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Montréal is founded

This Day in World History

May 17, 1642

Montréal is founded

Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, jumped from the wooden boat onto land. Falling to his knees, he blessed the ground. His followers also came ashore and built an altar, where a Jesuit father offered a blessing. “You are a grain of mustard-seed,” he said, “that shall rise and grow till its branches overshadow the earth.” With these words, French settlers founded Ville-Marie de Montréal — Montréal, Canada — on May 17, 1642.

Jacques Cartier had first recommended the site of Montréal for a settlement on his second voyage to Canada, in 1535–1536. In fact, he gave the name Mont-Réal to the 760-foot hill rising above the St. Lawrence River. At the time, the land was home to a large settlement of some 1,000 Huron Indians, who called the site Hochelaga.

Though Cartier claimed the St. Lawrence River valley for France, further exploration and settlement of the region did not begin until the early 1600s. Samuel de Champlain, who led the colonization effort, also saw the site of Montréal as a favorable location, as it lay at the junction of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers and just below rapids that made the upper reaches of the St. Lawrence unnavigable.

Montréal as viewed from Mount Royal in 1784 by James Peachy. Source: National Archives of Canada.

Still, it took nearly four decades after Champlain founded Québec before Maisonneuve and his few dozen settlers finally established the first French settlement at the site. He had been put in charge of the company by a group of men who had religious as much as economic goals in planting the colony. They wanted to convert and educate the local Native Americans and found a religious hospital. Thus, along with building a stockade for defense and homes for the settlers, Maisonneuve had a chapel and hospital built as well.

Despite the colony’s lofty goals, it had poor relations with the Native Americans of the area for decades. Not until 1701 did the settlers and the indigenous peoples agree to a lasting peace. By then, Montréal was well established. The mustard seed had grown.

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