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Hochelaga (village)

Country Canada
Province Quebec
Region Montreal
Established ?
Dissolved 16th century
Highest elevation 233 m (764 ft)
Lowest elevation 6 m (20 ft)
Time zone EST (UTC−5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC−4)


Official name Hochelaga National Historic Site of Canada
Designated 1920

Hochelaga was a St. Lawrence Iroquoian 16th century fortified village at the heart of, or in the immediate vicinity of Mount Royal in present-day Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Jacques Cartier arrived by boat on October 2, 1535; he visited the village on the following day. He was greeted well by the Iroquians, and named the mountain he saw nearby, Mount Royal. Several names in and around Montreal and the Hochelaga Archipelago are due to him.

A stone marker recalling the former village was placed in 1925 on land adjacent to McGill University, believed to be in the vicinity of the location of the village visited by Cartier in 1535. [2]The site of the marker is designated a National Historic Site of Canada.[3]


  • Etymology 1
  • Location 2
  • Discovery 3
    • Future site of Montreal 3.1
    • Entering via Rivière des Prairies 3.2
    • Reception by the Hochelagans 3.3
  • In 1556, Venice takes interest in Hochelaga 4
  • In the arts 5
  • See also 6
  • References and notes 7
  • Bibliography and sources 8


Most linguists accept the word Hochelaga as a French corruption of an Iroquoian term — either osekare, meaning "beaver path" or "beaver dam", or osheaga, meaning "big rapids" in reference to the nearby Lachine Rapids.[4] An alternative explanation has been proposed in which "Osheaga" meant "people of the shaking hands"; in some versions of this story, the Iroquoian people were bewildered by Cartier waving his hands wildly to attract their attention as he first approached the settlement in his boat, while in others they were bewildered by his European custom of greeting them with a handshake.[5] These latter explanations are favoured by the Mohawk people further downriver at Kahnawake, but are not easily supported by the Mohawk language's significant dissimilarities to what is known of the only distantly related Laurentian language that was spoken by the Iroquoian people at Hochelaga.[5]


The primary source of documentation that allows us to appreciate both the configuration and position of this village is Bref Récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en 1535 et 1536, which Cartier handed to Francis I in 1545. We know of a plan titled: "La Terra de Hochelaga nella Nova Francia" illustrating, in the European manner of the period, Cartier's visit. Drawn by Giacomo Gastaldi (~1500–1566), he illustrates volume III of "Delle Navigationi et viaggi", a work done in Venice between 1550 and 1556 by Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485–1557). The perfect, regular arrangement of the houses, conforming to the urban ideal of the Italian Renaissance, was probably his own invention; as well as the boards covering the palisade, which was unknown to the indigenous people. In fact, if the plan faithfully illustrates the notes of the French explorer, it offers little resemblance to the ethno-historical reality.[6] A reproduction of La Terra de Hochelaga by Paul-Émile Borduas decorates the walls of the Grand Chalet of the parc Mont-Royal.

The town, surrounded by a wooden palisade, had around fifty houses made of wood and bark, mostly long-houses, rectangular and rounded; the population is estimated to have been approximately 3,000 inhabitants. It was doubtlessly destroyed afterwards, because it was not mentioned by Jacques Cartier on his return visit to the island in 1541. He spoke about two villages, but only one, Tutonaguy, was named.[7] War has been suggested as the cause of the disappearance of Hochelaga, possibly coming from Stadacona. The inhabitants' disappearance has spawned several theories, including devastating wars with the Iroquois tribes to the South or with the Hurons to the West, the impact of Old World diseases, or their migration Westward toward the shores of the Great Lakes. However, according to Archéobec, villages that were regularly abandoned, following a cycle of land exhaustion, would be the main reason. At the time of Samuel de Champlain's arrival, both Algonquins and Mohawks hunted in the Saint Lawrence Valley and conducted raids, but neither had any permanent settlements.

This custom of moving villages is a possible explanation of why the exact emplacement of the Iroquois settlement remains a mystery in the present day, despite all the hypotheses that agree to place it close to Mount Royal. W.D. Lighthall held that Hochelaga was at the Dawson site, discovered in 1860 close to McGill University. The site appears to correspond to a village preceding the foundation of Ville-Marie by one or two centuries, but didn't have a palisade and seems to be too cramped.[8] Another proposed emplacement is Outremont, North of the mountain, likely if J. Cartier arrived via the rivière des Prairies.[9] The urbanist Pierre Larouche, based on the topometric data deduced from the Gastaldi illustration, has proposed that the village was situated on the summit of the mountain. This hypothesis isn't very well-supported, since "La Terra de Hochelaga" is a second-hand reconstruction. Furthermore, Cartier states clearly that the mountain was "adjacent to their said village," that Hochelaga was "close to and adjoining a mountain" and that he went to "Mount Royal a distance of a quarter league of the site" [Hochelaga], the distance that, in fact, separates the basin of Mount Royal from the surrounding hills dominating it. The archaeological excavations undertaken recently on the summit of the mountain, around the basin and in the Jeanne-Mance park East of Mount Royal have come up empty. The exact location of Hochelaga remains unknown.


Future site of Montreal

La Terra de Hochelaga Nella Nova Francia (1909), based on an illustration from 1565.

The arrival of Jacques Cartier in Hochelaga at the foot of the future Mount Royal in 1535, was one of the episodes of his three exploration voyages to the Occidental Indies that would have the most consequences for the history of Nouvelle-France. Under a mandate from Francis I to find a waterway to Cathay (China) and to Cypango (Japan), he reached Stadacona (future site of Quebec City) at the end of the Summer of 1535. Encouraged, he quickly continued on further into the interior, but the rapids surrounding Montreal blocked his route. He would then visit Hochelaga, which he described in "Bref Recit" meaning 'brief account' (1545). In 1611, the discoverer Samuel de Champlain would return to it. In 1642, the village of Ville-Marie was founded by Paul Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve but the inhabitants, little by little, dropped that name, taking up instead the name of the island upon which the colony was established, "Montréal", a toponym derived from mont royal.[10]

Entering via Rivière des Prairies

Rivière des Prairies

For a long time it was considered obvious that Jacques Cartier had continuously followed the Saint-Lawrence river and had identified the rapids he mentions as the Lachine Rapids. Yet already, some thought that the description corresponded more to the Sault-au-Récollet situated on Rivière des Prairies. In effect, during the 20th century, close examination of the historical documentation allows for the proposal that before the Europeans, Rivière des Prairies was the usual waterway used by the indigenous people, much less dangerous than the Saint-Lawrence river with its rapids. It constituted a more direct waterway connecting to the Rivière des Outaouais, further upriver. Therefore, it's possibly via this river that Jacques Cartier got to Hochelaga. Furthermore, the three rapids described by Cartier on a subsequent expedition are easier to locate on the Rivière des Prairies, the so-called "three saults river," than on the Saint-Lawrence river. Beaugrand-Champagne, the architect of the Grand Chalet of Mount Royal park, wrote very much about this.

Reception by the Hochelagans

On October 2, 1535, Jacques Cartier and his troupe arrived in the vicinity of Hochelaga. As night fell, he withdrew with his men aboard the boats. Early on the morning of October 3, with his gentlemen and twenty marines, he undertook on foot the worn path to Hochelaga. Walking about two leagues (about 11 km or 6 miles), finally, he could see the village surrounded by hills and the cultivated lands of corn, that appeared to him much more impressive than Stadacona. He writes:

And here within the countryside is situated and sits the said town of Hochelaga, near and joining a mountain that is, around it, ploughed and very fertile, from on top of which one can see very far

Concerning the mountain, he declares, "We name this one Mount Royal" in honour of Francis I, as was customary in that period.

Jacques Cartier then visits Hochelaga, and notes its organisation:

The said town is all in a circle... enclosed in wood, in three ranks, in the manner of a pyramid, crossed at the top, having a row perpendicular to it all”.“And this town there is only one door and entrance... There is within this town roughly fifty houses, each about fifty steps long, and…

He then gives a detailed description of the interior of a long-house and how the people lived in it: "In each one of them, there are several hearths and several rooms." In the centre was found a common room, where the indigenous people built a fire and lived as a community.

The tour of the village was over; Jacques Cartier and his troupe were then guided up the mountain that he would name Mount Royal, probably on the back of a man, according to a "courtesy" custom he mentions further down: "...distant from the said site by about a quarter league" from the village. Once atop the summit of one the hills composing the mount, Cartier declares:

…we can see the said river, other than where we left our barques, where there is a rapid, the most impetuous it is given to see, one which is not possible for us to pass.

Once the visit was over, Jacques Cartier returned to his boats:

…we withdrew to our boats, that was not without a great number of the said people, a part of which, that when they saw our people tired, took them upon themselves, as on a horse, and carried them…

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is now a neighbourhood of Montreal.

In 1556, Venice takes interest in Hochelaga

Jacques Cartier's exploration of the West Indies did not go unnoticed in Venice, in particular by Giovanni Battista Ramusio, statesman and secretary of the Council of Ten. A career diplomat, his role as ambassador brought him to numerous European countries. This director of the Serene political view, who was seven when the Genovese Christopher Columbus reached the West Indies in 1492, considered the discovery of new lands as being the most important undertaking of the time. In effect, Venice was facing a grave problem accessing India since the Ottoman Turks had taken Constantinople in 1453. It isn't known how, but Venice obtained a copy of Bref Recit, a memoir that Jacques Cartier had given to the king François Ier in 1545. His explorations are described in volume III of the work Delle Navigationi et Viaggi by Giovanni Battista Ramusio. The 1556 edition contains assorted illustrations by Jacopo Gastaldi, including La Terra de Hochelaga Nella Nova Francia, describing in the European mode of the time, Jacques Cartier's visit on Mount Royal (called Monte Real on the map, which maybe one explanation for the name Montréal, the Canadian city that now stands where Hochelaga village was).

In the arts

One of the paintings in the Chalet du Mont-Royal is a reproduction of La Terra de Hochelaga by Paul-Émile Borduas, one of the Refus global members.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Delle Navigationi et ViaggiG. B. Ramusio,
  2. ^ This memorial commemorates the site of the fortified town of Hochelaga which was visited by Jacques Cartier. The memorial was erected in 1925 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
  3. ^ Hochelaga. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved August 1, 2011.
  4. ^ "Hochelaga" at The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  5. ^ a b "Watchwords: Why our music fest is called Osheaga". Montreal Gazette, July 28, 2014.
  6. ^ La Terra de HochelagaPresentation of
  7. ^ Histoire du Mont Royal
  8. ^ Bruce Trigger
  9. ^ This hypothesis is held by Montarville B. de la Bruière (1917), A. Beaugrand-Champagne (1923, 1942, 1947) and Father Hector Tessier (1954).
  10. ^ For more information, see Cinquecento – Giovanni Battista Ramusio

Bibliography and sources

  • Cartier, Jacques. (1545). Relation originale de Jacques Cartier. Paris: Tross (1863 version, in French).
  • Newton, Mark. (2007). "Where was Hochelaga?", Canadian Geographic. Volume 114, numéro 6. Pages 63–68.
  • Pendergast, James F. (1998). "The Confusing Identities Attributed to Stadacona and Hochelaga", Revue d'études canadiennes. Volume 32. Pages 149–167.
  • Pendergast, James F. et Bruce G. Trigger. (1972). Cartier's Hochelaga and the Dawson Site. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-0070-9
  • Mark Abley. (1994). "Where was Hochelaga?", Canadian Geographic. Volume 114, numéro 6. Pages 63–68.
  • Roland Tremblay. (2006). "Les Iroquoiens du Saint-Laurent: peuple du maïs". Montréal: Éditions de l'Homme.

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