History has a habit of celebrating only the names of a few who played a significant role in the founding of a society. Unfortunately, this “great history” all too often leaves many other heroes in the shadows. Some names surface after extensive research: one only has to think of Jeanne Mance, for example, who is now recognized as the co-founder of Montréal alongside Paul Chomedey Sieur de Maisonneuve. In this Two Minutes of History, we’re shining the spotlight on a few of them, though there are too many to render them all justice.
First, it’s important to underscore the contribution to the First Nations communities who lived here long before the arrival of the Europeans. Their know-how allowed the newcomers to adapt to the harsh realities of life on the continent. And despite the conflicts that tore the European and Aboriginal communities apart, they signed the Great Peace of Montréal in 1701. While we know that Governor Frontenac and his successor Louis-Hector de Callières were present, less mention has been made about Kondiaronk (Huron-Wyandot who perhaps also spoke for the Hurons of Lorette), Meskouadoue (Abenaki), Onanguicié (Potawatomi) and Teganissorens (Iroquois). By signing the treaty, they gave Montréal the opportunity to develop by putting an end to a war that had been waging for years.
Montréal also flourished thanks to its medical and charitable institutions. We tip our hats to two women who worked in this field: Émilie Gamelin and Irma Levasseur. Widowed at 27, Émilie Gamelin decided to devote her life to helping the less fortunate. Spurred by a deep sense of community, she was one of the first people to advocate psychiatric healthcare services in Montréal. She founded the precursor to the Hôpital Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine in the 1840s. Irma Levasseur, for her part, was the first female French-Canadian doctor and helped found the Sainte-Justine Hospital.
In another field altogether, the talent of two Montréal artists: Pauline Donalda—the great soprano, who sang in the biggest European and American concert halls—and Oscar Peterson—one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time who played with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong—helped Montréal shine on the international stage.
This is just but a glimpse of a few; there are many more people who deserve to be on these pages. Let’s not forget that Montréal is a city of immigrants; all the people who have left their native lands to come live here and those who continue to come to this island are all heroes. They have shaped the face of Montréal and continue to build the city of the future.
Les 10 journées qui ont fait le Québec. La Grande Paix de Montréal par Denys Delage.