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1642 The Founding Of Montreal
by Alfred Sandham


The history of Montreal dates back to October, 1535, when Jacques Cartier first landed on the island. An Indian village, called Hochelaga, existed here at this time. Its outline was circular; and it was encompassed by three rows of palisades, or rather picket fences, one within the other, well secured and put together. A single entrance was left in this rude fortification, but guarded with pikes and stakes, and every precaution taken against siege or attack. Cartier named the place Mount Royal, from the elevation that rose in rear of the site, a little way back from the river St. Lawrence. It first began to be settled by Europeans in 1542, and exactly one century afterward the spot destined for the city was, with due solemnities, consecrated at the era of Maissoneuve and named Ville Marie, a designation which it retained for a long period. In 1760 it was taken by the English. Since then it has taken great leaps in the way of progress until to-day it is the chief commercial city in Canada and the largest city in the Dominion. Montreal has the further advantage, in its natural situation, of being at the head of ocean navigation. Its population to-day, including suburbs, is in the neighborhood of 350,000.

On the death of Champlain (on December 25, 1635), M. de Montmagny was appointed governor of New France; but so little attention was paid to the wants of the colony that its prosperity was much retarded, the fur trade alone being conducted with any spirit. But great vigor was manifested in religious matters and several institutions were erected. In 1630 the Hotel Dieu, at Quebec, was founded by three nuns sent out by the Duchesse d'Aiguillon, and Madame de la Peltrie brought out from France at her own charge another body of nuns, who established the Ursuline convent. The peopling and fortifying of the island of Montreal, with the view of repressing the incursions of the Iroquois and the conversion of the Indians, had occupied the entire attention of the first missionaries, and in 1640 the whole of this domain was ceded to a company for that purpose.

Jerome le Royer de la Dauversiere, a collector of taxes at La Fleche, in Anjou, and a young priest of Paris, Jean Jacques Olier by name, having met each other, formed the idea of establishing at Montreal three religious communities: one of priests of convert the Indians, one of nuns to nurse the sick, and one of nuns to teach the children of the Indians and of the colonists. It was an easy matter to talk over these plans; but, in order to carry them out, they must first raise some money. For this purpose Olier laid the matter before some of his wealthy penitents, while Dauversiere succeeded in securing the Baron de Fanchamp, a devout Christian and a wealthy man, who, considering the enterprise as one calculated to further his spiritual interests, was eager to take part in it. Shortly afterward three others were secured, and the six together formed the germ of the "Societe de Notre Dame de Montreal." Among them they raised seventy-five thousand livres.

Previous to this the island of Montreal had been granted to M. de Lauson, a former president of the Company of One Hundred Associates, and his son possessed the exclusive monopoly of the fisheries on the St. Lawrence. After much persuasion Dauversiere and Fanchamp succeeded in securing from him a transfer of his title to them; and to make the matter more secure they obtained, in addition, a grant of the island from its former owners, the Hundred Associates. That company, however, reserved the western extremity of the island for themselves, as a site for a fort and stores. The younger Lauzon also gave Dauversiere and his company the right of fishery within two leagues of the shores of the island, which favor they were to acknowledge by a yearly donation of ten pounds of fish. These grants were afterward confirmed by the King, and thus Dauversiere and his companions became "Lords of the Isle of Montreal."

They now proceeded to mature their plan, which was to send out forty men to take possession of Montreal, intrench themselves, and raise crops, after which they would build houses for the priests and convents for the nuns. It was necessary, however, that some competent person should be secured who should take command of the expedition and act as governor of the newly acquired isle. To fill this important position it was desirable that to the qualities of the statesman should be added the courage of the soldier. One in whom these were combined was found in the person of Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, a devout Christian, an able statesman, and a valiant soldier. Maisonneuve at once accepted the position, while many wealthy ladies contributed toward defraying the expense of the undertaking and also became members of the "Association of Montreal." In February, 1641, the Associates, with Olier at their head, assembled in the Church of Notre Dame at Paris, and before the altar of the Virgin "solemnly consecrated Montreal to the Holy Family" and to be called "Ville-Marie de Montreal."

Maisonneuve with his party, forty-five in number, reached Quebec too late to ascend the river. On their arrival at that place they were received with jealousy and distrust. The agents of the Company of One Hundred Associates looked on them with suspicion, and Montmagny, the Governor, feared a rival in Maisonnenve. Every opposition was thrown in their way, and Montmaguy tried to persuade Maisonneuve to exchange the island of Montreal for that of Orleans. But Maisonneuve was not to be deceived, and he expressed his determination to found a colony at Montreal, "even if every tree on the island was an Iroquois."

During the winter Maisonneuve employed his men in various labors for the future benefit of the colony, but principally in building a boat in which to ascend the river. While staying at Quebec the party gained an unexpected addition to their numbers in the person of Madame de la Peltrie, who joined them, and took with her all the furniture she had lent the Ursulines.

On May 8, 1642, Maisonneuve embarked from St. Michael, and on the 17th his little flotilla, a pinnace, a flat-bottomed craft moved by sails, and two row-boats, approached Montreal, and all on board raised in unison a hymn of praise. Montmagny was there to deliver the island, on behalf of the Company of One Hundred Associates; while here, too, was Father Vimont, superior of the missions. On the following day they glided along the green and solitary shores, now thronged with the life of a busy city, and landed on the spot which Champlain, thirty-one years before, had chosen as the fit site of a settlement. It was a tongue or triangle of land, formed by the junction of a rivulet with the St. Lawrence. This rivulet was bordered by a meadow, and beyond rose the forest with its vanguard of scattered trees. Early spring flowers were blooming in the young grass, and the birds flitted among the boughs.

Maisonneuve sprang ashore and fell on his knees. His followers imitated his example; and all joined their voices in songs of thanksgiving. Tents, baggage, arms, and stores were landed. Here were the ladies with their servants; Montmagny, no willing spectator; and Maisonneuve, a warlike figure, erect and tall, his men clustering around him - soldiers, sailors, artisans, and laborers - all alike soldiers at need. They kneeled in reverent silence as the host was raised aloft; and when the rite was over the priest turned and addressed them: "You are a grain of mustard-seed that shall rise and grow until its branches overshadow the land. You are few, but your work is the work of God. His smile is on you, and your children shall fill the land." Then they pitched their tents, lighted their fires, stationed their guards, and lay down to rest. Such was the birthnight of Montreal. The following morning they proceeded to form their encampment, the first tree being felled by Maisonneuve. They worked with such energy that by the evening they erected a strong palisade, and had covered their altar with a roof formed of bark. It was some time after their arrival before their enemies, the Indians, were made aware of it, and they improved the time by building some substantial houses and in strengthening their fortifications.

The activity and zeal of Maisonneuve induced him to make a voyage to France to obtain assistance for his settlement. Though his difficulties were great, he yet was enabled to induce one hundred men to join his little establishment on the island. Notwithstanding this addition to his force, the progress of the colony was greatly retarded by the frequent attacks of the Indians. These enemies soon became a cause of great trouble to the colonists, and it was dangerous to pass beyond the palisades, as the Indians would hide for days, waiting to assail any unfortunate straggler. Although Maisonneuve was brave as man could be, he knew that his company was no match for the wily enemy, owing to their ignorance of the mode of Indian warfare; therefore he kept his men as near the fort as possible. They, however, failed to appreciate his care of them, and imputed it to cowardice. This led him to determine that such a feeling should not exist if he could possibly remove it. He therefore ordered his men to prepare to attack the Indians, at the same time signifying his intention to lead them himself. He sallied forth at the head of thirty men, leaving D'Aillebout with the remainder to hold the fort. After they had waded through the snow for some distance they were attacked by the Iroquois, who killed three of his men and wounded several others. Maisonneuve and his party held their ground until their ammunition began to fail, and then he gave orders to retreat, he himself remaining till the last. The men struggled on for some time facing the enemy, but finally they broke their ranks and retreated in great disorder toward the fort. Maisonneuve, with a pistol in each hand, held the Iroquois in check for some time. They might have killed him, but they wished to take him prisoner. Their chief, desiring this honor, rushed forward, but just as he was about to grasp him Maisonneuve fired and he fell dead. The Indians, fearing that the body of their chief would fall into the hands of the French, rushed forward to secure it, and Maisonneuve passed safely into the fort. From that day his men never dared to impute cowardice to him.

In 1644 the island of Montreal was made over to the Sulpicians of Paris, and was destined for the support of that religious order. In 1658 Viscount d'Argenson was appointed governor of Canada, but the day he landed the Iroquois murdered some Algonquin Indians under the very guns of Quebec. The Indians seemed determined to exterminate the French. In addition to keeping Quebec in a state little short of actual siege, they massacred a large number of the settlers at Montreal. D'Argenson having resigned, the Baron d'Avagnon was appointed governor (1661), and on his arrival visited the several settlements throughout the country. He was surprised to find them in such a deplorable condition, and made such representation to the King, as to the neglect of the Company of One Hundred Associates, that M. de Monts, the King's commissioner, was ordered to visit Canada and report on its condition. At the same time four hundred more troops were added to the colonial garrison. The arrival of these troops gave life and confidence to the colonists and relieved Montreal from its dangers. The representations made by M. de Monts, as well as those of the Bishop of Quebec, determined Louis XIV to demand their charter from the Company of One Hundred Associates and to place the colony in immediate connection with the crown. As the profits of the fur trade had been much diminished by the hostility of the Iroquois, the company readily surrendered its privileges. As soon as the transfer was completed, D'Avagnon was recalled and M. de Mesy was appointed governor for three years. Canada was thus changed into a royal government, and a council of state was nominated to cooperate with the Governor in the administration of affairs. This council consisted of the Governor, the Bishop of Quebec, and the intendant, together with four others to be named by them, one of whom was to act as attorney-general.

END



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