Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance founded the settlement of Ville-Marie (Montreal) in 1642

Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance founded the settlement of Ville-Marie (Montreal) in 1642 in this neighbourhood, specifically in Pointe-à-Callière. Its geographical position at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers was a prime reason they chose this location, recognizing the enormous potential of the two waterways.

The construction of a modest port in the 18th century proved the visionaries right. Montreal was transformed into one of the Americas’ most important financial and industrial centres, a standing that would be reinforced by the arrival of the transcontinental railway in 1895.

Insurance companies, banks and offices opened for business, and the Montreal Exchange, the first stock exchange in Canada, was established here.

Other notable players, including the Molson Brewery, the Dow Brewery, Dominion Rubber, the Lowney chocolate factory, Dominion Textile and Dominion Oilcloth, set up shop throughout the territory. In 1922, the largest cold storage warehouse in the world was built in the old city.

Old Montreal took a hit in the 1960s, as the business community gradually migrated to the city centre. The relocation of port activities in 1976 further exacerbated this desertion. The economic crisis of the 1980s dealt the area a final blow. For a time, the old city resembled a ghost town, but it rose from the ashes a few years later as a major tourist centre, which today attracts several million tourists every year.

Some of the abandoned factories were converted into businesses, condo buildings (Lowney) and artists’ studios (Alphonse Raymond et fils), while others were demolished and replaced by buildings that housed such companies as Télé-Québec (Dominion Oilcloth) or La Cité du son (Dominion Rubber).

A few vestiges bearing witness to the old quarter’s heyday still remain, including the iconic neon Farine Five Roses sign, whose 15-foot-high letters can be seen for miles around. Once a flourishing flour mill, Five Roses played a major role in the industrial life of the neighbourhood for several decades. Now owned by the ADM Flour Mill, the mill is still active today.

Worth checking out in Old Montreal:

Notre-Dame Basilica

A heritage treasure

110 Notre-Dame Street West

Saint-Paul Street

One of the oldest streets in Montreal (1673)

Art galleries, restaurants, boîtes à chansons (coffeehouses) and more

Place Jacques-Cartier

Site occupied since 1773

Restaurants, outdoor terraces, artists and street performers