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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

A New Victorian Showcase

From the 1850s to the 1870s, Montrealers watched as their city was transformed into an industrialized metropolis. Large working-class neighbourhoods sprang up. Mechanized factories turned out everyday items by the thousand. Railways linked Montréal to the whole continent. The port, too, expanded at a dizzying pace.

The prosperous times were reflected in the old city centre, too. Soon it would become a new kind of business district...

The Henry Morgan  & Co. Department Store, 1870

The Henry Morgan & Co. Department Store, 1870.
Château Ramezay Museum


Montréal, Canada's centre of trade

Great expanses of earlier architecture disappeared as huge multipurpose commercial buildings serving as warehouse-salesrooms sprang up-a very impressive sight for Montrealers of the time. Manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers set up their workshops, warehouses, offices and of course their display rooms on the various floors of the new buildings, to attract customers from Québec, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

Des Récollets and Saint-Pierre streets
Pierre McCann, La Presse
  Urqhart Building


An era of change!

Downtown businesses continued to draw hordes of Montrealers to shop. Yet fewer and fewer people were actually living in the old city; the wealthier classes preferred new and more fashionable neighbourhoods. As the hospital and the shelter for the poor also moved farther out, they were replaced immediately by large stores. And that's not to mention the new head offices of banks and insurance companies, the construction of City Hall, the flamboyant interior renovation of Notre-DameÖ And all the businesses that appeared and disappeared like the new goods in the display windows!

The Barron block

The Barron block.
L'Opinion publique, July 4, 1872

Some key events


Horse-drawn tramways improved access to the city centre from outlying neighbourhoods.


The new Canadian federation offered Montréal businessmen a larger market.


A huge political and financial scandal scuttled the first attempt to found the Canadian Pacific Railway company.
1873 The whole Western world was struck by a recession, slowing growth in central Montréal.
1879 Electric lighting, with arc lamps, was demonstrated in Champ-de-Mars.
The Heart of the Metropolis

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Old Montréal

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Last updated: April 2000