At Mont-Royal, Jacques Cartier

Mont-Royal. Orange Lin. Opened 1966.
Mont-Royal. Orange Line. Opened 1966.

On Sunday 3 October 1535, Jacques Cartier, having been guided down the St Lawrence River by the Iroquois, arrived at the settlement of Hochelaga. Below is his account of the settlement and his naming of the hill he found there.

By the time Champlain arrived on what is now the island of Montreal in 1611, the settlement had gone. So it seems had a way of life, as Champlain does not speak of the sophisticated settlement Cartier describes nor did he find cultivation.

Two possible causes for this disappearance spring to mind: diseases, like small pox, brought by the Europeans, or war between other First Nations, possible the Iroquois further down river who seem to have been as anxious to prevent Cartier’s visit to Hochelaga as he was to go there.

At daybreak the next day, the Captain [Cartier], having put on his armour, had his men marshalled for the purpose of paying a visit to the village and home of these [Iroquois] people, and to a mountain which lies near the town. The Captain was accompanied by the gentlemen and by twenty sailors, the remainder having been left behind to guard the longboats. And he took three men of the village as guides to conduct them thither. When we had got underway, we discovered that the path was well-trodden as it is possible to see, and that the country was the finest and most excellent one could find anywhere, being everywhere full of oaks, as beautiful as in any forest in France, underneath which the ground lay half covered with acorns. And after marching about a league and a half, we met on the trail one of the headmen of the village of Hochelaga, accompanied by the several persons, who made signs to us that we should rest at that spot near a fire they had lighted on the path, which we did. Thereupon this headman began to make a speech and to harangue us, which, as before mentioned, is there way of showing joy and friendliness, welcoming in this way the Captain and his company. The Captain presented him with a couple of hatchets and a couple of knives, as well as with a cross and a cruxifix, which he made him kiss and then hung it about his neck. For these the headman thanked the Captain. When this was done we marched on, and about half a league thence found that the land began to be cultivated. It was fine land with large fields covered with the corn of that country, which resembles Brazil millet, and is about as large or larger than a pea. They live on this as we do on wheat. And in the middle of these fields is situated and stands the village of Hochelaga, near and adjacent to a mountain, the slopes of which are fertile and are cultivated, and from the top of which one can see a long distance. We named this mountain “Mount Royal.” The village is circular and is completely enclosed by a wooden palisade in three tiers like a pyramid. The top one is built crosswise, the middle one perpendicular, and the lowest one strips of wood placed lengthwise. The whole is well joined and lashed after their manner, and is some two lances in height. There is only one gate and entrance to this village, and that can be barred up. Over this gate and in many places about the enclosure are species of galleries with ladders for mounting to them, which galleries are provided with rocks and stones for the defence and protection of the place. There are some fifty houses in this village and each about fifty or more paces in length, and twelve or fifteen in width, and built completely of wood and covered in and bordered up with large pieces of the bark and rind of trees, as broad as a table, which well and cunningly lashed after their manner. And inside these houses are many rooms and chambers, and in the middle is a large space without a floor, where they light their fire and live together in common. Afterwards the men retire to the above-mentioned quarters with their wives and children. And, furthermore, there are lofts in the upper part of their houses, where they store the corn of which they make their bread.

Consulted for this post

The Voyages of Jacques Cartier, ed. Ramsay Cook (Toronto: UTP, 1993)

The Works of Samuel de Champlain, ed. H. P. Biggar (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1922-1936)

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