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Centuries of History
Before the Founding
A Fortified Town
The Bourgeois Centre of the City
A New Victorian Showcase
The Heart of the Metropolis
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Imagine, if you will, thousands of years ago, a wooded island rich with game, located at the junction of the St. Lawrence River and the Outaouais River...

Amerindians regularly stopped here, and then returned their canoes to the water to continue eastward to the Atlantic Ocean, or portaged if they were continuing westward, to avoid the rapids blocking the route to the Great Lakes.

Before the Founding

Vieux-Montréal, vue régionale

Back in those times, Old Montréal was an elongated ridge formed of several shelves running parallel to the St. Lawrence. The ridge, topped by a small hill (now disappeared), was separated from the rest of the island by a creek running along a marshy bed, which joined other streams to form a little river.

Vieux-Montréal, vue locale
Computer pre-processing done for the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum, for use in a publication.


That little river, as it drained into the St. Lawrence, left a low-lying point of land at its mouth. It was on that point that the French settlers would one day found Montréal.


Amerindian camps

Very early on, Amerindians set up camps on either side of the little river, a perfect natural harbour. Twentieth-century archaeologists would later find stone tools that could be some 4,000 years old. The Amerindian presence is known to date back at least 2,500 to 3,000 years.

Objets témoins lithiques - pointes

Stone artifacts found on the Lemoyne-Leber site in Old Montréal. These projectile points date from the Early Woodland Culture (1,000 to 400 B.C.), except the upper point, which is from the Late Woodland Culture (1300 to 1550 A.D.).

Photo: Ville de Montréal; photographer Marc Laberge, Vidéanthrop inc.
Archaeological collection: Ville de Montréal

Judging by the artifacts discovered to date , the camps appear to have been only temporary. Nevertheless, there were definitely Native villages on the Island of Montréal before the French arrived, although not on the current site of Old Montréal.

Tessons de bordures de vases amérindiens

Decorations from edges of Amerindian vases. These objects, unearthed in Place Royale, in Old Montréal, date from the Late Woodland Culture (1300 to 1550 A.D.).

Photo: Ville de Montréal; photographer, Marc Laberge, Vidéanthrop inc.
Archaeological collection: Ville de Montréal


The First Europeans Arrive

One day in the year 1535, Iroquois from the village of Hochelaga, on the island, watched as a group of French explorers led by Jacques Cartier came ashore. The adventurers were given a warm welcome.

In 1603, Samuel de Champlain visited the island in turn, and found no village. When he returned in 1611, he installed his crew on the point, next to the mouth of the "little river." But the real founders of Montréal had yet to arrive...

Texte de Samuel de Champlain

Report written by Samuel de Champlain, as published in The Works of Samuel de Champlain in six volumes, The Champlain Society, 1925 (vol. II, p. 175).

Some key events

Early Woodland culture
(2,400 to 3,000 years ago)

Nomadic populations visited the site of Old Montréal, leaving traces discovered by archaeologists.


Jacques Cartier visited the island and named the mountain Mont Royal — the likely origin of the name Montréal.


Explorer Samuel de Champlain also stopped here for a time, baptizing the site of his camp Place Royale, later renamed Pointe à Callière.

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Old Montréal

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Last updated: April 2000