Located in the Old Montreal district of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the Pointe-à-Callière Museum is an archaeological museum commemorating the birthplace of the city and major points in its history. It is the most visited historical museum in Montreal and the only museum in Canada dedicated exclusively to archaeology.
The museum was opened in 1992 as part of Montreal’s citywide 350th birthday celebration. Built at the convergence of several major archaeological and historical sites, the museum is best known as a marker of Montreal’s birthplace, as its main entrance stands on the Pointe-à-Callière site where the Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve first founded the city in 1642. The museum is largely credited with raising public awareness about Pointe-à-Callière and was officially recognized for these contributions when the site was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1998. Originally planned as a commemoration of the William Collector sewer and the remains of St. Anne’s Market, the project was expanded as more and more previously unknown sites were uncovered during construction. The archaeological remains exposed from these sites during the construction of the building have been left in situ and are directly incorporated into many of the museum’s exhibits.
More than 4.5 million people have visited the museum since its 1992 opening, with annual attendance totaling 350,000. It has been the recipient of more than 50 national and international awards for museography, architecture, and educational outreach.
Museum Structures and Permanent Exhibits
The Pointe-à-Callière complex comprises seven pavilions and notable structures, each housing permanent exhibits. All permanent exhibits are family friendly and geared toward educating children about the city’s history.
The centerpiece of the complex is the Éperon Building, inaugurated in 1992. Built over the foundation of the 19th-century Royal Insurance Company building, the new building intentionally echoes many of its predecessor’s design contours. The building is home to a temporary exhibition hall and the museum’s restaurant, L’Arrivage Bistro, which offers views of the city’s port. Inside its Hydro-Quebec theater, an 18-minute multimedia presentation, Yours Truly, Montreal, serves as an introduction to the museum, inviting visitors to travel back in time and experience the city’s history from the Ice Age to the present. A collaboration with multimedia studio Moment Factory, the piece features a 270-degree screen for a fully immersive experience and is available in eight languages.
Beginning underneath the building, the Crossroads Montreal underground tour showcases the 1643 remains of Fort Ville-Marre’s Catholic cemetery. Other sites include the preserved 1861 foundation of the Royal Insurance Building and a stone-vaulted tunnel built in 1832 on the former bed of the Saint Pierre River. Along the tour, the 1701, The Great Peace of Montreal multimedia exhibit features artwork by Nicolas Sollogub that dramatizes the signing of the Great Peace of Montreal treaty, a 1701 agreement signed between New France Governor Louis-Hector de Callière and representatives from 39 indigenous nations.
An archaeological cryptunderneath Place Royale is home to the Building Montreal exhibit, which highlights the city’s colonial rule under France and Britain. Three interactive games immerse visitors of all ages in the life and trades of 17th, 18th, and 19th-century settlers. The crypt includes one of the only walls still standing from the 1744 fortifications around Montreal.
The city’s Old Customs House dates back to 1837, showcasing the early influence of British colonization through its architecture. Inside, the Pirates or Privateers? exhibit takes visitors aboard a recreation of the 18th-century privateer ship Iberville. Artifacts such as navigational instruments, tools, weapons, and personal possessions belonging to the ship’s crew are integrated into activities for children to learn about life on deck.
The Youville Pumping Station, the first electric-powered wastewater pumping station built in the city, features a heritage center that hosts school group presentations and private events, while the nearby Mariner’s House holds space for traveling exhibitions. Located underneath Mariner’s House is Archaeo-Adventure, featuring four zones for families to embark on their own mock archaeological digs. Children can step inside an archaeologist’s tent, excavate small findings with real tools, and classify their work inside a laboratory.
Two new exhibits were opened in May 2017 as part of the city’s 375th anniversary. Inside the Fort Ville-Marie Québecor Pavilion, the Where Montreal Began exhibit pays tribute to Montreal’s founders, highlighting their missionary work with Quebec’s indigenous populations. A glass floor inside the exhibit overlooks the newly excavated remains of Fort Ville-Marre, uncovered between 2002 and 2015. Artifacts found during the digs connected to the remains are highlighted, including objects from First Nations societies. Underground nearby, a multisensory experience, Memory Collector, commemorates a portion of North America’s first collector sewer, which served as a part of the city’s waste and water management system until 1989. Visitors can walk through a 110-meter section of the sewer, highlighted in dramatic fashion by light and sound installations.