Museum of Archaeology and History Pointe-à-Callière
Before doing anything else, newcomers to Montreal might want to check out the Archaeology and History Complex Pointe-à-Callière. Located at the site where Montreal was born, this museum takes visitors on a journey through the life of the city, from its earliest occupation into the present day.
The tour starts in a small auditorium overlooking a set of ruins. Pointe-à-Callière is more than just an archaeology museum; it’s also an archaeological site. Before the museum opened in 1992, scientists had spent a decade here, digging into the city’s past and revealing over six hundred years worth of artifacts. This is the spot where the first settlers came ashore about four hundred years ago, and where some of the city’s original buildings were erected.
We sat down in the theater, put headphones on, and spent the next twenty minutes watching a show which brought Montreal’s history to life, with scenes illuminated atop the exposed ruins. The story started centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, with the Iroquois and Algonquin settling the island. We learned about the founding of the French city, the struggles and successes with the native population, the switch from French to English dominion, the city’s experience during the Great Depression and the World Wars, and how Montreal has grown into the modern age.
Once the show had finished, we moved downstairs into the archaeological site to examine some of the ruins uncovered at the Pointe-à-Callière, including the Royal Customs House and the old Catholic Graveyard. We saw the remains of the Little Saint-Pierre River, which was swallowed up and used for sewage by the expanding city. And we learned about Montreal’s tumultuous relationship with the Iroquois, which came to an end in 1701 with the “Great Peace,” when a massive delegation of forty tribes declared a ceasefire with the settlers.
Other sections of the museum are more geared toward children, including a permanent exhibition about pirates, and sandboxes where kids can conduct their own archaeological digs. There are also wide-ranging temporary exhibits in the neighboring Mariners’ House. The show which happened to be there during our visit was dedicated to Agatha Christie. That might at first seem like an odd fit for an archaeology museum, but the exhibition concentrated on the famous author’s second marriage to Sir Max Mallowan, an archaeologist. With him, she traveled to the Middle East, and participated in excavations which had a great influence upon her writing.
After finishing with the exhibits in the Mariners’ House, we returned to the Éperon Building and ascended to the top floor, where we enjoyed views of the Old Port and Old Montreal from the outdoor platform. And then, having fully earned a big meal, we descended to the third floor and sat down at L’Arrivage, the museum’s restaurant. A fancier place with ultra-correct waiters and a reasonably-priced lunchtime menu, this is a popular place and requires a reservation.