Montreal Archives celebrate centenary
The first of five English-language tours of the Montreal Archive vaults took place last Thursday.
The second tour is set for next Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. It still isn’t full yet. There’s also space on Tuesday, August 6 at 2 p.m., and Thursday, August 15 at 2 p.m.
To register for any of these tours, visit their webpage.
Several of the collections have been posted online, but a visit to see the originals will be well-worth your while.
Last week, eighteen of us enjoyed the many stories told by archivist Mario Robert, who has worked for the city of Montreal since 1991.
“Our municipal archive service was set up by the municipal administration in 1913 because lawyers were losing cases after they couldn’t find documents at city hall,” said Robert. “It’s probably the oldest archive in Quebec and possibly the oldest municipal archives in Canada. Those who set it up visited the National Archives in Ottawa and the municipal archives in New York to figure out how to do it.”
By 1918, documents from every city department, except the permits office, were regularly collected and integrated with earlier collections dating back to 1796 by the city clerk. Photographs were added to the Montreal Archive in 1920.
On January 18, 1922, the collection was placed in a giant bank vault under the front lawns of city hall to the sidewalk on Notre Dame street. The strong room protected archival materials when city hall burnt down the following March.
This is the space that Robert will tour you through, in honour of the institution’s centenary.
Montreal archive vaults protect documents
Two vaults now contain roughly 4 km of documents. Robert is particularly enthusiastic about the photograph collection, which includes many colour images from the 1960′s.
He also tells stories about gambling houses and brothels in the red light district in the 1950′s, lotteries run by Chinatown merchants, Drapeau’s gold bullion lottery, public health epidemics, strangers’ guides to the city, historical crime statistics and the Caron Commission.
He’ll show you an 1885 Notman watercolour composite of municipal council, lots of ancient city maps, documents signed by Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance, plus the signatures of Stanley Cup winners in Montreal’s guest book.
The tour is a good overview of the type of materials accessed by 4,000 researchers every year.
Genealogists, journalists and others can consult copies of annual reports, council minutes, police reports and public health documents in the Claude Archambault Centre in city hall. The entrance is across the hallway from the opposition leader’s office just inside the 510 Gosford entrance. It’s open from Monday until Friday, 8:30 until noon and from one until 4:30 p.m.
The Montreal Archive is also a member of the group of archivists of Montreal, which has a superb website in English.
Visitors rarely have access to storage vaults; the last public tours were held in 1999.
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