Montreal, as we know, was founded in 1642. However, long before New France was born, the First Nations had already made a home for themselves along the Saint Lawrence River; they called this village Hochelaga.
It’s hard to determine the exact date Hochelaga was created, but it’s safe to say that the village was established a few thousand years ago. It was only upon his arrival to the shores of the Saint Lawrence in 1535 that Jacques Cartier was able to confirm a fixed settlement of First Nations people in the area.
The residents of Hochelaga lived off the rich natural surroundings of the Saint-Lawrence; they survived in the wilderness by fishing, hunting and cultivating land. The First Nations living in Hochelaga were Iroquois, and their society was matriarchal in nature. Cartier described and documented this village, later sharing his findings with the world. The village of Hochelaga was surrounded by a protective wooden stockade to keep the community’s thousand or so inhabitants safe. The Iroquois occupied their villages for about 10 to 20 years, until the land grew less fertile. Cartier would be the only explorer to see first-hand what life in Hochelaga was like.
The Saint Lawrence River was another important contributing factor to our city’s development; it allowed early explorers to access the land and set up temporary settlements. But when Champlain reached the shore, he discovered something strange had happened—the Iroquois were nowhere to be found! The village described by Cartier had also disappeared entirely. To this day, there hasn’t been a conclusive explanation for this disappearance, but many hypotheses have been thrown around over the years, including the possibility of widespread sickness or a bad growing season. However, one thing is certain: even though early colonists waited until 1642 to officially settle in the area, their exploratory voyages caused great upheaval in the heart of the First Nations community. These colonists were responsible for a significant amount of ecological and economic damage.
From 1920 onward, despite the mystery surrounding Hochelaga, the area was designated one of Montreal’s official historical sites. The city has preserved the name “Hochelaga” by giving it to one of Montreal’s most beloved boroughs (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve), one of its amazing parks as well as one of its most well-known streets.
Livre : Brève histoire de Montréal – Paul-André Linteau
Photo : Hochelaga
Dans l’oeuvre de Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Jacques Cartier et ses hommes sont accueillis à l’entrée du village de Hochelaga (avec la permission des Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/NMC-1908).
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