Montreal History in Focus: 18 Facts You Should Know

There is a little something for everyone to explore in this exciting metropolis.

Indigenous peoples, European explorers and successive waves of immigration from all over the world have all left their mark on the city of Montreal throughout history, making it what it is today. This city boasts a rich history, starting as a fur trading post and evolving into a multiethnic and innovative metropolis with a vibrant culture.

There is a little something for everyone to explore in this exciting metropolis, whether your passion lies in the built environment, the performing arts, the sporting world or the culinary scene. In this article, we will present some of the most interesting and lesser-known historical fun facts about Montreal for your enjoyment.

1. Foundation

Jacques Cartier at Hochelaga having found the place of the future Montreal in 1535/1536 – [Image Credit – WikiMedia]

In 1642, a group of French missionaries led by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve established the city of Montreal. They founded a town called Ville-Marie, which developed into present-day Montreal, previously inhabited by Iroquois, Huron and Algonquin peoples.

2. Name Meaning

The name “Montreal” originates from Mount Royal, or Mont-Royal, a prominent hill in the city’s centre. French explorer Jacques Cartier, who visited the area in 1535, named the peak after describing it as “a mountain or hill of beautiful and remarkable shape.”

3. Big North Trading Post

In the early stages of the North American fur trade, Montreal played a significant role as a trading centre. During that time, large groups of Indigenous peoples, other local residents and French traders would gather there to exchange items such as furs, pelts and even tobacco.

4. Montreal was in the Seven Years’ War

Although the Seven Years’ War was a relatively brief conflict, it was extremely destructive and left its mark on the city of Montreal. The British offensive only lasted a few months, but it made a significant impression on Montreal’s rulership, as it was the first global conflict the city was a part of.

5. French to British Control

The early days of Montreal City near the Ottawa rivers with the hill or mountain overlooking it from the background – [Image Credit – WikiMedia]

In the Seven Years’ War, Montreal finally capitulated in 1760, and by 1763 it was completely under British control. Specifically, it became a province and a part of the British North American Empire. This also marked the end of French Canadian rule in Canada.

6. Growth of Montreal

In the 19th century, Montreal’s importance grew as the fur trade, shipping and textile industries flourished. Its strategic location at the crossroads of numerous railroads and canals leading to the rest of Canada and the United States of America allowed it to serve as a major economic and transportation hub, handling vast quantities of trading goods and melee weaponry, such as American swords.

7. Lachine Canal

Completed in 1825, Montreal’s Lachine Canal provided a crucial transportation link by allowing ships to bypass the dangerous Lachine Rapids on the St. Lawrence River. As of 1959, it was still serving customers and is now recognized as a Canadian National Historic Site.

8. Sudden Rise of Population

A surge of migrants significantly contributed to the city’s population growth and status. Montreal’s population exploded towards the turn of the 20th century, partly due to an influx of newcomers from Europe. The city’s population increased from 267,000 in 1901 to 588,000 in 1911, a growth of over 100%.

9. First High-Rise Building

Montreal saw the construction of its first skyscrapers in the late 19th century, which still stand today. Located in the heart of the city, the eight-story New York Life building was easily accessible by elevator, allowing a steady stream of visitors to the top floor to view the city’s landmark clock tower. The Royal Trust and Duluth buildings, which reached heights of 10 floors, followed the New York Life building.

10. World’s Fair

Expo 67, also known as the 1967 World’s Fair, took place in Montreal. This massive global event celebrated Canadian culture, history, innovation and creativity. The fair attracted millions of visitors from around the world, contributing to Montreal’s growing reputation as an international, multiethnic metropolis.

11. Montreal had the First Olympic Games in Canada

Montreal hosted the first Olympic Games in Canada. While the 1976 Summer Olympics faced turmoil and financial difficulties, they still managed to attract competitors and fans from across the globe. World-class venues like the Montreal Biodome and Olympic Stadium were built specifically for the Games and remain as lasting legacies.

12. Underground Shelter for Harsh Winters

The Underground City, commonly known as RÉSO, comprises approximately 32 kilometres of tunnels and underground malls. Initially constructed in the 1960s as a refuge from the harsh cold, it has since transformed into a popular tourist destination that many people might not be aware of.

13. Welcoming Bilingual City

Both French and English have been commonly used among Montreal’s population since the days of the Seven Years’ War, reflecting the city’s multilingual status. Montreal is renowned for its high quality of life, warm hospitality and unique culture, which blends aspects of both English and French cultural traditions.

14. Second Largest French Speaking City

Montreal has been, and still is, the second-largest city with a French-speaking population after Paris, the capital of France. This has been the case throughout history, even before the 20th century, surpassing both Toronto and Quebec City.

15. The Montreal metro is over 50 Years Old

The Montreal metro stations, the city’s subway system, are widely recognized for their distinctive architecture and design. Surprisingly, the system has been growing since 1966, now encompassing four lines and over 68 stations. So, if you are traveling through downtown Montreal, the island of Montreal or its neighbourhoods, you’re using a historical route.

16. John Lennon wrote “Give Peace a Chance” in Montreal

The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel has hosted many famous guests, including Queen Elizabeth II, Charles de Gaulle, Fidel Castro, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. However, the hotel gained global recognition when John Lennon, who had been denied entry to the USA, stayed in Room 1742 and wrote “Give Peace a Chance” there. Eventually, this song became a rallying cry for protesters of the Vietnam War in the United States.

17. Montreal The Host City

Montreal is North America’s go-to location for international events. The city is home to numerous annual events, including the Just For Laughs Festival, Montreal International Jazz Festival, International Fireworks Festival, Montreal Beer Festival, International Film Festival on Art, Montreal Reggae Festival, International Festival of Circus Arts, Montreal Grand Prix, Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival, and many more.

18. Montreal UNESCO City of Design

Montreal has held the UNESCO City of Design award from the Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity since 2006, making it the first North American city to do so. This significant achievement adds to its historical legacy and is evidence of its successful and fascinating development.