The Isles of Montreal


Today, Montreal Island tends to exist in opposition to everything around it. “On-island” is code for diversity, cosmopolitanism, multilingualism, urbanity. “Off-island” means suburban, homogeneous, unilingual. Those are gross stereotypes, obviously, and while there is a grain of truth to them, they ignore the more complicated reality of metropolitan Montreal. They also ignore just how vast the Île de Montréal really is: 55 kilometres long and, at its widest point, more than 15 kilometres across. This is no Manhattan: all of the extremes of Greater Montreal are found right on the island itself.

The above map dates back to 1760, when the British first conquered Montreal. At that point, it was a lush and sparsely-populated isle, home to nine tiny villages and one cloistered town, Ville-Marie, that would soon evolve into the modern-day city. For the inhabitants of Ville-Marie the island must have seemed enormous, a vast land surrounded on all sides by equally vast bodies of water. I think this is reflected in many ways by the map, which exaggerates many of Montreal’s geographical features: Mount Royal is made to look about twice the size it actually is and it is particularly generous in its rendition of the islands in the Rivière des Milles-Îles.

Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Montreal set out to conquer its geography, a process that has culminated in the rather tame landscape we inhabit today. Numerous streams and small rivers were covered, not to mention the entirety of Lake St. Pierre, and an entirely new island was created in the middle of the St. Lawrence. None of this compares to the massive landfill projects that transformed Boston from a virtual island to a rather chunky peninsula, but it’s still pretty remarkable nonetheless.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday June 18 2008at 05:06 pm , filed under Canada, History, Maps and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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