Pointe-à-Callière carries out a new dig campaign on the site of St. Ann’s Market and the Parliament of the United Province of Canada

2013-07-31

Pointe-à-Callière has just started a new archaeological dig campaign on Place D’Youville West, in Old Montréal, a location classified as a heritage site in 2012 by Québec’s Department of Culture and Communications.

The site of St. Ann’s Market and the Parliament of the United Province of Canada played a vital part in the city’s history, while Montréal played a major role as the cradle of democracy in Canada. Remember that the first permanent Parliament of the United Province of Canada sat in Montréal from 1844 to 1849, in the former St. Ann’s Market building. A number of key pieces of legislation in Canadian history were adopted here, including the act establishing responsible government in 1848. In 1849, following a riot sparked by the Royal sanction given to the act indemnifying victims of the 1837-1838 Rebellions, or the Rebellion Losses Bill, the Parliament building was burned down. It was a total loss. Afterward, Parliament sat alternately in Toronto and Quebec City, before it was finally moved to Ottawa, in 1857.

This current dig campaign—taking place from July to September 2013—continues the work started in 2011, when research brought to light the stone foundations of the monumental building (100 m X 20 m), along with part of the William collector sewer laid in the bed of the canalized St. Pierre River when St. Ann’s Market was built. According to archaeologists from the firm Ethnoscop, mandated to carry out the work, the remains are in excellent condition. This year, the project is being made possible through the financial contribution of the Department of Culture and Communications of Québec, in collaboration with the City of Montréal.

100,000 objects found!
In 2011, some 100,000 archaeological items and animal bones found during the digs served as eloquent reminders of the uses of the site and of some of the activities take took place there during the three major periods in its history: St. Ann’s Market and the Parliament of the United Province of Canada, from 1834 to 1849; the burning of Parliament, on April 25, 1849; and the restoration of St. Ann’s Market, from 1851 to the time it was torn down, in 1901. Many objects related to the Market and Parliament were unearthed during the digs, including a pair of eyeglasses, several stoneware beer bottles, tea services, utensils, bottles of shoe polish, marbles, and glass items. The layer associated with the fire also contained a number of complete, though scorched, items.

Montréal’s Royal Coat of Arms
In addition to carrying out the archaeological dig, Pointe-à-Callière has also been able to obtain a unique and fascinating object from a donor: the Royal coat of arms from the first permanent parliament of the “province of Canada” (also called United Canada). The Royal coat of arms was discovered in New York and purchased about ten years ago by a knowledgeable collector, the former Solicitor General of Canada, the Honourable Robert P. Kaplan. He kept the remarkable item until 2010, when he heard about Pointe-à-Callière’s plans to expand and to conduct archaeological digs on the site of the first Parliament of the United Province of Canada. Mr. Kaplan contacted Museum officials and donated the Royal arms. The analyses conducted by Pointe-à-Callière show that the item is indeed the coat of arms that once hung in Parliament, as described by a number of contemporaneous observers, making it a piece of tremendous historical and symbolic importance. Since very few objects could be saved from the Parliament building when it was burned down on April 25, 1849, adding this piece to its collections is an exceptional opportunity for Pointe-à-Callière. Last May, the coat of arms was sent to the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa where it is currently being restored.

Tours for the general public
The public is invited to attend free presentations at the Place D’Youville archaeological dig site. Located between McGill and Saint-Pierre streets on Place D’Youville, the site is part of Pointe-à-Callière’s expansion project. Guides from the Museum and the Centre d’histoire de Montréal will explain the history of the site and the work being carried out by the archaeologists, every half-hour between 1 pm and 4 pm, Tuesday to Sunday, from August 13 to September 1st. The meeting point for tours is at the Centre d’histoire de Montréal.

Towards an Archaeology and History Complex

Showcasing St. Ann’s Market—home of the Parliament of the United Province of Canada—and the items found there is one part of Pointe-à-Callière’s extensive plans to create an archaeology and history complex comprising some ten sites. Aside from displaying the remains of this site, the planned complex will also preserve and display the remains of Fort Ville-Marie and of Callière’s Residence, and will include a space to house international exhibitions in the basement of the Canada Customs House, all of which will be linked underground by a 375-metre stretch of the William collector sewer. The completion of this unique heritage treasure is planned for 2017, to mark the Museum’s 25th anniversary, Montréal’s 375th birthday, and the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Pointe-à-Callière intends to preserve and showcase these sites as a commemorative gesture, giving the public access to this exceptional heritage, today and in the future. Full details on the planned expansion are available on the Museum’s website.

See the film Montréal, une capitale, un parlement (1844-1849) [Montréal, a capital, a parliament (1844-1849]: http://bit.ly/1e5VILH