Description of Montréal, 1721
The island of Montreal, the centre of this beautiful Country, is ten leagues in length, from east to West, & approximately four leagues at its widest. The Mountain, from which it gets its name, has two Peaks, uneven in height, at the midpoint of the length of the Island, but only a half league from the Southern Coast, where the City was built. The City was named Ville-Marie by its Founders, but the name did not become common usage; it is only used in published Acts, & among the Seigneurs, who guard it jealously. The Seigneurs, who have Domain, not only over the City, but over the entire Island, are Messieurs of the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice; & as most portions of Land are quite rich, & valuable, & the City is not much less populated than the city of Quebec, it is certain that the Seigneury is worth at least a half dozen of the best in Canada. This is the fruit of the labour & good management of the Seigneurs of the Island, & most certainly twenty Individuals, if it had been partitioned among them, would not have placed it in the State, in which we see it, & made the People so satisfied.
The City of Montreal has a most pleasant quality; it is well situated, well established, & well constructed. The beauty of its surrounding
areas & vistas instils pleasure, felt by All. It is not fortified; a simple & rather badly maintained bastion, is the whole of its defence, with a rather shabby Outpost sitting on a small Butte, which serves as a Boulevard, & slopes gently down to a small Square. That is the first sight en route from the city of Quebec. Not even forty years prior the City was totally exposed, & under daily threat of being burned by the Savages, or by the English. It was Chevalier de Callieres, brother of the Plénipotentiaire de Riswick, who had it enclosed, while he was Governor. For years it has been proposed that it be surrounded with Walls (a) The project is underway, but it will be difficult to convince the Inhabitants to contribute to its construction. They are Brave & they are not wealthy: it has already been difficult to persuade them of the importance of this expense, & they are greatly convinced that their valour is more than sufficient to defend their City against whosoever would dare to attack it. All of our Canadians, on this issue, have a rather good opinion of themselves, & it must be said that it is well founded; with this inspired confidence, it is not so difficult to surprise them as it is to defeat them.
Montreal is in the shape of a long square, located along the river’s edge, and its gradual elevation divides the City along its length into Upper & Lower sectors; but we hardly realise that we are going from one to the other. The Hôtel-Dieu, the king’s stores & Place d'Armes, are in the Lower part of the City; this is also the Area where are found most of the Merchants. The Seminary & the Church, the Récollets, the Jesuits, the Sisters of the Congregation, the Governor & most of the Officers are in the Upper part of the City. Beyond a small Creek, flowing from the Northwest, & bordering the City on that side, there are a few Houses, & the Hôpital Général; & turning right past the Récollets, where the Convent is, on the same side at the extreme end of the City, a Suburb is taking shape, that in time will become a beautiful Neighbourhood.
The Jesuits have but one House here; but their almost completed Church is large and well constructed. The Convent of the Récollets is larger still, & the Community is greater in number. The Seminary is at the centre of the City: it appears that
it was constructed with a view to it being solid & practical, rather than magnificent; it does however give the impression of being the Seigneurial House; it connects with the parish Church, which looks more like a Cathedral, than the one in the city of Quebec. The church Service is conducted there with modesty & dignity, inspiring respect for the Majesty of God, who is adored there.
The House of the Sisters of the Congregation, although one of the larger ones in the City, is still too small to lodge such a large Community. It is the Head of the Order & the Noviciate of an Institute, that is all the more precious to Nouvelle France, & to this City in particular, because it was established here, & the whole Colony reaps the benefits of such a fine Establishment. The Hôtel-Dieu is served by the Sisters, the first of whom came from the Hotel-Dieu of la Flèche in Anjou. They are poor, although this does not show in their Hall, which is large, well furnished, & lined with Beds; nor in their Church, which is beautiful & ornate; nor in their House, which is well constructed, clean and practical; but they are poorly nourished, although indefatigable in their work, their teachings to Youth, and their care of the Ill.
The Hôpital Général was established by an Individual, named Charron, who brought together several persons of a pious nature, not merely for this good deed, but also to provide the countryside parishes with Schoolmasters, to do for the Boys what the Sisters of the Congregation do for the Girls: but the Group soon dissipated; the incidents that happened to some, the inconsistency of others, left Sieur Charron to his own devices. Yet, he was not discouraged; he emptied his pockets; he had the gift of making other persons with Power do the same; he carried on with construction; he brought together Schoolmasters & Hospitallers; it was a pleasure to provide assistance & make things possible for a man, who withheld neither his goodwill nor his efforts, & who was never disheartened. In the end, prior to his death, which occurred in 1719, he had the consolation of seeing his project assured of completion, at least as far as regards the Hôpital Général. The House is beautiful, & the Church quite agreeable. The Schoolmasters are not yet well settled in the Parishes, & the ban by the Court, to take up a uniform Habit,
& simple Vows, may prevent them from carrying on.