For immediate release
By Éric Major, documentalist at Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex
Montréal, August 27, 2013 – A team of archaeologists working for Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex, is busy digging up Place D’Youville Ouest, in Old Montréal, seeking the remains of the Parliament of the United Province of Canada and St. Ann’s Market and shedding light on a significant period in Montréal history.
A team of archaeologists working for Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex, is busy digging up Place D’Youville Ouest, in Old Montréal, seeking the remains of the Parliament of the United Province of Canada and St. Ann’s Market and shedding light on a significant period in Montréal history.
The extensive digs are part of the Museum’s expansion, with the goal of showcasing these exceptional remains and the segment extending from Place Royale all the way to McGill Street. This area was a hive of economic and political activity throughout the 19th century, and evidence of Montréal’s roles as a real commercial and political powerhouse lies hidden beneath the surface of Place D’Youville Ouest, between McGill and Saint-Pierre streets.
First, a market
The first incarnation of St. Ann’s Market dates back to 1833-1834, in a handsome two-storey stone building over 100 metres long, designed by architect John Wells. The market was set atop the canalized Little River – an ingenious arrangement, since the cool air from the water below helped to keep the produce stored in the some 60 stalls on the ground floor and the 32 cellars in the basement fresh. The canal was also a handy place for disposing of the mounds of waste from the market. Between 1834 and 1844, the site swarmed with merchants and customers, selling and buying fresh fruit and vegetables, grain, meat and fish.
A parliament beneath the surface!
The building was managed by a syndicate until 1842, when it was acquired by the city of Montréal, obliging the merchants to build a wooden market hall northeast of the site. Shortly afterward, Governor General Sir Charles Bagot decided to transfer the Parliament, which up until then had been located in Kingston, to Montréal – farther away from the American border and hence less vulnerable to any possible expansionist threats from our southern neighbours. He also felt that English- and French-speaking parliamentarians were more likely to get along well together in Montréal. The splendid neoclassical St. Ann’s Market building was an obvious choice as the seat of government, since it was large enough to house the entire state apparatus: the Assembly, the legislature, and a huge library of about 25,000 volumes and a large number of archives. The building had to be renovated, however, so that offices could be installed on the ground floor and the assembly halls upstairs.
And so it was that the elected representatives met in Montréal starting in 1844 to decide the fate of Upper and Lower Canada, now joined as the United Province of Canada. It was at this time that the principles of responsible government were adopted, the Executive Council was created and anti-patronage rules were promulgated. The political climate remained tense and unsettled, however, and in the wake of the harshly repressed rebellions of the previous decade, the constantly simmering conflict between the Conservative and Reform factions frequently boiled over.
Following the election in 1848, the new Reform majority took over from the Tories (Conservatives). When the 1849 session opened, French was reintroduced as an official language in Parliament. A bill to compensate the victims of losses in the 1837-1838 uprisings was given Royal assent in April of that year by Governor General Lord Elgin, granting citizens of Lower Canada the same treatment as their counterparts in Upper Canada. This decision infuriated British merchants and Tories, however, egged on by a number of Orange Lodges, leading to fierce debates and a strong surge in violence.
The fury peaked on the evening of April 25, 1849, when an angry crowd of 1,500 gathered on the Champ de Mars, at the urging of the Montreal Gazette – which had published an extra edition that day calling on its readers to protest the Rebellion Losses Bill. The demonstrators proceeded from there to the Parliament, where they sacked the building and set fire to it. Eyewitness Amédée Papineau described the damage to the building, and recounted how many firemen stood watching while others were held back by the arsonists, who even went so far as to rip holes in the fire hoses. Two hours later, when the army finally arrived, the Parliament and everything in it had been reduced to smouldering ruins. That was the end of Montréal’s role as the capital of Canada. The seat of government then alternated between Toronto and Quebec City, before settling permanently in Ottawa.
A market again
Following these dramatic events, a new market was rebuilt starting in 1851. This resurrection of St. Ann’s Market was soon expanded to house a fish market and various commercial warehouses and storehouses, but these different roles did not always coexist smoothly. The market was finally demolished in 1901 to make way for a public green space, Parliament Square, and a commemorative site dedicated to Marguerite d’Youville. A parking lot and a fire station were added in the early 20th century. It is these bits of history, and many others, that Pointe-à-Callière is hoping to unearth and rediscover as it conducts these digs.