Montréal: A Bit of History
Marc Bourdeau, President of the ASA’s Montréal Chapter
Montréal was founded in 1642 by French settlers who had a mystical plan in the back of their minds to Christianize the American native peoples. Most of the settlers came from the Champagne region and established several religious organizations, hospitals, schools, and communities of sisters and brothers. Well, so it was … religion at our beginnings. … But the localization of Montréal was particularly happy, and it is not a coincidence.
Montréal is situated on a large island (365km2, compared to 87km2 for Manhattan) in the “Giant River,” as it is called in Québec, the St. Lawrence River. The river, being narrow at this point, controls the boat traffic and, at the time, all communications.
The Lachine rapids, a small way upstream, are a barrier that rapidly had to be bypassed. From the beginning then, Montréal became the commercial hub of the region. The development of the train created a large freight industry from Montréal. And in the 1820s, the first Lachine canal was inaugurated, which propelled Montréal into becoming a major North-American port.
The numerous native peoples have lived on mostly peaceful terms with the French throughout Québec’s history. One reason for this is the two groups were so few in number until the end of Nouvelle France. After a few native peoples’ wars at the beginning of the French Colony, the Great Treatise of Montréal in 1701 resulted in a peace that has, by and large, lasted.
After the dismantling of Nouvelle France in 1763 by the British, Montréal became a mostly English-speaking city that grew to be fairly important after America’s independence in 1776, with its many refugees from south of the border. It was mainly a commercial city, with a central role for its port.
The French-speaking population lived on the outskirts of Montréal and in the vast countryside, excluded by their religion and language from positions of importance for close to two centuries.
The French population of Nouvelle France was about 50,000 in 1760. It grew rapidly, doubling every 20 years or so until the 1940s and its return to the Island of Montréal.
Mostly peasants and factory workers until the end of WWII, the French-speaking population became educated early in the nineteenth century, but only at a low level.
McGill University was founded in 1823. The Université de Montréal (UdeM) started as a fledgling branch (1878) of the Université Laval, founded in Québec City in 1852. The École Polytechnique de Montréal (Poly-Montréal) dates back to 1873, and the Hautes Études Commerciales (HÉC-Montréal) was founded in 1907. It was in 1927 that UdeM became an autonomous university, with Poly-Montréal and HÉC-Montréal becoming affiliated schools. Now, UdeM stands close to the top 100 in the Shanghai classification, with some of its faculties at a much higher place. McGill stood at the 60th place in 2010. There are actually four large universities in Montréal, two being French speaking. There are close to 200,000 university students in Montréal.
The French-Speaking Population
At the beginning of the British occupation, the small French-speaking population mingled with a few thousand German mercenaries sent by George III, one of the British kings from the House of Hanover, to defend its colony. Many of the mercenaries were living with French-speaking peasants who were in lack of male descendants. Peace, good land, and lots of space for development were, as now, the main factors of desirability for immigration.
More, all through the 19th century, a large number of Irish orphans (made so by their parents dying while fleeing the famines) mingled with the French-speaking peasants. British immigrants from the American colonies of the late 18th century either migrated to Montréal from the New England border or assimilated into the community of French farmers with whom they shared the land. So, the French-speaking population of Québec and Montréal is of mixed origins and constitutes roughly 90% of Québec’s total population (8 million).
If one looks at the Montréal flag, it is separated into four quarters, occupied by the emblematic flower of each of the four main peoples who created the city as it is today: the French fleur-de-lis, the Scottish thistle (most of the English-speaking population in Québec is of Scottish descent), the Irish shamrock, and the English rose (the Lancaster rose).
Montréal, due to a generous Québec immigration policy, became one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America during the last half of the 20th century and essentially functions in French for its daily activities.
The Révolution Tranquille (Quiet Revolution), a strong but peaceful social swerve in Québec that started in the 1960s, has brought Montréal to the forefront of industrial and commercial development.
Possibly because of the adversities from the rest of English-speaking North America, there was a strong collective mindset early on in Québec that has expressed itself more since the Quiet Revolution. Our civilization is very much socialized, putting Montréal and all of Québec at the top for its quality of life and the equality of its citizens.
Montréal, in just a few decades, became the modern city you will experience during JSM 2013.