Montreal History

Montreal has ridden a rollercoaster up to the heady heights of being Canada’s commercial hub, plunging into economic gloom, then soaring back up to become a buzzing 21st-century success story.

First Nations people occupied the island of Montreal as early as 4,000 years ago, eventually building fortified villages.

One such place was the Iroquois village of Hochelaga at the foot of Mount Royal, 'discovered' by French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535.

But when another French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived 70 years later, the settlement had gone.

In 1642, Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, created the first building blocks of modern Montreal.

The French ruled the colony until 1760, when it was surrendered to the British.

By 1832, Montreal had become a city. The opening of the Lachine Canal permitted ships to navigate the treacherous Lachine Rapids, while the construction of the Victoria Bridge established Montreal as a major railway hub.

The city enjoyed a brief five-year spell as the capital of Canada. By 1860, Montreal was the largest city in British North America.

In the early 20th century, the city’s fortunes waxed and waned; it became an alcoholic bolthole for Americans during Prohibition but the Great Depression led to mass unemployment.

After WWII, Montreal’s population exceeded 1 million, the metro system was developed, and towering skyscrapers and motorways were built.

Far-reaching social and political changes were ushered in during the 1960s and 1970s as a result of growing unease among the French-speaking population about the preservation of their language and culture.

The 1976 election of the Parti Quebecois resulted in the migration of businesses and people from the city. Montreal was surpassed by Toronto as Canada’s commercial centre.

The 1980s and 1990s were grim years, but the 21st century has seen a revival in Montreal’s fortunes as new industries have taken off.

Did you know?
• John Lennon wrote ‘Give peace a chance’ during his ‘bed-in’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969.
• It took Montreal 30 years to pay off the cost of hosting the 1976 Olympic Games.
• Montreal became a UNESCO City of Design in 2006.

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