24 history museums to visit for Montreal's 375th anniversary

by Michelle Trottier

In its 375 years, Montreal has woven a rich and fascinating history. And the many museums across the city tell its story through its places, events, people and things, from its birth to today. Here are 24 museums to visit to learn more about the rise and evolution of Montreal, and about the lives of its residents and institutions over the years.

24 history museums to visit for Montreal's 375th anniversary

Old Montreal

As the birthplace of Montreal, Old Montreal is chock-full of places to visit.

Le Centre d'histoire de Montréal, on Place d’Youville, is housed in a former fire station that dates back to 1904. It offers visitors the opportunity to discover, in one place, the city’s various heritages and the inhabitants who have shaped it over the years. On the nearby Place Royale, the Pointe-à-Callières Museum, listed as a national archaeological and historical site, and recognised as the site where Montréal was founded, covers several centuries of history, from the Native American period to the present day.

On Rue Saint-Paul, Marguerite-Bourgeois Museum is dedicated to the story of this emblematic figure of the colony’s expansion in the New France era. However, you can also admire the remains of a chapel dating from 1675 as well as the magnificent Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours.

The Château Ramezay on Notre-Dame Street East was the first listed building in Québec and houses impressive art collections, ethnological Native American and Québecois artefacts, books, and photographs, among others. A little further east on the same street, the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site plunges the visitor into the Victorian world of a 19th century bourgeois family.

Old Montréal also has a number of thematic museums, including the Museum of the Bank of Montreal (Canada’s first bank, est. 1817), where you can learn more about the world of banking in the 19th century, and the Fashion Museum, which showcases Quebec’s textile and clothing heritage.

Other historic buildings

Outside of Old Montreal, several other historic buildings are home to museums.

In Pointe-Saint-Charles, the second-oldest neighbourhood in Montreal, you can visit the Maison Saint-Gabriel, where Marguerite Bourgeois hosted the Filles du Roy on their arrival to the colony. On the Plateau Mont-Royal, the Musée des Hospitalières de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal delves into the origins of Montreal, the founding of the Hôtel-Dieu by Jeanne-Mance in 1645, and the history of healthcare.

On Île Sainte-Hélène, a fortified storehouse built by the British around 1820 houses the Stewart Museum,  filled with objects that tell of the European origins of New France, such as ancient maps, rare books and weapons. In Verdun, the Maison Nivard-De Saint-Dizier, one of the oldest buildings on the Island of Montreal, sits on a prehistoric archaeological site revealing a Native American presence that stretches back 5,500 years.

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In Centre-Sud, the Pied-du-Courant Prison is a neoclassical building built between 1831 and 1840. As it housed the Patriotes in 1837 and 1838, it is also known as the Prison-des-Patriotes. Finally, in Lachine, two places offer to take visitors on a journey through time: the Musée de Lachine, which is the site of the Maison Le Ber-Le Moyne, and The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site, which tells the story of the Montreal fur trade in a stone warehouse built in 1803 for the North West Company.

In the city centre, the Musée McCord, housed in an early 20th century building, presents objects, images and documents that reveal, among other things, the lives of Aboriginal peoples and Montreal’s contribution to the development of Canada between the 18th and 21st centuries.

The 1920s and local history

At least two Montreal museums are located in buildings that date back to the 1920s. And both are dedicated to showcasing the heritage and history of the neighbourhood they call home.

The Écomusée du fier monde is a citizen’s museum of the Centre-Sud, set in the walls of the old Généreux public baths. Then there’s the Dufresne-Nincheri Museum located in Hochelaga, the only Montreal home of the 1920s to display its original décor and furnishings, it tells the story of the city’s east side.

Public Safety, Women’s Health and Technology

Two museums provide an opportunity to discover the history of public safety in Montreal, namely the Musée de la Police, located at the SPVM headquarters in the city centre, and the Musée des Pompiers, installed in Fire Station 30, on Saint-Laurent Boulevard in Mile-End, another historic building, built in 1905.

In Cartierville, the Musée des sœurs de la Miséricorde is dedicated to telling the story of Rosalie Cadron-Jetté who, in around 1845, was involved in founding the religious community, whose primary mission would be to help single mothers and their children.

To find out more about the evolution of technology in Montreal, the Musée de l’imprimerie du Québec, in Ahuntsic, links the development of the discipline with that of the province and the city. Then there’s the Musée des ondes Emile Berliner, which is a small – but rich! – museum that deals with the cultural, architectural, technological and scientific history of the sound wave industry, whose genesis is closely linked to the history of the Saint-Henri district as well as that of RCA Victor and its predecessor, the Berliner Gramophone Company.

With the multitude of museums on offer to get to know Montreal and its history better, there’s no excuse not to be in the know when celebrating the city’s 375th anniversary. Now, how to choose between them? Let your interests, your curiosity and your open-mindedness be your guide. Happy visiting!

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