The First Fort

The first colonists of Montreal settled near the today’s Museum of Archaeology and History Pointe-a-Calliere.

The site was chosen by Paul de Maisonneuve who believed that there was no better site to build the first fort on the island, because it was readily accessible and easy to defend.

Indeed, this spot of land at the confluence of the St. Lawrence River and the Little River was isolated to the west by swamps. It offered thus a natural protection in case of an attack. Besides, the place made it possible to monitor all traffic on the St. Lawrence.

However, the site was subject to seasonal flooding. In fact the site was previously marked by Samuel de Champlain who planned to build a trading post there. The same day of their arrival, on 19 May, 1642, the colonists set about building a makeshift palisade. The founders knew that they had to protect themselves fro the attacks, as most of the Iroquois nations were allied with the Dutch and the English, and the island of Montreal lay within their hunting territory, which they obviously were ready to defend tenaciously.

The first fort was completed in 1643, just before the first attack. The site, conceived by Maisonneuve himself and Louis d’Ailleboust de Coulonge, a lieutenant and military engineer, included a main building made of stone. The fort had a gallery on the river side. The fort served as the manor and the focal point of the community. It was a haven for the inhabitants and their Amerindian allies.

It was as well the first administrative center of the future city of Montreal, where Maisonneuve, its first governor drafted most of the contracts for the settlers’ land grants and where meetings with the Indians took place. Aside from these details, little is known about the layout of the fort.

Dollier de Casson, the superior of the Sulpitians, mentions in his first History of Montreal, written in 1672-1673, that the first inadequate pickets, built in May 1642, had been replaced by a fort with four bastions in 1643. De Casson also notes the presence of some “very practical houses” without elaborating further. We even don’t know if these houses were located inside the fort or outside it.

An initial attack went only in 1643, but after that, the war between the colonists and the Indians didn’t come to the end until 1701.

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