Published in the Montreal Gazette on January 12, 2013
“The future historians of Canada will find the Archives indispensable and will draw therefrom records of nation building which will inspire the builders of the Greater Canada yet to be.” How true was the Montreal Star editorialist when he wrote those words in the now defunct newspaper in December of 1907. That same viewpoint went on to praise the dedication and determination of one Dr. Sir Arthur George Doughty, known at the time as the Dominion Archivist of the Government of Canada.
Clearly, just as there is still today a Chief Archivist at the national level, there is also one for our very own City of Montreal. In fact, I met with him on December 20 last on the eve of the municipal archives one hundredth anniversary in 2013.
Mario Robert greeted me in the historic City Hall Long Room where years ago citizens used to report in order to settle their real estate tax bills. After a brief conversation in Mr. Robert’s office, I was led to the archive holding area itself.
The imposing locale is situated literally underground – beneath the front lawn of the venerable Town Hall building. It consists of two ‘strongrooms’ which together stretch from Gosford Street all the way to Place Vaugelin and then from the foundation wall of the City Hall to the footpath on Notre Dame Street. Indeed, Mr. Robert informed me that when snow-clearing vehicles pass on the sidewalk above, the vibrations are felt throughout the historic cellar.
Constructed shortly after World War One in order to provide greater security for municipal documents, the transfer of the city’s precious assets from the Town Hall itself to the new, secure location was just about complete when a spectacular fire broke out on March 3, 1922. Only the outer walls of the 1878 edifice survived, with damages reaching $10,000,000 in total. As was the intent, the new vaults were unaffected and all materials moved there just before the conflagration survived perfectly intact. Essentially all that was lost in the blaze was the city’s extensive collection of building permits issued down through the years that had not yet been transferred to the undercroft.
The City of Montreal archives possess some four kilometres of historically significant records dating from as early 1796. Amongst these are found vintage real estate evaluation rolls to the minutes of the very first council meeting held in 1833 at which Jacques Viger was selected as Montreal’s first mayor. The repository also holds over one million first – rate city photographs.
Most documents are available for on the spot consultation while others, for privacy concerns, are not. The record office struggles, however, to make as much available to the public as possible. This is, in fact, the common aim of most archival services.
The public consultation room of the Montreal Archives is found on the main floor of the City Hall Building, Room R – 108, at 275 Notre Dame Street East, H2Y 1C6 (Metro: Champ de Mars). I have been to that same reference room site on many occasions down through the years and have always found the archivists to be extremely helpful and courteous. Their e – mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
The details of the modest activities planned for the one hundredth anniversary of the Montreal Archives will be made public later this month. For information, follow the Archives de Montréal on their Facebook page where, incidentally, some remarkable photos and vintage videos can also be found.
The archives are open Tuesday – Friday (except statutory holidays) from 8:30 – 12:00 and 13:00 – 4:30. Their telephone number is 514-872-1173.
(below, Mario Robert, in charge of Montreal’s City Archives)
– Montreal Gazette photo