Major Discovery at the Parliament of the United Province of Canada Archaeological Dig Site

2013-08-26

Pointe-à-Callière has just made a major discovery on the site of St. Ann’s Market and the Parliament of the United Province of Canada, on Place D’Youville West, in Old Montréal, a location classified as a heritage site in 2012 by Québec’s Department of Culture and Communications.

The charred remains of about a dozen books from the Parliament of the United Province of Canada were found on Friday, August 23 and on Monday, August 26, 2013 during the archaeological dig campaign currently being carried out by Pointe-à-Callière. The documents were found in the layer dating to the period of the fire in the parliament. An initial examination of the books showed that one of them is in French.

“This is a major discovery charged with incredible symbolic significance. We never expected to find books, as the parliament was completely destroyed by fire on April 25, 1849,” explained Louise Pothier, archaeologist at Pointe-à-Callière in charge of the dig site.

A major historic site
The site of St. Ann’s Market and the Parliament of the United Province of Canada played a vital part in the city’s history, while Montréal played a major role as the cradle of democracy in Canada. Remember that the first permanent Parliament of the United Province of Canada sat in Montréal from 1844 to 1849, in the former St. Ann’s Market building. A number of key pieces of legislation in Canadian history were adopted here, including the act establishing responsible government in 1848. In 1849, following a riot sparked by the Royal sanction given to the act indemnifying victims of the 1837-1838 Rebellions, or the Rebellion Losses Bill, the Parliament building was burned down. It was a total loss. Afterward, Parliament sat alternately in Toronto and Quebec City, before it was finally moved to Ottawa, in 1857.

Conservation and Handling

The books will soon be sent to the Canadian Conservation Institute where restoration options will be assessed with the aim of conserving these historical documents and making them accessible. It should be noted that on the evening of the fire, both of the parliamentary libraries were consumed. Over 24,000 public documents from Upper Canada and Lower Canada, including certain documents dating back to the days of New France, were reduced to ashes.

This current dig campaign—which has been taking place since July and will last into September 2013—continues the work started in 2011, when research brought to light the stone foundations of the monumental building (100 m X 20 m), along with part of the William collector sewer laid in the bed of the canalized St. Pierre River when St. Ann’s Market was built. The archaeological dig is being carried out by archaeologists from the firm of Ethnoscop, and the site is being supervised by the firm of Pomerleau and Quartier International de Montréal (QIM). This year, the project is being made possible through the financial contribution of the Department of Culture and Communications of Québec, in collaboration with the City of Montréal.

See the film Montréal, a capital, a parliament (1844-1849)

A look back on the history of the site

Towards an Archaeology and History Complex
Showcasing St. Ann’s Market—home of the Parliament of the United Province of Canada—and the items found there is one part of Pointe-à-Callière’s extensive plans to create an archaeology and history complex comprising some ten sites. Aside from displaying the remains of this site, the planned complex will also preserve and display the remains of Fort Ville-Marie and of Callière’s Residence, and will include a space to house international exhibitions, all of which will be linked underground by a 375-metre stretch of the William collector sewer. The completion of this unique heritage treasure is planned for 2017, to mark the Museum’s 25th anniversary, Montréal’s 375th birthday, and the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Pointe-à-Callière intends to preserve and showcase these sites as a commemorative gesture, giving the public access to this exceptional heritage, today and in the future. Full details on the planned expansion are available on the Museum’s website.