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Canada’s first parliament building to be unearthed in Montreal


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An archeological dig in an Old Montreal parking lot will soon unearth the remains of Canada’s first permanent parliament building, which was burned to the ground by an angry mob in 1849, destroying the city’s chance of being the capital of post-Confederation Canada.


Unearthing the Parliament of the United Province of Canada is part of a $22-million project over the next two years by Pointe-a-Calliere, Montreal’s archeology and history museum.


Francine Lelievre, executive director of the museum, said she’s willing to bet that along with the parliament’s foundation, they will find other long-forgotten bits of history in the dig.


She guesses it will become a major attraction.


Surprisingly for an area of such historical significance, it has never been explored by archeologists. The spot was home to St. Ann’s Market, an elegant stone building constructed in 1832. It was used as a public market until 1844, when it was renovated and became home to the Parliament of the Province of Canada, bringing together representatives of Lower and Upper Canada — present day Quebec and Ontario.


But political turmoil boiled over in 1849.


There was anger among English speakers over a bill that would compensate those whose property had been damaged in the Rebellions of 1837-38, including land owners who had not remained loyal to the government.


An English-speaking mob — goaded by Tory politicians and English newspapers — stoned a carriage carrying Governor General Lord Elgin and attacked Parliament, which was left in rubble.


“Even though the Parliament wasn’t here for very long, this building played a major role in the development of democracy in Canada,” Lelievre said.


Several key pieces of legislation were passed there, including the act establishing responsible government.


“The great loss was the library,” said Lelievre of the fire. The library held the “official history of Lower Canada,” as well as thousands of books, archives and records of British North America.


The stone foundations remain, but it’s unclear what else. The documents were destroyed in the fire but some metal objects and pottery could be found, Lelievre said.


“We know there are vestiges, but in what state? Did they leave anything or did they empty it all out?” she asked. “That’s the big question.”


Another key piece of the city’s past will also be revealed: the William collector sewer. Built in 1832, it canalized the St. Pierre River in order to improve local health. Lelievre describes it as “a work of art.”


Meticulously constructed using cut stone, the sewer is 4.2-metres wide and 3.9-metres high and well-preserved — perfect for a pedestrian tunnel between the museum and a subterranean exhibit of parliament’s remnants.


“There would be no other museum in the world like it, bringing together nine historic and heritage sites, linked via an underground corridor that is itself an extraordinary heritage element,” Lelievre said.


The work will also determine whether the grand plan to make the area accessible to the public is feasible.


“Before saying, ‘Yes, we’re going ahead with the entire project,’ we’ll do the digs and we’ll see what we find,” Lelievre said.


Though Lelievre is not positive the parliament’s ruins will be accessible to the public, she said there’s no doubt the 400-metre-long collector sewer could be transformed into a tunnel; part of it is already exposed in the basement of the museum.


In cities like London and Paris, most sewers were built of brick in the 1830s, she noted, but Montreal chose the pricier cut stone.


“In the 19th century, Montreal was a rather rich city,” Lelievre said. “It was Canada’s metropolis, the great financiers were here.


“Montreal made beautiful things and things that lasted.”


(Courtesy of The Montreal Gazette)


Great read. I was wondering what was going on.


Time to bring the Capital of Canada back to Montreal and make the Capital of Quebec in Montreal! As Obama said "Yes, we can!" :stirthepot:

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