The pointe à Callière site
Archaeologists exploring the pointe à Callière site have brought a priceless historic site to light. Thanks to their research, they have been able to identify major periods of occupation of this spot between the Little Saint-Pierre River and the St. Lawrence.
In about the 14th century, the site was visited by Natives who tied up their craft and came ashore, mainly to fish.
This period began with the arrival of the founders of Montréal, in 1642, and the construction of Fort Ville-Marie. Below ground level in the Éperon building, traces of the first Catholic cemetery have been found. It was laid out in 1643, as part of Fort Ville-Marie at the time, and was probably used until 1654. Neither Maisonneuve nor Jeanne Mance are buried here, but there are graves of French colonists and Natives from the very earliest days of the fledgling settlement.
There are also traces of the British Regime in the basement, including those of the buildings erected by cooper André Papineau, in 1796; a warehouse built by Pierre Berthelet, in 1816; and foundations of the imposing Royal Insurance Company building, which dates back to 1861. This magnificent building was demolished in 1951. The vacant land was then used for a parking lot, and later a park.
Between 1832 and 1838, the Little Saint-Pierre River was canalized underground and through an impressive sewer pipe. The cut stone structure is Montréal’s oldest collector sewer, and remained in use until 1989. It was a significant piece of civil engineering, for its time. The Museum is hoping to eventually make it accessible to the public from the section on display in the Museum all the way to McGill Street, some 800 metres away. The Old Port of Montréal Corporation first began conducting digs on the pointe à Callière site in 1989. The Museum officially opened on the site in 1992, to mark the city's 350th birthday.
The archaeological crypt
In 1989, under the agreement between the Quebec Department of Cultural Affairs and the City of Montréal, archaeological digs were started in Place Royale. Beneath this square lies an archaeological crypt, with the remains of structures erected over the centuries by masons and other trades. The way the remains are superposed in this one spot offers a sort of condensed history of Montréal.
For instance, visitors can see:
- traces of posts from the town's wooden palisade (1684) and of the first guardhouse (1698);
- stones from the fortifications (18th century) and from the building owned by Étienne Rochbert;
- a paved street from the late 18th century, walls from the Baby-Bagg house (1767) and from the Würtele inn (1802);
- the base of a fountain, ringed by the foundations of a low wall that enclosed Customs Square in about 1860;
- the cement base on which a monument to the first Montrealers stood in the 1940s.