passage to the Orient, came across the island of Hochelaga, and the Huron led him to the top of a small mountain. Cartier named it Mont Royal and planted a cross in honor of King Fran§ois I. Cartier later returned to France. In 1611 the explorer Samuel de Champlain, who thought about establishing a colony or trading post on the island, abandoned the project after hostilities broke out between the Huron, Algonquin, and Iroquois.
In 1642, Paul de Chomeday, Sieur de Maisonneuve, and forty colonists arrived in New France and founded a colony on the island, which they first called Ville Marie and later renamed Montreal. Under the direction of the Socit de Notre Dame, Maisonneuve and his fellow colonists also sought to convert Native Americans in North America to Catholicism. In the early years, the settlement suffered many hardships, largely from Iroquois raids. With the growth in the fur trade in the seventeenth century, it became an important trading center and gateway to the western interior of Canada. Fur traders converged on Montreal, using it as a hub for exploring and establishing trading posts in the Great Lakes area and the Mississippi Valley.
At first, New France was governed by a private company, but, in 1663, King Louis XIV took possession of the French settlements, including Montreal, and declared New France a royal colony. While natives had originally brought pelts to European trading centers, the liberalized laws governing the fur trade that were enacted in 1652 had led to the emergence of a new class of European voyageurs, otherwise known as coureurs de bois (woods runners), whose numbers were ever increasing during the second half of the seventeenth century. With the emergence of the coureurs, the supply of furs quickly outgrew European demand, and Louis XIV was forced to limit the number of annual coureur outings from Montreal and other French settlements in 1681. In 1696, he made another attempt at curtailing the supply side of the market and issued a decree restricting trade to settlements along the St. Lawrence River.
In the eighteenth century, Montreal continued to prosper as the center of the fur trade. By the start of the French and Indian War in 1754, the city had about 4,000 inhabitants of French descent.
Under the command of General James Wolfe, the British defeated the French army on the Plains of Abraham at Quebec City. Having retreated to Montreal, where the British forces surrounded them, the French surrendered the city, with little bloodshed, in 1760. Three years later, after signing the Peace Treaty of Paris at Montreal (1763), they relinquished the city and the rest of French Canada to the British, who renamed the former French colony the province of Quebec. Under British rule, the French retained their laws, religion, and language and developed a unique cultural identity within this British colony.
In the third quarter of the eighteenth century, tensions between the American colonists and the British came to a climax. In November 1775, the Americans sent two military expeditions into the Province of Quebec in the hope of winning French support for the Revolutionary cause. While Benedict Arnold laid siege to Quebec City, General Richard Montgomery marched down the Richelieu River and captured Montreal. French support for the American cause, however, did not materialize. After a failed diplomatic mission, which included Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll, the Americans left the city on June 6, 1776. For the remainder of the war, Montreal and the rest of French-speaking Canada were allied with the British cause.
Montreal was founded in 1642 as Ville Marie on an island in the St. Lawrence River. It was renamed in the seventeenth century for Mont Royal, around which it had been expanded and fortified. (Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-45558)
After the Revolution, Montreal prospered as a French and English city within the British Empire. The British North America Act of 1867 established the Canadian confederation of united provinces under a self-governing Canadian Parliament. Montreal emerged as the second-largest city in Canada and the city with the largest French-speaking population outside of France.
Michael Sletcher See also: Canada; Champlain, Samuel de; French; French Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology). Bibliography Atherton, William H. Montreal, 1535 1914. 3 vols. Montreal: S. J. Clarke, 1914. Cooper, John Irwin. Montreal: A Brief History. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1969. Rumilly, Robert. Histoire de Montral. 5 vols. Montreal: Fides, 1970 1974.
Montreal Gallery Photos