It’s known the world over as both the “city of festivals” and the “city of a hundred steeples,” with enough character and culture to compete with any European city. But did you know that Montreal, located in the Canadian province of Quebec, has quite the rich history as well?
We’ll be the first to admit that before our trip to Montreal this winter, we knew next to nothing about the town except that it was, according to our friends, tons of fun and freezing cold. Turns out, both of those statements are correct. But what’s also important to note is its rich, and tumultuous, history. Gaining an understanding of the settlement and development of this now-thriving metropolis will greatly enhance any trip to Montreal.
Here are 10 things you might not know about Montreal:
1.) It was originally inhabited by the Iroqouis.
The Iroqouis inhabited the land along the St. Lawrence River, numbering around 10,000, until around 1600. Soon, French farmers began to settle along the river’s shores.The Iroquois were known for building long houses, which could hold up to 10 families. French explored Jacques Cartier visited the village in 1535.
2.) The original settlement was known as Ville-Marie.
French settlers, led by Paul de Chomodey de Maisonnevue, founded the first European settlement on the island now known as Montreal in 1642. The intent was to build a fort and establish a mission base from which to begin converting the native population to Christianity.
3.) Montreal was the gateway for French expansion in North America.
Capital of the fur-trading industry, it served as a gateway for westward expansion by the French. The most popular fur was the beaver pelt due to popular demand in Europe. During the 17 Century, nearly 20,000 beaver pelts a year were sent to France alone. Montreal’s location along the St. Lawrence River allowed not only the fur trade to expand down the Mississippi River, but also aided in the expansion and settlement of a New France.
4.) Montreal signed a peace treaty with the Native population in 1701.
This opened the door to French expansion, allowing them to settle a land ten times the size of France. Montreal served as the launching points for such expansion efforts.
5.) The U.S. city of Detroit was founded by soldiers and settlers from Montreal.
In 1701, Detroit was founded by Lamonthe de Cadillac (yes, ironic since it later became the Motor City). The French expansion into what is today the American Mid-West continued into Illinois all the way down to New Orleans, Louisiana.
6.) Montreal was once fortified.
The early French settlers to the area built a fort around the village. To see the remnants of these walls, as well as the city’s old sewer system, take the underground tour at Montreal’s Pointe-a-Calliere Archeological Museum.
7.) Montreal is actually an island.
The main city of Montreal occupies a 30-mile long island along the convergence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. The island is linked to the mainland by a tunnel and 15 bridges. Although this makes it sound quite expansive, most of the cities main attractions are within decent walking distance of one another, or are a short bus or train ride away.
8.) Montreal became Quebec’s railway, manufacturing, and financial hub during the Industrial Revolution.
As the fur trade declined, Montreal rose to prominence in other areas. Vast railroad lines and shipping lanes were established around and through Montreal, allowing for even greater economic expansion. The food, tobacco, and textile industries also greatly expanded during this time.
9.) Benjamin Franklin, an American statesman, was sent to Montreal during the American Revolution to persuade the Canadians to join the American cause against the British.
After a stay of just ten days, Franklin left convinced that it would be easier to buy Canada than to conquer it.
10.) Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympic Games.
These games were perhaps most famous for witnessing Romanian gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, score the perfect 10-heard-round-the-world and capture the gold in the All-Around. Today, the Olympic Park is quite a popular tourist attraction, and features a biodome that has re-created various climate zones and animal habitats.
Montreal is a rich city in both culture and history. Today, about 70 percent of its 3 million residents are of French descent, while another 15 percent claim British heritage. The remainder of residents come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including a growing immigrant population. The various languages and cultures represented in the city today stand as a testament to Montreal’s storied history.
Have you ever visited Montreal? What interesting facts do you know about the city?