Founding of Montreal Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The sieur de Maisonneuve and forty-one of his followers established the first European settlement atthe foot of Mount Royal and called it Ville-Marie de Montreal.

Summary of Event

In May, 1642, Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, Maisonneuve, sieur de led a band of forty-one followers, most of them religious mystics devoted to working among the native people, up the Saint Lawrence River from Quebec City, 160 miles (260 kilometers) to the south. They disembarked on a spot between the Saint Lawrence River and the palisades of the mountain behind it, where they built a community. Thus, Chomedey is generally credited with founding what grew into the city of Montreal, although some historians contend that he cofounded the community with Jeanne Mance, Mance, Jeanne the first lay nurse in North America. [kw]Founding of Montreal (May, 1642) [kw]Montreal, Founding of (May, 1642) Colonization;May, 1642: Founding of Montreal[1470] Expansion and land acquisition;May, 1642: Founding of Montreal[1470] Government and politics;May, 1642: Founding of Montreal[1470] Canada;May, 1642: Founding of Montreal[1470] Montreal Colonization;France of Montreal Canada;French colonization of

The original purpose of those who established this settlement was to create a missionary center in the wilderness to convert Canadian Indians to Christianity Christianity;Native Americans and Native Americans;Christianity and . Their method was to encourage the Indians to live among the French and gradually to adopt their ways. The Indians had little interest in doing this, however, and by the 1650’, the missionary emphasis of the settlement was replaced by commercial interests based on a thriving fur trade. Trade;furs Furs, trade in

Montreal was named by Jacques Cartier, who, in 1535, had sailed up the Saint Lawrence River to the Indian settlement of Hochelaga, where he was greeted by over a thousand “First People,” as the Canadians call the early Indians. Cartier scaled the mountain against which Hochelaga was built. From its peaks, he saw the Saint Lawrence River extending west to the vanishing line. He named this mountain Monte-Real, or the Royal Mountain. Cartier left Hochelaga the same day he arrived, realizing that the Saint Lawrence River’s raging rapids west of the settlement would prevent him from proceeding further.

There is no record of Europeans visiting Hochelaga again until 1603, when Samuel de Champlain Champlain, Samuel de explored the area. By this time, the original Indian settlement was gone. However, another settlement, which Champlain named Place Royal, had replaced it. Vestiges of the first settlement remained.

Hochelaga and subsequent settlements on the same site were ideally situated for habitation, being strategically placed on a river that gave them access to the south but whose fierce rapids protected them to the north. The mountain, with its high palisades, offered additional natural protection from aggressive intruders.

When Champlain ventured into the area, the riverbanks between the former Hochelaga and Quebec City were occupied by three groups of First People: the Hurons Hurons , the Algonquians Algonquians , and the Iroquois Iroquois . The Huron and Algonquian Indians were frequently attacked by the aggressive Iroquois, who, by the middle of the seventeenth century, had brought the Hurons almost to the point of extinction. At Champlain’s instigation, a treaty was drawn up between the Hurons and the Algonquians, who joined forces to protect themselves from the Iroquois. Savage fighting continued in the area, however, throughout the rest of the seventeenth century, ending only in 1701, when a stronger treaty was forged and agreed to by all three tribes.

After Maisonneuve and his followers arrived on the site, which they named Ville-Marie de Montreal, they spent the summer building houses in which to live, as well as a chapel, a substantial barricade to protect them from attack, and a few outbuildings. Creating a community and erecting the necessary buildings before winter set in were remarkable but necessary accomplishments.

The French king, Louis XIV, gave the community its first charter in 1644. Chomedey became the first governor. A genuinely devout man, he viewed as his foremost goal the conversion to the Catholic faith of the First People. In the same year that the community was granted its charter, Jeanne Mance opened the first hospital there and became the first lay nurse in North America. Mance, one of those among the original colonists, belonged to a wealthy family in Langres, France, and wanted to dedicate herself to a life of service to humankind. Her cousin, Nicholas Dolebeau, a priest in Paris, first planted in her mind the idea of going to New France New France , as Canada was then called, to work among the indigenous peoples. Mance had gained considerable medical experience when she worked as a nurse during the Thirty Years’ War that raged from 1618 to 1648.

Before she left for the New World, Mance had a number of meetings with Angelique de Bullion, Bullion, Angelique de whose husband, before his death, had been Louis XIII’s superintendent of finance. She urged Mance to establish a hospital like the Hôtel-Dieu de Quebec in the undeveloped area that became Montreal. Angelique de Bullion offered financial support and continuing encouragement to this effort. With her help and under Mance’s direction, the Hôtel-Dieu de Montreal Hôtel-Dieu de Montreal was opened in 1645. The hospital, an unpretentious wooden structure 60 feet (18 meters) long and 24 feet (7 meters) wide, had accommodations for six male and two female patients. This arrangement reflected the fact that the early settlement had a preponderance of male inhabitants. Medicine;New France

By 1653, the community had 719 male residents but a mere 65 single women, a condition that King Louis XIV sought to remedy by offering a generous dowry to orphan girls who immigrated to Montreal for the purpose of marrying. Mance, although she eventually returned to France, remained devoted to Ville-Marie de Montreal for the rest of her life, returning several times when the community’s continued existence was threatened.

Education was not the highest immediate priority as Ville-Marie de Montreal was struggling to establish itself. In its early days, survival was a primary concern. This changed, however, in 1653, with the arrival from France of Marguerite Bourgeoys, Bourgeoys, Marguerite who established the first school for girls in the community, housing it in an abandoned stable. She also founded the teaching order of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. With impetus from Bourgeoys, a group of priests established the order of Les Messieurs de Saint-Sulpice, which took charge of the education of boys in the community. Education;New France

Ville-Marie de Montreal became a thriving community, largely through the fur trade in which it engaged with the First People. There was a great demand for furs in France, as well as in the rest of Europe, so the fur merchants of the community became quite affluent. Those with commercial interests did all that they could to keep the three major tribes of First People from fighting among themselves, because it was these Indians who were their suppliers, and wars would interfere with the free exchange of furs. The fur traders therefore worked strenuously to draft and enforce treaties among the tribes.

By 1672, Montreal had grown to a community of fifteen hundred people, but it took it more than another one hundred years to achieve city status. Meanwhile, the religious motives that accounted for the founding of the community were supplanted by an ever-increasing commercial emphasis.


Montreal has grown from its humble beginnings into one of the leading cities in Canada. Throughout its history, it has taken full advantage of its propitious location on a major river with mountains near its banks to offer protection from intruders, a very important factor in the community’s early days. Montreal’s origins as a center of New France is also significant, as many of the city’s inhabitants value their French heritage at least as much as their Canadian identity.

The transformation of the early community from one bent on converting the First People to Christianity to one sustained by commerce is not surprising. The missionaries, as well-meaning and dedicated as they obviously were, sought to win over the First People by making them more like themselves. Such efforts required those being saved to forsake much of their heritage, which they valued and were unwilling to relinquish. A more successful approach to converting natives to Catholicism was that practiced by the Jesuits. They learned the native languages of the people among whom they worked, and they adapted themselves to the lives and cultures of those they hoped to save.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brebner, J. Bartlet. Canada: A Modern History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1957. Provides excellent information about Montreal’s early days.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Craig, ed. The Illustrated History of Canada. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1987. This comprehensive history of Canada, beautifully and profusely illustrated, deals only briefly with the founding of Montreal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riendeau, Roger. A Brief History of Canada. New York: Facts On File, 2000. Useful text on Canadian history with passing reference to the founding of Montreal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rogers, Stillman D. Montreal. Danbury, Conn.: Children’s Press, 2000. Directed at an adolescent audience, this attractive, well-illustrated book provides a good starting point for those seeking information about Montreal and its history.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys; Samuel de Champlain; Saint Isaac Jogues; Louis XIII; Louis XIV; Jacques Marquette. Montreal Colonization;France of Montreal Canada;French colonization of

Categories: History