The discovery of Fort Ville-Marie
Since the 19th century, historians have agreed that Fort Ville-Marie was located on a point of land where the St. Lawrence River met the Little Saint-Pierre River. No one was sure about the initial layout of the fort, though, or its boundaries or internal organization. There were no plans to give us an image of any kind, with the possible exception of the one left by Royal Engineer Jean Bourdon. Opinions have always been divided on the authenticity of this plan, however. We do have documentary traces of Montréal’s first settlement, dating from 1642, up until 1683, when the last structure on the site, the Governor’s residence, was demolished. There are no records mentioning the birthplace of the settlement after that date.
Despite municipal excavations carried out every year in Old Montréal, no one had yet found any archaeological traces of Fort Ville-Marie. The Museum’s acquisition of the Townsend warehouse gave researchers access to a site with major archaeological potential. The foundations of the building at 214 Place D’Youville, sitting right atop the site of Fort Ville-Marie, were quite shallow, meaning that the underlying soil had not been disturbed – a rare situation in the historic district.
Right from the first dig season, archaeologists found signs of human activity dating from the days of the Fort. But it took time for an overall vision of the site to emerge as the digs progressed.
The 2004 campaign ended on a note of great excitement, with the discovery of a well associated with a notarized document from 1658. Some very interesting remains were unearthed in 2005: an outbuilding, perhaps the kitchen, and a fence that separated two areas of occupancy. One of these areas was littered with bits of ash and animal bones from about 30 different species. The other, showing charred remains, may have been a bread oven.
The 2006 digs produced a major find, as a masonry wall was unearthed. “Although we don’t know what building this wall belonged to, we can state that it was part of Fort Ville-Marie, mainly on the basis of the materials used and the orientation of the remains, which is similar to others found earlier,” said Brad Loewen, project director and a professor at the Université de Montréal.
Today, teams from the Université de Montréal and Pointe-à-Callière feel that they have amassed enough evidence that they can confirm the exact location of the first settlement when Ville-Marie was founded by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance in 1642!