A Visit to Pointe-à-Callière Museum: Montréal Beneath Your Feet


Since Pointe-à-Callière Museum opened in 1992, I was there for several visits. The latest one occurred very recently as I was eager to see the new pavilion that was inaugurated last May featuring the Fort Ville-Marie.

I like this museum—I must admit I have always admired the work of archeologists, which requires great attention to detail and patience. To read about the history of Montréal from the beginnings is a must, indeed, but seeing the actual site is quite an experience.

While strolling through the Fort Ville-Marie pavilion, you are literally—thanks to a glass floor—walking over the fort remains. One of my earliest Montréal ancestors, Marin Janot dit Lachapelle, arrived in Ville-Marie in 1653, 11 years after its foundation, among a group later known as the Grande recrue de 1653 (117 engagés and 14 women). Marin was a carpenter. I like to think that he was maybe one of the men who took care of the narrow posts for the palisade.

And it is easy to imagine the lives of women and men on the site while looking at artifacts which were gathered such as the remains of tools that have been used to build the fort as well as the terrine, dish and jar unearthed by archeologists. Most of the livestock bones found were pigs', revealing how important this animal was for the settlers. It was also noticed that the Amerindians were recycling French copper pot pieces into either arrow heads or tinkling cones (the latter being used as garment and hair decorations).

In addition to the foundations of Fort Ville-Marie, the site features those of Château Callière which will be built later (it was destroyed around 1760), as well as a fire pit dating back from the period when Amerindians occupied the territory before the arrival of the first Europeans.

Just outside the museum, on Place d'Youville, be sure not to miss the Pioneers' monument as you'll maybe be among those whose Montréal ancestor's name has been engraved in the stone.

The 2017 Montréal's summer was certainly one for history buffs to relish, but fortunately some exhibitions will remain for all of us to enjoy.

A Visit to The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site


During summertime, I visited The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site of Canada - Parks Canada*. I have been curious to stop by, as there are some voyageurs in my family tree.

The tiny museum is a nice—and smart—30 to 40-minute break while on a bike trip along the Lachine Canal on a very hot day. An old warehouse built in 1803 by Alexander Gordon, a former employee of the North West Company, the museum building is the last remnant of the Fur Trade era which made Lachine the Voyageurs' rendezvous in the spring.

Even though the exhibit is not mainly intended for children, I could see that those who attended really enjoyed the interactive visit. And the kid that I still am did as well! Maps, artefacts and documents are shown along with explanations about a voyageur's life. The post that above all caught my eye was this one:

"Interested in hiring on?"

Here are the job requirements:

Physical Requirements:
Height: under 1 m 70 tall
Weight: less than 63 kilos
Sex: male
Shoulders: broad and strong
Legs: short

Essential Qualifications:
Great physical and mental stamina.
Able to tolerate mosquitoes.
Not easily bored.
Cheerful and fond of the simple life.

Working Conditions:
Paddle between 16 to 18 hours a day.
Regularly portage 2 or 3 40-kilo packs.
Haul canoes.
Repair damage to canoes.
Get soaked in cold water at every portage.
Sleep five or six hours a night on the ground.
Sing to help maintain the paddling rhythm of anywhere from 40 to 60 strokes a minute.

Compensation from the Company:
Wages: less than $100 a year.
Clothing: pants, shirt, handkerchief, mitashes (leggings) and blanket.
Fire bags: pipe, tobacco and knife.
Food: two daily rations of a mixture of peas, beans or corn and salt pork cooked on a thick mush. Everyone eats from the same pot.
"Régale": an occasional glass of rum.

Well, that lifestyle wasn't for the faint-hearted I guess! By the way, I can't help but wonder if otherwise interesting applicants would be turned down due to their off-key singing.

If you have read engagement contracts signed before a Notary Public, you may thus be familiar with these terms:

Bowman: he watches for shallows and rocks.
After man or steersman: he steers the canoe.
Middlemen: he is one of the paddlers' crew.

Some passengers came along as well, either bourgeois or clerks of the Fur Trading Company. In all, about 10 to 12 people were aboard the canoe.

But why using these small boats to engage in such an adventurous journey? For canoes were the only mean to bypass the Sault-Saint-Louis rapids. Each canoe was transporting four 90-pound ballots containing merchandise that was exchanged for furs with Amerindians. Voyageurs were leaving Lachine, on Lake St. Louis' shores, to paddle to Fort William (Thunder Bay, Ontario), which was the first stop before going further in Fur Country.

Any voyageurs in your own family tree? You may consult this database here from La Société historique de Saint-Boniface.

The museum is open from mid-June to Labor Day weekend.

* To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, Parks Canada is offering free admission to all Parks Canada locations in 2017.

Living the Life of Your Ancestor in his Native Region—A Unique Experience

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I traveled quite a lot in my life. However, I must confess that the most memorable trips are the ones that included stopovers to places where some of my ancestors came from. Obviously, these visits comprised the local church and cemetery, but they were not my sojourn's most touching moments.

When I stopped by my Tuscan ancestors' village of origin, rather than checking into a hotel, I chose to rent an apartment. One of the best times I had was chit-chatting with the owner who not only told me so much about the village's history but also didn't forget to let me know where I could have a taste of the finest gelato in town—a shop ran by one of her friends, of course!

Another travel experience that left a vivid impression on me was my trip to Lot-et-Garonne department in France, where I met a volunteer from the local genealogical society with whom I had been corresponding. As he was the owner of an orchard, I learned everything there was to know in respect of prune production. Residing in a castle, he shared with me the whole story of the premises as well. It was just fascinating. As for dinner, I was treated with a homemade aperitif wine, a delicious meal—that could have qualified for a banquet!—and a prune with Armagnac for dessert. Absolutely exquisite!

That's what genealogical travels are all about. And this kind of trip is not to be found in a brochure. It is a mix of meeting people, culinary delights, and unique cultural experiences.