Discover the Port of Montreal and its history
There is a lot of talk about the Port of Montreal at many tourist and outdoor venues this summer. Here are some locations where you can learn a little bit more about the port, its history, and the close relationship that the City of Montreal and the St. Lawrence River have enjoyed for so many years.
La Vierge des marins (Étoile de la Mer)
Charles Dauphin, c. 1848
© Coll. des Prêtres de Saint-Sulpice
The Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum opens its doors on the settlers who founded Montreal. It’s a place where we can better understand the close relationship that the St. Lawrence River has had with the people who have lived on its shores. The museum is located in the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, also known as the Sailors’ Church.
Marguerite Bourgeoys built the chapel on the banks of the river in 1675. Amerindians occupied the site long before the arrival of French settlers. The crypt of the chapel provides access to an archeological site and traces of an Amerindian campsite dating back more than 2,400 years.
The crypt is also home to a magnificent wooden statuette of the Virgin Mary, “Star of the Sea,” or Stella Maris, another name for Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours. The statuette was once atop the chapel, overlooking the river, her open arms welcoming and protecting sailors.
The chapel was a pilgrimage site for Montrealers, seafarers and port employees, as well as for the English-speaking Catholic community. It is the cradle of Montreal’s Irish Catholic community.
Navire ex-voto L'Idaho
Robert Hendery, 1870-1872
© Coll. des Prêtres de Saint-Sulpice
Replicas of sailing ships hang from the vault of the chapel and float above visitors’ heads. The oldest is a votive offering from Canadian Papal Zouaves thanking the Star of the Sea for saving them from a terrible storm on their return from Europe. The silver ship is a reminder of the Idaho, the steamship on which they took refuge.
The Port of Montreal provided the newest ship on exhibit in 2005. It commemorates the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Marguerite Bourgeoys in Montreal. The small container ship is a link between the past and the present.
The view of the St. Lawrence River from the chapel’s bell tower is spectacular. It is the same view that our Amerindian and French ancestors enjoyed, at a time when green forests were prevalent and the port was nothing more than a dream.
400 St. Paul Street East, Old Montreal
The basement of Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal’s museum of archeology and history, features a giant port mural created from historical documents. “When you see this mural, you realize that the river and the port are the main reason for Montreal’s existence,” said Louise Pothier, an archeologist at the museum. When looking at the evolution of the Port of Montreal since its birth, we are reminded that in 1925 it was the world’s leading grain port and the world’s premier inland ocean port.
At the outset, the museum, located at the intersection of de la Commune Street and Place D’Youville, represented the heart of the port. The Old Custom House, which will soon host the permanent exhibition Pirates or Privateers?, is located next door to the museum. Pointe-à-Callière has recently expanded with the addition of an adjacent building that had housed, since 1875, the Montreal Sailors’ Institute, the first mariners’ house.
350, place Royale, Old Montréal
Old Port Guided Tour : Of Grain and Men
From muddy river banks to a major grain port, the Port of Montreal enjoyed phenomenal growth between 1850 and 1930. Many buildings from the era are still standing. Throughout the summer, Of Grain and Men provides an historical account of the Old Port of Montreal. During this 90-minute guided tour, visitors learn about the Old Port’s main historic features and are treated to numerous colourful anecdotes about its development over the past 200 years.
Port developments (berths, sheds, grain elevators, seawalls, etc.), welcoming seafarers and passengers, various types of navigation on the river and, of course, Montreal as a major grain port are among the main themes discussed.
Centre des sciences
The Montreal Science Centre has presented Cargo in collaboration with the Port of Montreal for several years now. Through photos, interpretive panels and video, the exhibition invites visitors into the world of the port and its activities: ship docking, anchoring, inspection, and loading and unloading. You can learn how to tie marine knots, and you will be impressed by a scale from the old refrigerated warehouse and a giant wheel from a crane. A huge map of Port of Montreal facilities is the star of the show. The exhibition also serves as a reminder that the science centre was originally a maritime shed
King-Edward Pier, in the Old Port
Montreal – Points of View, one of the McCord Museum’s permanent exhibitions, looks at the development of Montreal’s transportation networks, including the Port of Montreal. A giant mural, created from Notman & Son photos, allows visitors to experience the port as it was in 1896.
The famous Sherbrooke Street museum, which is devoted to the history of Montreal, Quebec and Canada, has much more to offer, including hundreds of thousands of valuable photographs, textual archives, costumes, paintings and other visual art, dishes, toys and artifacts. Its doors are open to researchers who want to improve their knowledge or create works based on the past. While onsite researchers must receive authorization, the museum’s website provides the general public with a tour of most of the museum’s vast collection. For example, you can view the 80,800 photos that the museum has digitized from its collection of 1.3 million.
690, rue Sherbrooke Street West, Montréal
Stewart Museum is located on beautiful St. Helen’s Island, beneath the Jacques Cartier Bridge. It is the perfect setting for a cultural visit and a picnic. This summer, the museum is featuring 20,000 Leagues Over Land and Sea – Exploring Six Centuries of Cartography. More than 100 land, maritime and celestial maps are on display.
You can literally stare at these maps for hours. In addition to their geographical merits, some will let your imagination run wild. Thousands of fascinating details accompany the maps, going back to a time when cartography was an art and where esthetics and encyclopedic knowledge were as important as geographical precision. For example, explorers drew around their maps the costumes worn by the inhabitants of the countries they visited. A map dating back to 1788 is decorated with drawings accompanied by explanations in French and Spanish.
One room is devoted to maps of the Port of Montreal and the city during various periods of their history. The maps are from the Port of Montreal’s archives department; the port is a partner in the exhibition. One of the most impressive maps, from 1825, the year that the Lachine Canal opened to ships, shows Sherbrooke Street as a country road!
20 Tour-de-l’Isle Rd., St. Helen’s Island, Montreal
Belvédère du Chemin-Qui-Marche
“Le Chemin-Qui-Marche” or “The Path that Walks” is an expression used to describe the St. Lawrence River. It is thought that the expression derives from the Amerindians who lived on the river’s shores. It is also the name of a beautiful linear park facing the St. Lawrence River, east of Berri Street, that opened in September 2012. The park offers a unique view of the river and the port. On the wooden terrace, important dates in Montreal’s history are inscribed on benches inspired by the rail and port industries. Also included is information on the first goods transported on the river (furs), on port developments (wharfs, berths and terminals), and on efforts to keep the river open in winter.
East of Berri Street and south of de la Commune Street
Pierre-Dupuy bicycle path
The bicycle path on the islands of Jean Drapeau Park crosses the Concorde Bridge and continues to Cité du Havre. It follows Pierre Dupuy Avenue along its entire length, offering a superb view of the city and the earliest port facilities: Jacques Cartier, King Edward and Alexandra piers, Bickerdike Pier and Windmill Point Basin. It’s an ideal vantage point for gazing at the cruise ships that visit the port. You can also get a close-up view of the ships docked in Bickerdike Basin.
Promenade Bellerive park
Access to this beautiful greenspace is via Notre Dame Street. The park is located in old Tétreaultville, just east of the Louis-Hippolyte-Lafontaine Tunnel. It provides a great view of Cast container terminal; in fact, you are close enough to watch the loading and unloading of containers to and from ships. It is also a prime location for cruise ship enthusiasts. In fact, the park’s information kiosk has copies of the port’s cruise ship schedule, which is also available on the Port of Montreal website.
The park’s paths follow the riverbank, on land ceded by the Port of Montreal. Interpretive signs as well as an information booklet tell us about the history of Mercier-Est, which is adjacent to the Port of Montreal. We learn, for example, that the Canadian Vickers shipyard was established in the Longue-Pointe sector at the beginning of the 20th century. But the relationship between the river and the general public was established long before that: the Harbour Commission built the first berth in 1878. Before that, in 1783, François Vinet dit Souligny began operating a ferry between Longue-Pointe and Boucherville. You can still reach the Boucherville Islands from a shuttle that leaves Promenade Bellerive Park on weekends. The area witnessed the first phases of port facility development and the port’s major expansion in the 1970s. The Société d’animation de la Promenade Bellerive is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Notre-Dame Street and Mercier avenue
A photograph by Yvan Zedda
Can’t You Sea
Following the interest in the first Vitrine Maritime collection of photos, Heritage Maritime Canada is displaying 12 photos this summer as part of an exhibition entitled Can’t You Sea. The works of nine European photographers, members of the Sea & Co Association, as well as the work of local photographer Monick Lanza are on display. Their photos depict the sea in various different states: playful, powerful, industrial, turbulent, mysterious…. The Port of Montreal is a partner in the Vitrine Maritime.
The display is located at the intersection of de la Commune Street West and King Street.
AML Cruises offers guided 60- to 90-minute cruises along the St. Lawrence River seven days a week. Vessels leave the Old Port and sail to the east end of Montreal. A guide describes the city and its history as well as port facilities to passengers. The guide is in regular contact with the Port of Montreal and can identify ships at dock as well as the goods they are transporting. These excursions offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Port of Montreal and allow people to experience the same feeling as seafarers and cruise passengers who are seeing Montreal for the first time.
King-Edward Pier, in the Old Port
Port in the city
The Port of Montreal will hold its Port in the City Day once again this year, on September 7. The port invites the public on a cruise aboard AML Cruises’ Cavalier Maxim. AML is a partner of the port for the event. Passengers are treated to an unforgettable view of port facilities as seen from the river between the Old Port and Pointe-aux-Trembles. Five cruises are planned throughout the day. Free tickets will be available during the month of August, and Friends of the Port of Montreal will be notified.