Notre Dame Basilica is a primary reason we traveled to Montréal on this Saturday. In addition, we particularly wanted to see “Old Montréal” the impressive and historic district of this cosmopolitan city. The city is note worthy for being one of the largest French speaking cities of the world outside of France.
Montréal was actually first ‘discovered, as we have seen previously in our Explorers Series, when we brought you the story of Jacques Cartier. He ‘discovered Canada’ in the 1530’s and subsequently was the first European to visit the Iroquois Village of Hochelaga, where the current city of Montréal is located in October of 1535.
Seventy years after Cartier, explorer Samuel de Champlain went to Hochelaga, but the village no longer existed, nor was there sign of any human habitation in the valley. Champlain decided to establish a fur trading post at Place Royal on the Island of Montreal, but the Mowhawk, based mostly in present-day New York, successfully defended what had by then become their hunting grounds and paths for their war parties. It was not until 1639 that the French created a permanent settlement on the Island of Montreal, started by tax collector Jerome le Royer de la Dauversiere. Under the authority of the Roman Catholic Société Notre Dame de Montréal, missionaries Paul Chomedey de Maisoneuve, Jeanne Mance and a few French colonists set up a mission named Ville Marie on May 17, 1642 as part of a project to create a colony dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 1644, Jeanne Mance founded the Hôtel-Dieu, the first hospital in North America north of Mexico.
Paul Chomedey de Maisoneuve was governor of the colony. On January 4, 1648, he granted Pierre Gadois (who was in his fifties) the first concession of land – some 40 acres (160,000 m2).
In 1650, family Grou, the lineage of historian Lionel Groulx, arrived from Rouen France and established a land holding known as Coulée Grou which is today encompassed by the borough Rivière-des-Prairies & Pointe-aux-Trembles. In November 1653, another 140 French arrived to enlarge the settlement.
By 1651, Ville-Marie had been reduced to less than 50 inhabitants by repeated attacks by the Mohawk. Maisonneuve returned to France that year to recruit 100 men to bolster the failing colony. He had already decided that should he fail to recruit these settlers, he would abandon Ville-Marie and move everyone back downriver to Québec City. (Even 10 years after its founding, the people of Quebec City still thought of Montreal as “une folle entreprise” – a crazy undertaking.) These recruits arrived on 16 November 1653 and essentially guaranteed the evolution of Ville Marie and of all New France.
In 1653, Marguerite Bourgeoy arrived to serve as a teacher. She founded Montreal’s first school that year, as well as the Congrégation of the Sisters of Notre Dame, which became mostly a teaching order . In 1663, the Sulpician seminary became the new Seigneur of the island.
Ville Marie would become a centre for the fur trade. The town was fortified in 1725. The French and Iroquois Wars threatened the survival of Ville-Marie until a peace treaty (see the Great Peace of Montreal was signed at Montreal in 1701. With the Great Peace, Montreal and the surrounding seigneuries nearby could develop without the fear of Iroquois raids.
The Population of the Island of the Montreal during French rule consisted of both natives and French. When the first census was conducted in the colony in 1666, the French population was 659 with an estimated native population of 1000. According to the sources, this was the only point when the native population was higher than the French population on the Island of Montreal. By 1716, the French population had grown to 4,409 people while the native population was 1,177. The French Population of Montreal began slowly through immigration. In 1642 a party of 50 Frenchmen representing the Societe de Notre Dame de Montreal pour la conversion des Sauvages de la Nouvelle France set foot on the island that the Compagnie des Cent Associes donated.
The initial settlement had 150 individuals in the first ten years; few remained for long because the site of Montreal was vulnerable to Iroquois attacks. Immigration to Montreal increased thereafter; between 1653 and 1659, 200 persons arrived.
Eventually approximately 1200 to 1500 immigrants settled on the island of Montreal between 1642 and 1714; 75% remained and half of them came before 1670. Immigrants came from different regions of France: 65 percent of the immigrants were rural; 25 percent of the immigrants were from the largest cities of France; 10 percent from smaller urban communities. These immigrants came from different groups the largest of which were indentured servants, they were half of the males, excluding those still in service that potentially could go home.
By 1681, indentured labour had seen its heyday in both the colony and in Montreal, only religious communities and the richest supported engages who performed agricultural labour. Another prominent group of immigrants was soldiers who accounted for a fifth of all immigrants. Soldiers who came in the early part of the colony’s history became the notable residents of Ville-Marie, and eventually Montreal.
Immigrants from a miscellaneous background, who paid their own way to the colony, were an additional fifth of the immigrants to Montreal. Women also came to the colony, ¾ of all women were single, and looking for husband, these were truly permanent residents since single women and whole families did not intend to return to France. The thirty-one girls who arrived in Montreal with the 1653 and 1659 married within the year, some within weeks of landing.
Between 1646 and 1717, 178 French girls were married on the Island of Montreal, 20 percent of the overall permanent immigrants. During this period the merchant population was relatively small, a hundred came. This was because Quebec City was the primary place for merchants to immigrate to; all the merchants who came to Montreal were related to a resident or another merchant.
During the 17th century there were drastic change in the demographics of Montreal. In 1666, 56 percent of the population was newcomers to Montreal; by 1681, 66% of Montreal was native-born.The sex ratio 163:100 was male to female in 1666; 1681 it was 133:100. Although the population of Montreal was still dominated by males, the female population grew. The rural proportion represented two-thirds in the first 40 years; however, by 1715-1730 the urban proportion was about 45 percent. Data from 1681 to 1739 show that the point of equilibrium was reached around 1695, with males accounting for 51.6 percent of the population. This percent of the population was maintained until 1710, through immigration that was predominantly male. The infant mortality rates in Montreal grew from 9.8% in 1676 to 18.0% to 1706-1715. Illegitimacy rate for Montreal was 1.87 percent higher than the rest of colony due to the status of the Montreal as a garrison town; some unwed mothers from the countryside would abandon their children in the town. Despite some differences in the pattern of population in comparison to the rest of the colony, Montreal’s population developed at approximately the same rhythm as that of the whole colony. In the 18th century, the population grew at an even rate of 2.5 percent per annum until 1725 when the growth rate decreased to 0.7 percent per annum.
Military History of Montreal
In 1645, a fort was established on the island of Montreal and this was the beginning of Montreal’s military history. The fort was key and effective in repelling the raids of the Iroquois and would become a station for soldiers for years to come. After the arrival of Maisonneuve in the Second Foundation in 1653, Montreal became a front for activity throughout New France and a key launching point for expeditions into the frontier. Montreal did not become reinforced however until after the establishment of New France as a province and the welcoming of the ‘king’s engineers’ who came with the military reinforcements. Many of the expeditions who went out to explore Ontario and the Ohio River Valley would start in Montreal, but much of the time in the beginning they would not make it far or they would be forced to return by hostile native forces.
During the early 1700s, many military expeditions left from Montreal to finally deal with the Hostile natives and to strengthen alliances with the Native allies. This led to one of the most significant events to occur in Montreal during this period was the Great Peace of 1701. The conference took place in August and was between the French and representatives of thirty-nine different Aboriginal nations. For the conference an estimated 2000-3000 people (including roughly 1300 native delegates) entered a theatre south of Pointe-à-Callière to listen to speeches given by French leaders and native chiefs.
The French engaged in many Aboriginal gestures of peace, including the burying of hatchets, the exchange of wampum belts, and the use of peace pipes. While the French signed their names using their alphabet, the Aboriginal leaders notably used totem symbols to sign the treaty. The Great Peace resulted in an end to the Iroquois Wars and, according to historian Gilles Havard, “ostensibly (brought) peace to the vast territory extending from Acadia in the East to the Mississippi in the west, and from James Bay in the north to Missouri in the south”.
The French had hoped to form a military frontier with their Native allies along the borders on New France against the advancing British colonies. The military thus established many forts along the ‘borders’ down the Ohio Valley into New Orleans. Many of these such as Detroit relied on Montreal to reinforce them with supplies and military men furthering Montreal’s military involvement and development.
Due to the importance of Montreal to New France, a double wall 6.4 metres tall and over three kilometres long was erected in 1737 (after twenty years of construction) to protect the city. Only some of the base of the wall remains today. This helped make Montreal the most militarily capable town in New France, and so when the seven years war started Montreal was declared the military headquarters for operations in the North American Theater. As the military headquarters, the number of military men in Montreal began to increase and the town itself was further expanded and stressed Montreal for supplies. In 1757 the amount of soldiers and Natives stationed in Montreal had gotten so great that Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil the governour of New France realized they needed to take action on a campaign or the army and the town would begin to suffer from starvation.
This led to the great campaign of 1757 and with his large force of Native allies and the ‘bronzed soldiery of France General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm moved the large force out of Montreal and left a garrison in its place, relieving the pressure on the city to supply the military slightly.
Montcalm was very successful in his military efforts keeping spirits in Montreal high and the people hopeful. After his victory at Carillon Montcalm returned to Montreal having just defeated 16,000 British forces Montcalm seemed to be in a good position. This would prove false, because of Montcalm’s lack of troops in comparison to the British. Learning of an invasion coming over the Saint Laurence Montcalm took his forces to reinforce Quebec City. Montcalm would die there and Quebec City would be lost, this caused a major shock in Montreal as it now seemed they were doomed and though the city was also briefly established as the capital, but with three British armies headed for it the town would not last long. In September 1760, the French forces finally capitulated to the British and the French colonial rule ended in Montreal.
Surrender of the colony:
Ville-Marie remained French settlement until 1760, when Pierre Francois de Rigaud, the Marquis of Vaudreuil-Cavagnal surrendered it to the British army under Lord Amherst. With Great Britain’s victory in the Seven Years War, the Treaty of Paris in 1763 marked its end, with the French being forced to cede Canada and all its dependencies to the other nation.
As a British colony, and with immigration no longer limited to members of the Roman Catholic religion, the city began to grow from British immigration. Often having suffered loss of property and personal attacks during hostilities, thousands of English-speaking Loyalists migrated to Canada from the American colonies during and after the American Revolution. The government provided most with land, settling them in what became Ontario to the west, as well as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to the east. With 19th-century immigration, more and more English-speaking merchants and residents continued to arrive in what had by then become known as Montreal. Soon the main language of commerce in the city was English. The golden era of fur trading began in the city with the advent of the locally owned North West Company, the main rival to the primarily British Hudson’s Bay Company. The town’s population was majority Francophones until around the 1830s. From the 1830s, to about 1865, it was inhabited by a majority of Anglophones, most of recent immigration from the British Isles or other parts of British North America. Fire destroyed one quarter of the town on May 18, 1765.
As we saw earlier, Montreal was actually founded by three people – they were: Jerome le Royer de la Dauversiere, Paul Chomedey de Maisoneuve and Jeanne Mance on May 17, 1642. They named their settlement Ville Marie.
The square where the Basilica is located is surrounded by some rather impressive and noteworthy buildings. They include:
The Bank of Montreal. The oldest banking institution in British North America founded on November 3rd, 1817, incorporated by Royal Charter July 2nd, 1822.
This building was erected in 1847.
The Old Sulpician Seminary is the oldest standing building in Montréal. Designed by François Dollier de Casson, at the time the head of the Sulpicians in Montréal, it was started in 1684 and modified several times thereafter. It is the finest example in Montréal of institutional architecture dating from the French Régime.
With its cartouche, dated 1740, the sculpted exterior of the entrance is the oldest still in existence.
A masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, Notre-Dame Basilica was built between 1824 and 1829. The magnificent interior in wood and the boldly modern design of the Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur Chapel, captivate hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows illustrate biblical passages as well as 350 years of parish history.
In 1657, the Roman Catholic Sulpician Order arrived in Ville-Marie, now known as Montreal; six years later the seigneury (a semi-feudal lordship over lands claimed by the king of France) of the island was vested in them. They ruled until 1840. The parish they founded was dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary, and the parish church of Notre-Dame was built on the site in 1672.
By 1824 the congregation had completely outgrown the church, andJames O’Donnell, an Irish-American Protestant from New York, was commissioned to design the new building. O’Donnell was a proponent of the Gothic Revival architectural movement, and designed the church as such. It is said that the experience of designing Notre-Dame affected O’Donnell so profoundly that he converted to Catholicism just prior to his 1930 death. He is the only person to be buried in the church’s crypt.
When the structure was finished it was the largest church in North America. The interior took much longer, and Victor Bourgeau, who also worked on Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal, worked on it from 1872 to 1879. Stonemason John Redpath was a major participant in the construction of the Basilica.
Because of the splendor and scale of the church, a more intimate chapel (Chapelle du Sacré-Coeur) was built behind it along with some offices and a sacristy. It was completed in 1888. A major arson fire destroyed the Sacré-Coeur Chapel on December 7, 1978. It was rebuilt with the first two levels being reproduced from old drawings and photographs, with modern vaulting and reredos and an immense bronze altarpiece by Quebec sculptor Charles Daudelin.
Notre-Dame was raised to the status of a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II during a visit to the city on April 21, 1982. It was the site of the state funeral of Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s 15th prime minister, in 2000.
Of the hundreds of churches on the island of Montréal, Notre-Dame’s interior is the most stunning, with a wealth of exquisite detail, most of it carved from rare woods that have been delicately gilded and painted. O’Donnell, one of the proponents of the Gothic Revival style in the early decades of the 19th century, is the only person honored by burial in the crypt.
The main altar was carved from linden wood, the work of Victor Bourgeau. Behind it is the Chapelle Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart Chapel), much of it destroyed by a deranged arsonist in 1978 but rebuilt and rededicated in 1982. The altar, with 32 panels representing birth, life, and death, was cast in bronze by Charles Daudelin of Montréal.
A 10-bell carillon resides in the east tower, while the west tower contains a single massive bell. Nicknamed “Le Gros Bourdon,” it weighs more than 12 tons and has a low, resonant rumble that vibrates right up through your feet. It is tolled only on special occasions.
The church is among the most dramatic in the world; its interior is grand and colorful, its ceiling is colored deep blue and decorated with golden stars, and the rest of the sanctuary is a polychrome of blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. It is filled with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues. Unusual for a church, the stained-glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary are not biblical, but depict scenes from the religious history of Montreal.
It also has a Canadian-built Casavant Frères pipe organ.
The Plaque, translates as:
And this plaque translates as follows: