Montreal's Fortifications in the 18th century

In the early 18th century, the Montreal’s palisade, its main and almost only defensive structure, proved unsatisfactory because of its costly upkeep and because new concerns arose at that time. Indeed, the Iroquois no longer posed a threat after the Great Peace of Montreal was signed in 1701 between the French and 39 Amerindian nations, culminating two weeks of negotiations.

However, the War of the Spanish Succession broke out in 1702, bringing the English and the French colonies in North America into direct conflict. Thus a new danger rose for Montreal.

The palisade did not protect the town from the eventual attacks perpetrated by a regular army. Fort Chambly, located to the South, was the only defence lying between Montreal and the English colony of New York. In 1713, the last year of the War of the Spanish Succession, the king of France ordered the construction of stone-faced ramparts to replace the palisade. In absence of the funding for the project, only a small portion of the wall was built initially, south of Market Place.

Then, the project was taken by Chaussegros de Lery, a military engineer.

He inspected the town’s defences, conducted topographic surveys and consulted local military authorities. After that, he drafted the specifications and sketched the plans.

Construction of the ramparts began in the summer of 1717. De Lery built a long wall. Three gates pierced it: one on the road to Quebec city, one on Road to St. Lawrence, which led to the center of the Montreal Island, and one to the southwest, in line with Notre-Dame Street.

The parapet was 19 French feet high (over 6 metres), more or less level with the eaves of the two-storey houses being built in Montreal at the time. Loopholes and embrasures pierced the parapet, and inside it was preceded by an earth rampart that served as a sentry path.

The fortifications were designed to repel a possible attack by skirmishers and militia supported by light artillery, but not an all-out siege with heavy cannon, as the French believed that siege weapons could not be transported from the English colonies to Montreal. De Lery supervised the construction of the fortifications for many years.

Only in 1739 they were finished and Montreal became the first fully fortified French town in North America (in 1744, on the eve of a new war, minor improvements were made to bolster Montreal’s defenses).

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