Montreal: The Capital of the Province of Canada

The Canadian Parliamentary Review recently published an interesting article by two archaeologists, Louise Pothier and Hendrik Van Gijseghem, who have worked on the excavation of the charred ruins of the Parliament of the Province of Canada in Old Montreal. The Province of Canada’s largest city and the financial hub of British North America, Montreal served as the rotating capital from 1844 until English-speaking Loyalist and Orangemen rioters burned it in 1849 over the Rebellion Losses Bill.

I’ve often wondered whether Montreal would have remained the capital of the Province of Canada if the Parliament there had survived the great civil strife and communal violence of the late 1840s — and if Montreal had remained the capital of the Province of Canada, it would also certainly have become the capital of the Dominion of Canada, too, on 1 July 1867. How Canadian history could have unfolded differently! The Province of Canada — and all future political historians who rely upon primary sources — suffered another terrible loss when the next Parliament in the next capital, Quebec City, also burned to the ground in 1854, though this time by accident rather than by arson.

But Pothier, Van Gijseghem, and their colleagues have done us all great service in uncovering some artefacts from the former Parliament of the Province of Canada and bringing our forgotten and buried history to the fore.

You can find more about the old parliament at the Place d’Youville on the website of the Montreal Archeology and History Complex, and watch a short video of the dig. 

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About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
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