Monday, July 4, 2011

Everyone 'Digs' Old Montreal




The St. Anne's market, where the first Parliament of the United Province of Canada stood back in 1844, was eventually burned down by rioters. The remains of this historical building are being uncovered by a Pointe-à-Callière archaeological museum and the Centre d’histoire de Montréal joint excavation project this summer.


Mathieu Sevigny rakes some dirt at archeological dig at Place d’Youville in Montreal. The dig is part of the expansion of the Pointe a Calliere Museum and includes the remains of the St. Anne’s Market which in 1844 became the Parliament of the United Province of Canada.

Here is the article from tonights online Gazette:

A national treasure is hidden in an Old Montreal parking lot, and archaeologists plan to find it.

The Pointe-à-Callière archaeological museum and the Centre d’histoire de Montréal are joining forces for the summer in an excavation project starting Tuesday to uncover remains of an intrinsic part of Canadian history.

The ruins of Ste. Anne’s Market, where the first Parliament of the United Province of Canada stood in 1844, lie beneath the large parking lot across from the Centre d’histoire de Mont Montréal at Place d’Youville.

When the parliament buildings were burned down by Tory rioters in 1849, the seat of government alternated between Toronto and Quebec before being permanently installed in Ottawa.

Ste. Anne’s Market was eventually rebuilt, but was levelled again by another fire – an accidental one this time.

The site was converted into a public square in 1902 and was finally taken over by cars in the 1920s, turning a historical landmark into a dull parking lot.

“St. Anne’s was the first largest indoor market in Montreal. Its big brother, Marché Bonsecours, was built a few years later,” said Louise Pothier, director of exhibitions and technologies at Pointe-à-Callière.

“With this dig, archeologists could find cellars, meat bones, products, seeds from the market and of course, the remains of the Parliament buildings.”

On the night of April 25, 1849, the Parliament was burned down by Tory rioters upset about the Rebellion Losses Bill, a controversial law that aimed to compensate Lower Canadians who lost property during the Rebellions of 1837. When the bill received royal assent, many Tory citizens reacted by provoking riots in Montreal.

“It’s a fascinating period in Canadian democracy,” Pothier said. “The challenge of an archeologist is to try to understand the traces from the past and make them significant for people today.”

In the 1980s, archeologists superimposed city plans and analyzed archived documents, maps and engravings to determine that the western part of Place d’Youville was worth digging into.

The project was put on hold for years and is now being tackled by Ethnoscop Inc., given the mandate to carry out the excavations subsidized by the Ministry of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women and the city of Montreal.

Since Ste. Anne’s market was approximately 100 metres long and 30 metres wide, only 10 to 15 per cent of the market will be uncovered between now until the end of the excavations in October.

The city plans to work on landscaping around the zone next spring, to turn what used to be a parking lot into an esthetic public space.

“Depending on what we find this summer, the excavations could be prolonged in the future,” Pothier said. “That’s the philosophy with archeology.”

Pothier is looking forward to a particular find at Place d’Youville that could make non-archaeologists squeamish: a 300-metre long tunnel used as a sewer collector in the 1800s. It runs from the Pointe-à-Callière museum basement all the way to the digging site.

The museum hopes to make the tunnel accessible for the public to walk through by 2017, the city of Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

In the meantime, the public can visit the archeological dig – between McGill and St. Pierre Sts. – for free.

“As we dig more and more during the summer, the site will become quite layered and will go very deep in the ground,” Pothier said. “It will be very impressive.”

Free tours of the archeological dig departing from the Pointe-à-Callière museum run from July 5 to Sept. 4, from Tuesday to Sunday, every half-hour between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

For more information on Point-à-Callière’s continuing expansion project, visit

                                     Haver Fun and Remember Verdun



Guy Billard said...

The 300 meter tunnel mentioned is probably the old Petite Rivière St Pierre wich ended at Pte-à-Carrière. A branch of the Petite Rivière St Pierre flowed through Verdun between Strathmore and Regina into the St Lawrence river. The Petit Lac St Pierre was situated at the Turcot yards wich continued to the Petite Rivière St Pierre. I covered this subject previously and is a fascinating historical story. Talking about the Turcot yards, there is activity going on there as I saw large tractors on the site. We can expect major changes in that area in the near future.

Les F said...

Guy are you going to take one of the free tours throughout the summer ? If so perhaps you could grab some pictures for us to see here.... HF&RV

Guy Billard said...

Yes I plan on participating at least at one of those tours that will be held in Verdun and will take picures that I will post here.