Digging for parliament: Canada's former capital buildings uncovered in Montreal
Published Tuesday, July 18, 2017 1:43PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 19, 2017 8:09PM EDT
Archeologists are digging up something special for Canada’s150th and Montreal’s 375th birthday -- Canada’s first parliamentary buildings.
Under what used to be a parking lot at the corner of McGill St. and Place d’Youville in Old Montreal are the remains of the buildings, last in use 168 years ago.
“It's a great opportunity to add an important heritage to the different celebrations of Montreal,” said Louise Pothier from the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum and one of the lead archeologists involved in the project.
Montreal was the capital of the United Province of Canada from 1843-1849. The Ste. Anne's Market buildings housed parliament until they were destroyed in a fire during a riot, brought about by divisions in pre-Confederation Canadian society over whether Canada should be part of the British Empire or a sovereign nation.
What remained of parliament was torn down and eventually paved over by a parking lot.
Those involved in the recovery are calling it one of the most important archeological digs in the country.
“It’s very unique, probably one of the largest urban ecological sites in North America,” said archeologist Hendrik Van Gijseghem, the project manager.
Previous digs have turned up dishware, a horseshoe, and toiletry items, because parliamentarians likely spent long days there.
Archeologists say since the fire happened so fast, much more was left behind.
“Everything that was left on the evening of April 25, 1849 is still there,” said Pothier.
“I like to think of it as our own little Pompeii, because the remains have been sealed in place and the process of abandonment was sudden, so things are left in place just like in Pompeii - minus the bodies,” said Van Gijeseghem.
At one metre of depth, teams have already found many new items and plan to go down to five metres.
“All the remains essentially fell into the basement and were essentially sealed, so we're in the presence of a very unique context. We're confident we're going to find by and large the things where they were used,” said Pothier.
Former Bloc Quebecois MP Bernard Bigras said it’s interesting glimpse into Canada's democracy.
“Some people don't know that Montreal is the first place for the democracy and now we have an example,” he said.
The Pointe-a-Calliere Museum will be offering free tours of the site to the public from Wednesday to Sunday until September.
The dig will continue until October.
The goal is to eventually build an atrium or glass building over of the site as well as a tunnel linking visitors to the site to make it more accessible.
"If you don’t see it, you don’t care very much. But now if we see it, I think our interest will be much stronger towards the preservation and accessibility to the site," said Pothier.