History of the Old Port of Montréal

The Old Port is steeped in history. The first colonists arrived here on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and it was thanks to the port that old Ville-Marie grew into the thriving international metropolis of modern-day Montréal.

Take a step back in time to learn about major milestones in the port’s history and the birth of the Old Port.

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Figure 1

1642 – Montréal is founded by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve. The Lachine rapids prevented him from sailing further west, so he likely anchored at what is today the Old Port.

Figure 1, The Founding of Montreal, by Donald Kenneth Anderson
© Musée McCord

Figure 2

1760 – The fur trade expands and the first port facilities are built. Instead of landing on muddy river banks, merchants build temporary wooden docks along the shore.

Figure 2, An East View of Montreal, in Canada, 1762, by Thomas Patten.
© Musée McCord

Figure 3

1809 – The Accommodation becomes the first steamship to offer regular service between Montréal and Québec City. It departs from the pier of John Molson, owner of the vessel, west of the Bonsecours Chapel.

Figure 3, The steamship Accommodation works back upstream with the help of horses and oxen.
Archives de Montréal

Figure 4

1825 – Official opening of the Lachine Canal, which made it possible to sail up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes.

Figure 4, Entrance to Lachine Canal, Montreal, QC, 1826, watercolour by unknown artist
© Musée McCord

Figure 5

1830 – The Montréal Harbour Commission is created to enlarge the port and improve facilities. The first phase of this work would take place over the next 20 years.

Figure 5, The Port of Montreal, 1830, by Robert Auchmuty Sproule
© Musée McCord

Figure 6

1850 – A canal is dredged between Montréal and Lac Saint-Pierre. The Port of Montréal is now able to accommodate transoceanic ships. The railway industry begins to flourish.

Figure 6, Trans-Atlantic ships and train cars in the Port of Montréal, ca. 1872.
© Musée McCord

Figure 7

1859 – Victoria Bridge is opened, allowing trains to cross the river. Montréal becomes Canada’s primary hub for rail and maritime transport.

Figure 7, Grand Finale of Fire-Works in Honor of the Prince of Wales and the Successful Completion of the Victoria Bridge, Montreal, Canada East
© Musée McCord

Figure 8

1886 – The first transcontinental train departs from the port.

Figure 8, Wood from British Columbia transported by train to Montréal, 1890.
© Musée McCord

Figure 9

1898 – The federal government allocates one million dollars to upgrade port facilities. Major infrastructure built during this period includes concrete quays, steel storage sheds, docks and grain elevators.

Figure 9, The last rivet driven into place marks the official opening of Shed 11, the first of the Port of Montréal’s permanent warehouses.
Port de Montréal – Archives

Figure 10

1922 – Clock Tower is inaugurated and cold-storage warehouse is opened. Montréal is the most important grain port in the world.

Figure 10, Cold storage plant in harbour, Montreal, QC, about 1925
© Musée McCord

Figure 11

1928 – Annual tonnage reaches its peak: over 12.5 million tonnes of merchandise transit the Port of Montréal.

Figure 11, Bananas from the Antilles arrive at the Port of Montréal, for shipment by train to the rest of Canada.
MSTC/Collection : CN Photo 31279
Musée des sciences et de la technologie du Canada

Figure 12

1930 – Inauguration of the Montréal Harbour Bridge, renamed the Jacques-Cartier Bridge a few years later.

Figure 12, Jacques-Cartier Bridge, Montréal
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec / Notice 0002632544

Toward modernity

Figure 13

1959 – Opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Ocean-going vessels can now reach the Great Lakes without stopping in Montréal. The port experiences a drop in activity.

Figure 13, Opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, June 26, 1959
Auteur inconnu

Figure 14

1963 – Old Montréal is declared a historic district.

Figure 14, Place d’Armes, Old Montreal.
Denis Tremblay / Source :

Figure 15

1970 – Lachine Canal is closed to shipping.

Figure 15, View of the locks sector after the canal is filled in.
© Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal

Figure 16

1976 – The Port is moved farther east, putting an end to port activities in Old Montréal. The Port of Montréal specializes in handling containers and soon receives its one millionth container.

Figure 16, One of the Port of Montréal’s container terminals.
© Port de Montréal

Figure 17

1977 – The Canadian government announces its intention to redevelop the area left vacant by the port’s move. Subsequent years see public consultations on its future vocation.

Figure 17, Final public consultation report on the future of the Old Port of Montréal.
© Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal

Figure 18

1981 – The Old Port of Montréal Corporation is established. A linear park is created along Rue de la Commune, and six of the eight rail lines are removed.

Figure 18, View of linear park along Rue de la Commune.
© Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal

Figure 19

1982 – Clock Tower is restored. Grain Elevator No. 1 (near the entrance to Alexandra Quay) is demolished to improve access to the river, in accordance with public wishes.

Figure 19, The white Beaux-arts-style Clock Tower.
© Mattera

Figure 20

1987 – The Old Port of Montréal Corporation master plan is submitted and approved, advocating the enhancement of the site and its rediscovery by Montréalers.

Figure 20, One of the enhancement proposals that would culminate in the Old Port of Montréal Corporation’s master plan.
© Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal

Figure 21

1989 – The Old Port site gets a makeover: development plans and work on the Bonsecours Basin, the Jacques-Cartier Quay and other facilities.

Figure 21, Aerial view of Bonsecours Basin and Pavillion after completion of development work.
© Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal

Figure 22

1992 – Inauguration of the “New Old Port of Montréal” on the 350th anniversary of Montréal’s founding.

Figure 22, Visitors flock to the Old Port during Montréal’s 350th birthday celebrations.
© Archives de la Ville de Montréal / VM71

Figure 23

2000 – The Montréal Science Centre opens on May 1.

Figure 23, Entrance of the Montréal Science Centre.
© Mattera

Figure 24

2002 – Lachine Canal reopens to pleasure boaters.

Figure 24, The locks sector after the reopening.
Source inconnue


Figure 25

2005 – The government and Old Port of Montréal Corporation adopt the 2005–2015 Vision Development, a plan to enhance the Old Port’s recreational, tourism and cultural infrastructure.

Figure 25, Overview of the Vision at completion.
Production: Graph Synergie

Figure 26

Today – The Old Port welcomes six million visitors annually

Figure 26, Tall Ships Edition.
© Roland Lorente