November 2013

2013 Archaeological Dig Campaign: Major discoveries on the site of St. Ann’s Market and the Parliament of the United Province of Canada

For immediate release

Montréal, November 1st, 2013 – Major discoveries were made during the archaeological dig campaign carried out by Pointe-à-Callière during the summer of 2013 at the location of the former St. Ann’s Market and the Parliament of the United Province of Canada, classified as a heritage site by Québec’s Department of Culture and Communications. In all, close to 50,000 artefacts and biofacts—in addition to the charred remains of 35 books—have been brought to light at the dig, on Place D’Youville West in Old Montréal, beneath a former City of Montréal parking lot where the remains of these sites are located.

“Located at the birthplace of Montréal, Pointe-à-Callière showcases a concentration of remarkable historic sites that bear witness to our identity and French origins. The excavation, protection, and development of the artefacts brought to light over the last few months represent tangible efforts to preserve and disseminate our cultural heritage. These recent discoveries have therefore enriched the archaeological and historical knowledge of this site, and it is important to ensure their preservation for future generations,” stated the Minister of Culture and Communications, Maka Kotto.

Pointe-à-Callière is the prime contractor of the 2013 archaeological digs, which were carried out by archaeologists from the firm Ethnoscop. The dig site was supervised by the firm Ceveco, and the Quartier International de Montréal (QIM) was the project manager. The archaeological dig campaign, as well as the updating of the feasibility study for the Montréal Archaeology and History Complex project were made possible through a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Culture and Communications. The City of Montréal made a $500,000 contribution to the feasibility study.

“Thanks to enthusiastic individuals, to their expertise, their patience, their knowledge, and their curiosity, we now know a little bit more about the purpose of this site, which played a vital role in the history of Montréal, the cradle of democracy in Canada. The City of Montréal is proud to lend its year-round financial support to the Museum’s operations, and will further its contribution for the feasibility studies for the expansion project, as well as for the development of Pointe-à-Callière’s exceptional Montréal Archaeology and History Complex project,” added the Mayor of Montréal, Mr. Laurent Blanchard.

Spectacular results
The discovery of some 35 charred book fragments was the highlight of the 2013 campaign—as impressive as it was unexpected. These fragments have been sent to the Canadian Conservation Institute, which is assessing restoration options with the aim of conserving these historical documents and making them accessible. It should be noted that on the evening of the fire on April 25, 1849, both of the parliamentary libraries were consumed, and over 24,000 public documents from Upper Canada and Lower Canada, including certain documents dating back to the days of New France, were reduced to ashes. Finding so many of the remains—after 164 years underground—is truly exceptional!

“The results of the 2013 archaeological dig have exceeded all of our expectations, in terms of the number of pieces found, as well as the nature and historical importance of the objects, including the charred books from the library at the Parliament of the United Province of Canada. It is a major discovery with great symbolic significance, as the parliament was completely destroyed by fire in 1849,” explains Francine Lelièvre, Executive Director of Pointe-à-Callière.

Some of the other objects found include several bottles of alcohol, a set of fine china, utensils, a font, coins, bottles of shoe polish, glass, objects relating to parliamentary life, animal bones, and a large number of oyster shells.

The objects found on the site are of great importance when one considers that the men and women who frequented the building on a daily basis used them in the parliament until the evening of the fire. Among these people, of course, were the Prime Minister at the time, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, and his right-hand man, Robert Baldwin, as well as four other politicians who came to prominence some two decades later as Fathers of Confederation: John Alexander Macdonald, Étienne Pascal Taché, Alexander Tilloch Galt, and Montrealer George-Étienne Cartier.

“The pieces found speak eloquently of the site’s vocation and of certain activities that took place there over its three major periods of occupancy: that of St. Ann’s Market and the Parliament of the United Province of Canada, from 1834 to 1849; that of the burning of the Parliament in 1849; and that of the refurbishment of St. Ann’s Market, from 1851 until it was demolished in 1901,” adds Louise Pothier, the archaeologist in charge of digs for Pointe-à-Callière.

A wealth of evidence
The thousands of archaeological objects found during the 2013 campaign build on the some 116,000 artefacts and biofacts found in 2011. The inventory and analysis of the objects from the 2011 dig have helped further document the history of this site that was witness to pivotal times for Montréal, Québec, and Canada. The digs have also brought to light the stone foundations of the monumental building (100 m X 15 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 (1832).

The return of the Royal Coat of Arms: an exceptional gift to Pointe-à-Callière
In 2011, the Museum also received an exceptional gift from a generous donor: a unique and fascinating object, the royal coat of arms from the first permanent parliament of the United Province of Canada. Found in New York State, the royal coat of arms was purchased by a knowledgeable collector, the former Solicitor General of Canada, Robert P. Kaplan, who donated this remarkable object to the Museum. Analyses of the object, 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 significance.

Last May, the coat of arms was carefully packaged and sent to the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa. It is currently being restored. The object had been repainted a number of times over the decades; restoration will allow the piece to be cleaned and stabilized. The object should be on display in situ in 2017, in its place of origin, since the Museum hopes to present the coat of arms to the general public, as it develops the remains of the parliament.

A major historic site
The historic 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. Afterward, Parliament sat alternately in Toronto and Quebec City, before it was finally moved to Ottawa, in 1857.

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 just 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, all of which will be linked underground by a 400-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.

About Pointe-à-Callière
Pointe-à-Callière is the only major archaeology museum in all of Québec and Canada; its museum complex rises above a concentrated number of national historic and archaeological sites that illustrate major eras in the history of Montréal, Québec, and Canada. It opened in 1992, on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Montréal. Pointe-à-Callière’s mission is to raise awareness and foster an appreciation of Montréal’s history, and to forge bonds with regional, national, and international networks concerned with archaeology, history, and urban issues.

Pointe-à-Callière is subsidized by the City of Montréal.