Early Montreal History Series: IV Parish = Neighbourhood?

1663: a change in governance and the birth of Parish-labeled neighbourhoods.


In 1663, a new governance system was put into place in New France, directly under the direction of the king of France, in order to populate the territories, cultivate the land and increase the areas’s economic value.  New France thus became a new province of France.  Portions of the land were provided to entrepreneurs (called “Seigneurs” which has a religious tone) in order to see through this new mandate.  The first major problem encountered during this era was that there were wars amongst native tribes (Iroquois, Huron, Algonquin) and of course each of these nations were in a fur trade alliance with the countries that was looking to colonize the North-East Americas (France, Britain, Holland).  Quite simply put, it was important for the Seigneurs to protect their economic mandate by guarding the river routes that they were ultimately dependent on for their success.


In order to guard the river routes, the king issued soldiers to New France and began to build forts along water routes while providing land and Seigneurs titles to these militia men to ensure it would be well protected.  The first three forts were built on the south shore: Fort Richelieu, Fort Saint-Louis (in Chambly) and Fort Sainte-Thérèse.  Since the French had allied itself with the Huron nation, the king’s goal with these forts was to protect the province from the Iroquois.  Subsequently, this helped the development of Montreal’s north and south shore town developments (which would later become some of the city’s suburbs).


Back on the Montreal island, it was clear that the same type of protection was needed as it was the central point to this economic activity and thus the most at risk for an attack.  The only fort to date on the island was Ville Marie itself (Old Montreal today) so in order to protect the island, it was decided upon in 1671 to split up the land into mini-Seigneurs-ships (if I may call it that), with the same governance mandates divided by the regions of Montreal in order to defend each corner of the island.  This is where my early historical research finally becomes interesting (to me at least) as it shows the first developmental signs and the very roots of neighbourhood life in Montreal.


The first portion of land to be subdivided was the Eastern most point where it was deemed most vulnerable since it was where both the Rivières des Prairies and the Saint-Laurent river met.  Thus the first fort was erected in 1675 at “Pointe-aux-Trembles” as it still known today.  A windmill was erected thereafter in 1677 and very importantly they built a church in 1678 to bind this community together.  This church was the first one built on the island outside of the Ville-Marie fort walls.


Following the Pointe-aux-Trembles Fort, numerous other forts with churches were created across the island to protect the most sensitive and vulnerable areas, including where now stands Rivières-des-Prairies, Verdun, Lachine and Senneville in the West Island.  These zones were then followed by additional forts and churches for some time to come.  Those that came a little later include Saint-Joachim de Pointe-Claire in 1713 and finally Sainte-Genevieve in 1741.  What this shows from a neighbourhood point of view is that the church played a pivotal role in the formation of Montreal island villages as it was the glue that bonded each area.  When you look at former maps of Montreal in the early 1800s, you will find the areas being labeled as “Paroisse St-Laurent” (St-Laurent Parish) and so forth.  When reading this information, I was happy to uncover this information as it was the first evidence of what I had heard through word of mouth: that early Montreal neighbourhoods were based on the parish you belonged to.  Skipping ahead a bit here,  I will recall that one of Sainte-Marie’s neighbourhood names according to the map is “St-Eusèbe” which is based on the church that was erected in the late 1800s on Fullum St.  How this early history connects to the late 1800s is still to be researched but this information was a real eye-opener for me as it showed the evolution of how Quebecois culture perceived the parish as representing a community/neighbourhood

Source: Montréal en Évolution


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