THE MYS­TERY VIL­LAGE

BE­FORE THERE WAS MON­TRÉAL, THERE WAS HOCHELAGA — A SIX­TEENTH-CEN­TURY AGRI­CUL­TURAL COM­MU­NITY THAT MYS­TE­RI­OUSLY VAN­ISHED.

Canada's History - - MONTRÉAL 375 - BY DAR­REN BON­A­PARTE

In 1535, French ex­plorer Jac­ques Cartier and his crew be­came the first Euro­peans to set foot on the is­land of Mon­tréal. They found a vil­lage there of well over a thou­sand peo­ple who were anx­ious to greet the new­com­ers. His de­scrip­tion of what he saw has mes­mer­ized read­ers for al­most half a mil­le­nium:

“And in the mid­dle of these fields is sit­u­ated and stands the vil­lage of Hochelaga, near and ad­ja­cent to a moun­tain, the slopes of which are fer­tile and are cul­ti­vated, and from the top of which one can see for a long dis­tance. We named this moun­tain Mount Royal.

“The vil­lage is cir­cu­lar and is com­pletely en­closed by a wooden pal­isade in three tiers like a pyramid... There are some fifty houses in this vil­lage, each about fifty or more paces in length, and twelve or fif­teen in width, built com­pletely of wood and cov­ered in and bor­dered up with large pieces of bark and rind of trees, as broad as a ta­ble, which are well and cun­ningly lashed af­ter their man­ner. And in­side these houses are many rooms and cham­bers; and in the mid­dle is a large space with­out a floor, where they light their fire and live to­gether in com­mon.”

In Fe­bru­ary 2015, pho­to­jour­nal­ist Robert Gal­braith brought the con­struc­tion of a ma­jor build­ing in down­town Mon­tréal to a halt. He raised the alarm that ex­ca­va­tors dig­ging to in­stall a sewer sys­tem might be de­stroy­ing Hochelaga, the Iro­quoian vil­lage vis­ited by Cartier. As ar­chae­ol­o­gists went to work, me­dia at­ten­tion fo­cused on the mys­tery of Hochelaga’s lo­ca­tion.

Cartier found no trace of the vil­lage or its peo­ple when he re­turned to the area in 1541. Nor did Sa­muel de Cham­plain, the next ex­plorer to reach the is­land, in 1608. Sir John William Daw­son thought he found it south of Sher­brooke Street be­tween Mans­field and Met­calfe streets in the 1860s. In the early 1970s, ar­chae­ol­o­gists

James Pen­der­gast and Bruce Trig­ger stud­ied the ar­ti­facts but were un­able to con­firm that the Daw­son site was the vil­lage of fifty long­houses de­scribed by Cartier.

The dis­cov­ery of Indige­nous buri­als and ar­ti­facts near the Daw­son site in 2015 ex­cited pub­lic in­ter­est that the mys­tery of Hochelaga’s lo­ca­tion might fi­nally be solved.

This was not the only mys­tery of Hochelaga. We have also been per­plexed by the peo­ple who lived there. Who were they, and what be­came of them?

The an­swers have been slow to emerge. In the nine­teenth cen­tury, when ar­chae­ol­ogy was in its in­fancy, schol­arly opin­ion on the cul­tural iden­tity of the Hochela­gans ranged from the Huron to the Mo­hawk. Even­tu­ally it be­came ev­i­dent that they were dis­tinct from these groups, de­spite sim­i­lar­i­ties in lan­guage and cul­ture. There may have been as many as twenty-five na­tions of these “St. Lawrence Iro­quoians” liv­ing along the St. Lawrence River from Lake On­tario to the area down­stream from Que­bec City.

What be­came of the St. Lawrence Iro­quoians is an­other mat­ter. Ac­cord­ing to many pop­u­lar his­to­ries, they van­ished with­out a trace — a spooky Cana­dian ver­sion of the lost colony of Roanoke. (Roanoke was a six­teenth-cen­tury English set­tle­ment on an is­land in what is to­day North Carolina.) But be­fore we rel­e­gate the peo­ple of Hochelaga to the Big­foot and UFO sec­tion of the li­brary, there is plenty of ev­i­dence to sug­gest that they were ab­sorbed by neigh­bour­ing tribes. (The miss­ing English colonists of Roanoke prob­a­bly were as well.)

It has been sug­gested that Cartier’s party brought ill­ness that weak­ened the pop­u­la­tion to the point where their en­e­mies were able to at­tack them. They were ei­ther taken cap­tive by these en­e­mies or sought refuge among friends. “The pre­sump­tion is that Hochelaga ceased to ex­ist be­tween 1541 and 1603, pos­si­bly circa AD 1580,” Pen­der­gast wrote in 1998.

There is ev­i­dence in the Je­suit Re­la­tions that at least some Hochela­gans had a pres­ence in the Mon­tréal area well af­ter the dis­per­sal. In 1642, French set­tlers met some of them and heard their story as they were given the grand tour fol­low­ing a reli­gious fes­ti­val on Au­gust 15. Father Barthélemy Vi­mont wrote this re­port:

“We vis­ited the great for­est which cov­ers this Is­land; and when we had been led to the moun­tain from which it takes its name, two of the chief Sau­vages of the band stopped on its sum­mit, and told us that they be­longed to the na­tion of those who had for­merly dwelt on this Is­land.

“Then, stretch­ing out their hands to­wards the hills that lie to the East and South of the moun­tain, ‘There,’ said they, ‘are the places where stood Vil­lages filled with great num­bers of Sau­vages. The Hurons, who then were our en­e­mies, drove our Fore­fa­thers from this coun­try. Some went to­wards the coun­try of the Ab­naquiois, oth­ers to­wards the coun­try of the Hiro­quois, some to the Hurons them­selves, and joined them. And that is how this Is­land be­came de­serted.’”

Ev­i­dence of the St. Lawrence Iro­quoians, in the form of pot­tery and pipes, has been found at ex­ca­va­tions of Huron, Mo­hawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Abe­naki vil­lages. This would seem to con­firm the words of the lo­cal guides in 1642.

Peo­ple from each of these na­tions would make their way to the St. Lawrence River val­ley and set­tle there per­ma­nently. Some would even live for a time at the Mis­sion de la Mon­tagne, es­tab­lished by the Sulpi­cians of the is­land of Mon­tréal in 1676. Stone tow­ers built there in 1694 over­look Sher­brooke Street, just over a kilo­me­tre from the ar­chae­ol­ogy site that may be Hochelaga.

An­other group with ties to Hochelaga may have been the Onon­chataronon, an “Al­go­nquin” band that was said to live along the South Na­tion River in east­ern On­tario in the sev­en­teenth cen­tury. This group claimed to have been the orig­i­nal oc­cu­pants of Île de Mon­tréal with ex­ten­sive lands on both sides of the St. Lawrence River. Ac­cord­ing to the Je­suit Re­la­tions, there was an at­tempt by the French to in­duce them to set­tle the is­land again in 1646, but “they soon scat­tered on ac­count of the Iro­quois.” Je­suit pri­est and his­to­rian Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix vis­ited the area in 1721 and noted that the Onon­chataronon no longer ex­isted.

An­other clue comes from the south shore of the St. Lawrence, home of the Kah­nawà:ke Mo­hawks. The oral tra­di­tions of the com­mu­nity link them to Île de Mon­tréal as well. The Mo­hawk word for it is Tio­htià:ke, “where the peo­ple di­vide.” Could the ori­gin of this word have some­thing to do with the dis­per­sal of the Hochela­gans?

As ar­chae­ol­o­gists con­tinue to search be­neath the streets of metropoli­tan Mon­tréal, per­haps new dis­cov­er­ies will help to shed light on its Indige­nous pre­de­ces­sor, Hochelaga.

Above: A French artist’s de­pic­tion of Iro­quois women grind­ing corn or dried berries while a baby naps in its cradle­board, circa 1664.

Left: The Hau­denosaunee (Iro­quois) vil­lage of Hochelaga, in the area of present-day Mon­tréal. Colour wood­cut from Gio­vanni Bat­tista Ra­mu­sio’s Delle Nav­igazioni e Vi­aggi, circa 1556.

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