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Opening the Gates of Eighteenth-Century Montréal explores the development of the city during the 18th century when Montréal was a fortified town. The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to consider the building of the 18th-century military and commercial town, the nucleus from which Montréal grew.

The product of nearly fifteen years of research and the preparation of an extensive computerized database, this exhibition presents the results of an unprecedented exploration to reconstitute and analyze social and economic activities that affect land use and the built environment. Precise, new maps based on this data link individuals, their occupations, and the lots and buildings they owned. The exhibition focuses on three key elements of Montréal’s urban form: its fortifications; the ownership, distribution, and use of property within its walls; and the nature of its buildings.

The section on fortifications traces Montréal’s development as one of the most important military and commercial centres of the French colonial network arching from Louisbourg to the Great Lakes, and down the Lake Champlain and Ohio corridors. It also tracks the related development of the town’s fortifications from cedar-post palisades in the seventeenth century to a stone-faced wall in the eighteenth century, built by the engineer Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry in the tradition of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban.

The second component examines how Montréal’s diversifying economic activities influenced land use and building within the walls. Montréal developed as the main centre for the far-flung fur trade in North America, but it also became the main exchange and production centre for the rich farmlands in its vicinity. Within its walls, building density grew at the expense of orchard and garden, and buildings gradually took on urban scale; outside the walls, suburbs appeared and flourished.

The last section – on Montréal’s architecture – focuses on the urban house, Montréal’s principal building type in the eighteenth century, examining it in its material and social environments: morphology of town and fortifications; distribution of institutional buildings; and formative legal traditions — metropolitan French above all, but later also British. However, the walls that had defined buildings and town lost their meaning. Their demolition (1801-1817) blurred town and suburb and augured a new urban form.

The exhibition marks the 350th anniversary of the founding of Montréal, and was curated by Phyllis Lambert and Alan Stewart.

An 80-page book of the same title accompanies the exhibition, featuring colour and duotone illustrations and texts by André Charbonneau, Marc Lafrance, Phyllis Lambert, Monique Poirier, and Alan Stewart.


Archives nationales du Québec
Service canadien des parcs d'Environnement Canada / Parks Service, Environment Canada


Phyllis Lambert, CCA, exhibition curator
Alan Stewart, CCA, exhibition curator


Corporation des célébrations Montréal 1642-1991