An Open Letter: Ivanhoe-Cambridge Didn’t Look For Hochelalga!

RJG15 0130 ExcavationofHochelagaSiteStarts1Ivanhoe-Cambridge are resuming construction on a downtown skyscraper despite agreeing to a moratorium in order to look for remnants of an aboriginal settlement on the site.

They based their about-face on the results of five 10-inch test holes. They didn’t even make exploratory test pits across the most promising places. They didn’t put a shovel in the earth. Apart from the pavement they dug up, it was not debris, back-fill and clay that they trucked away to landfill; it was mostly topsoil and there are photos to prove it.

It is important to understand that the evidence left behind in an Indian city in Canada is usually very subtle. They did not leave behind stone foundations and most of what we find are small and scattered indications of life. A piece of pottery here, an arrowhead over there. You’re not finding big strata of debris. Most of their lifestyle was organic and has disappeared. So of course, a few test holes are unlikely to produce results. A broader investigation is essential.

There are old accounts of children and private collectors picking up arrowheads and stone axes exactly on this site. And now IC says there is nothing left there of the original sites. But much of the site was never built on, because the area went from Indian land to forest to farmers fields, then to 19th-century greystones on big lots with spacious gardens and lawns, and then finally covered over with parking lots. Very significantly, in 2010 and 2014 Indian artefacts were even found during sewer work right alongside the site. There is no doubt about it; this is a promising area.

The historical record is clear. An Indian city extended at least from University Street on the east to Mount Royal on the north, south to corn fields covering Dominion Square, and west to Fort Street and maybe even beyond. The white man’s conceit is that Indian villages, or cities as the Indians properly called them, were merely a couple of tepees in a clearing in a forest within a sparsely populated land, when in fact what we had here was a flourishing civilization.

Modern construction obliterates the past. It is beyond dispute that there was an Indian settlement in this area. If we don’t look for evidence now, it’s gone forever, which is an incalculable loss for history as there is so little left to look for in the central downtown area, which is by far the best candidate for the Indian city that
Jacques Cartier discovered in 1535. Every child in Canada knows Hochelaga. It is one of the greatest, most legendary lost cities in the world.

Two archaeologists at Mc Gill University recently enthused that there is a10% chance of discovering more evidence of Indian settlement on the site, and that it should be professionally excavated by independent experts. So yes, a 10% chance of reconnecting with one of the most important archaeological sites in the New World is a major event, a once in a lifetime chance, because if we don’t act now it’s gone forever.

Montreal’s 375th anniversary is coming up. What a great opportunity to rediscover and enlarge our understanding of our past. It could be a Christmas Day for our history and instead, through our own publicly-owned Caisse de Depot, we are digging up our own history and instead of sifting through it, we are throwing it away. We are doing it to ourselves.

The past can be subtle and elusive. But the bottom line is, you can’t find something if you don’t look for it.

Ian Barrett and Robert J. Galbraith are amateur historians with a particular interest in early Montreal history.

Galbraith contact,

P.S. if there are any archaeologists or former archaeologists out there who might have something to contribute to the way this promoter handled the archeo investigation, please contact me.