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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
The Historic City Centre

The Bourgeois Centre of the City

In 1804, work began to demolish the fortifications separating the city and the faubourgs. Montréal needed room to grow! Between 1800 and 1850, its population exploded from 10,000 to 50,000, as wave after wave of English, Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived, drawn by the lure of the New World.

Click on the map to see the whole city with its suburbs and the Lachine Canal.
The city centre in 1825

The city centre in 1825, now surrounded by wide streets. Residences are shown in red, and warehouses, workshops, etc. in light blue. Public buildings are shown in purple.
Plan by Robert Sweeny, 1999, based on the plan by John Adams, 1825 (detail)

Throughout this whole first half of the 19th century, however, the old fortified town remained the residential and business district of the local bourgeoisie.


Hub of the two Canadas

In 1791, Lower and Upper Canada, the future Québec and Ontario, became separate colonies.

Montréal, with its growing "sea port " and, by 1825, its canal allowing ships to circumvent the Lachine Rapids on their way west, would be the political and economic hub of the two colonies. After the colonies were united in 1840, it would even become the capital of all CanadaÖ but not for long!

The harbour, Place d'Armes and Notre-Dame Street, 1828-1830

The harbour, Place d'Armes and Notre-Dame Street, 1828-1830.
Robert Auchmaty Sproule (1799-1845). McCord Museum of Canadian History

A new lease on life

In Montréal itself, the rising bourgeois class developed new political institutions, as the whole Western world was rocked by political and social turbulence.

At the same time, the old city changed shape, and new architectural styles and infrastructures appeared. The port, the Lachine Canal, vast indoor markets, courthouses, paved streets, public lighting, a private aqueduct, a great new Catholic church, Protestant churches, banksÖ everything was changing, everywhere one looked!

One end of Bonsecours Market and Rasco's Hotel
One end of Bonsecours Market and Rasco's Hotel.

Goods mass produced in England and now displayed in Montréal shop windows, steamships parading in front of the old town, the first machines in workshops-all heralded the coming Industrial Revolution in Montréal. Up until about 1850, nonetheless, Montréal remained a small British colonial town, still basking in the pre-industrial age.

The Bourgeois Centre
Montage : Denis Tremblay, 1999
Some key events


Plans to demolish the fortifications, first proposed in 1800, were officially approved.


Demolition work began, and continued until 1809. Landscaping work would continue until 1817.


The first steamship began serving Montréal.
1817 The Bank of Montreal, the first Canadian bank, was founded.
1830 The Port of Montréal was officially created.
1832 A riot occurred in Place d'Armes, the heart of the old town, during an election. The City of Montréal adopted its charter in that same year.
1836 The charter was suspended, as political tensions ran high.
1840 The City adopted a new charter. The first municipal council was appointed by the colonial authorities.
1844 Montréal became the capital of the United Canadas, after London decided to unite Upper and Lower Canada in 1840 following the rebellions of 1837-1838. The Canadian Parliament was housed in St. Anne's Market, in the centre of the city.
1849 The parliament was burned by Tory rioters enraged at the compensation paid to French Canadians who had suffered losses in 1837-1838; the vandals felt abandoned by the Empire. Montréal lost its status as the capital city of Canada.
Le nouveau centre-ville victorien

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Last updated: April 2000