While the Victoria Bridge was being constructed around 1859, workmen discovered a mass grave that contained human remains. The remains were of the Irish immigrants who fled the famine in Ireland only to be affected by typhus or ship fever between 1847-1848. Those who were affected by typhus on their journey to Montreal were dropped off on an Island called Grosse- Ile in Quebec. For those who arrived in Montreal, they were quarantined in fever sheds and those who perished were hastily buried in mass graves. Many religious figures, the grey nuns for example, had helped those who were affected by the disease only to die by it as well. It is estimated that 6000 immigrants, who were mostly of Irish decent, died of typhus in fever sheds situated in Windmill Point, commonly known as Goose Village, not too far from the Victoria Bridge. In order to commemorate the thousands Irish immigrants who died of typhus, the workmen took a boulder from the Saint-Lawrence River, which became the “Irish Commemorative stone of Montreal” situated on Bridge Street on route 112 .
Today, the only living memory that connects to the Irish who died of typhus is the Black Rock that is situated in between two busy roads. The problem is mainly the location of the rock. Since it is situated on a small island on route 112, those who drive past don’t know what the significance of the big boulder in between the road is and the only description of the rock is on a small plaque across the road from the monument. Though the Irish community in Pointe Saint Charles organizes annual walks to the Commemorative Stone, the hope is to expand the awareness of the monument and why it is important to the larger Montreal community. The dream is to create a green space across from the monument, replacing the parking lot into a commemorative park. This green space will not only commemorate the Irish who died of typhus, but will also commemorate important Irish figures as well as remembering the Natives who occupied the land before Colonial occupancy. The goal of commemorating Irish figures and the natives is to show the importance and influence of the Irish in Montreal’s history as well as not forgetting the Indigenous people who occupied the land beforehand.
In the end, the Irish Commemorative Stone, though a symbol for the Irish who escaped the Famine in Ireland only to die of typhus on their arrival to Montreal, can be a symbol for the present day immigrants who sacrificed their lives in order to find a better one and the unknown risks they are willing to take to find a better life.
Jacques Cartier Fountain (Monument à Jacques Cartier) Commissioned by: Eugène Guay Artist: Joseph-Arthur Vincent (1852-1903) Inaugurated: 14 June 1893 Restoration/Reproduction: 1992 Height: 9 metres Location: Corner of rue Saint-Antoine and rue Agnès in Parc Saint-Henri (then Village des Tanneries de Rolland, present day quartier Saint-Henri)
The Monument à Jacques Cartier is situated in the Saint Henri neighbourhood of the South West borough of Montreal. At the time of Jacques Cartier’s arrival the land was unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territory and used mainly by the Mohawk community for fishing and hunting along a significant body of water that, now altered and mostly covered due to a public health threat from industrial waste, was once the St. Pierre river. By the time of the monuments erection the Saint Henri municipality was 15 years old, growing out of the Village des Tanneries that began the development with tanning workshops that grew to large scale production facilities. In 1890 the city was offered a piece of land on which they would build a park to please the surrounding local bourgeoisie that inhabited the area. At its center the monument was erected, commissioned by the city and placed in a basin, functioning both as a decorative fountain and commemorative piece. With the turn of the century Saint Henri underwent a sudden surge in industrial development and by the late 1940’s the South West borough had become the leading industrial center of Canada, bringing blue collar workers and their families to the area. In 1992, due to weather damage that it suffered through the years, the monument was moved to the Métro Place-Saint-Henri station and placed in a light shaft drawing the attention of the many residents using public transportation for their daily commute. Today, the mostly residential neighbourhood shows traces of Saint Henri’s changing demographic through the years. Now experiencing the effects of gentrification the neighbourhood is receiving a flood of young professionals as well as students seeking once affordable housing close to downtown and university campuses. The Victorian row houses that encircled Saint Henri square at the time of the monuments inauguration still stand and remind us of the neighbourhoods history, but what of the land and lives of the people who came before Jacques Cartier?
This intervention was born out of a lack of contemporary critical discourse regarding the monument, especially in regards to its restoration and the subsequent replacement in 1992, receiving an Orange Prize from Sauvons Montreal for its supposedly significant contribution to preserving Montreal heritage. Our project aims to draw attention to the colonial implications of glorifying Jacques Cartier in occupied unceded territory and the colonial history that has been erased and rewritten as a valiant act of development and enlightenment.
We are challenging the narratives asserted by the symbolism inherent in the monument and those implied through the city-sanctioned narratives online and in print. We are calling attention to the missing narratives and asking you, the viewer, to determine the political and social motivations for their exclusion. We hope to facilitate better access to these narratives through highlighting previously overlooked details in written and symbolic white washing by providing additional resources and mimicry.
“A Jacques Cartier né à Saint-Malo le 31 décembre 1491. Envoyé par François Ier à la découverte du Canada le 20 avril 1534. J’étant l’ancre, le 16 juillet de la même année dans l’entrée du Saint Laurent, il prit possession de tout le pays au nom du roi son maître, et l’appela la Nouvelle France”
Jacques Cartier is placed at the top of the monument dressed in attire appropriate and fashionable for his time period pointing west wards. The statue at its tallest is 9 meters high. He is standing on a tree stump atop an ornamental four sided pedestal briefly describing his biographical details as well as his having taken “possession” of the country in the name of France. Directly below the pedestal are fountain spouts as well as 4 presumably Iroquois heads, stereotypical long hair and adorned with a vague headpiece, from whose mouths water also spouts. Between them are laurel leaves painted in gold and at the base cattails grow seemingly from the basin accompanied by 4 beavers.
The inscription operates as a method of reinforcing European Terra Nullius narratives and notions of “discovery” rather than theft and genocide with regards to Canada’s settlement history. Using vocabulary that blatantly asserts Jacques Cartier’s taking possession of the land normalizes the act and redresses it as a valiant act of discovery and conquest, replacing the history of the indigenous groups to whom the land belonged. This narrative is further emphasized with the symbolic resonance of Jacques Cartier’s likeness pointing west and standing upon a tree stump. The Bureau d’Art Public, Ville de Montreal official site still today describes this as symbolizing a “country to be cleared”. This continues the narrative that prior to French arrival, the land was unclaimed, uninhabited, primitive, profane and therefor free for the taking. Beavers, the Canadian national emblem, refer to the fur trade initialized by Jacques Cartier upon his arrival in Chaleur Bay, one of the earliest examples of contact between France and the Micmac people. Laurel wreaths signify victory in regards to his achievements, being placed directly below the text. It indicates his success in possession as the inscription tells the reader he sought out to do. Alongside the wreaths are the floating bodiless heads of First Nations, essentially being stood on by Jacques Cartier, conquered and suppressed. Furthermore, as part of the fountain’s functionality, the heads were designed to spout water from their mouths, none too subtly reinforcing the damaging colonial perspective of First Nations’ as ‘savage natives’ needing taming. By juxtaposing the symbol of martial victory alongside the spouting disembodied heads the historical as well as contemporary erasure of First Nation’s people is encouraged. It does this by systematically portraying the hugely diverse and populous community as vague and remote, focusing instead on Jacques Cartier and his conquest. That this “history” continues to circulate without notice or questioning by the members of the surrounding residential community, even with the brutal way in which the heads have been functionally incorporated, is an attestation to the continued legacy of colonialism today.
As a result, our intervention aims to critique and refute these Terra Nullius narratives and propose a counter-narrative, disseminating it at the site of the restoration (Saint Henri Square), the location of the original (métro Place-Saint-Henri) as well as in pamphlet form at tourist information centers, local businesses and cultural centers. The metro station intervention would include a plaque visually identical to the one presently in place, as well as a pamphlet rack with our pamphlets, mimicking the exact layout, format and aesthetic as the city sanctioned pamphlets. At the monument a plaque would also be installed with a similar emphasis, one in which the text would urge the audience to consider the effects of language and narrow historical ‘truths’ on the past and living First Nations individuals and communities. All of the intervention texts would be in English, French and Mohawk.
Lastly the web component of our intervention includes the recreation and exact mimicry of city web pages, subverting the notion of ‘official’ knowledge, authority and perspective by posing as it. As a complimentary project an online gallery would subsequently be created (Digital Histories Gallery) which would serve both as a digital location for the documents relevant to our intervention, its primary source materials which would ideally be derived from the First Nations communities narratives, as well as documents such as Jacques Cartier’s diaries (as well as those of his contemporaries) all accompanied by critical observations pertaining to the documents in order to encourage problematization of established discourses. The gallery could eventually grow to also include maps, a word-cloud and an application from which the audience would be asked to include their own questions, comments and reflections.
Reproduction: Corner of rue Saint-Antoine and rue Agnès
Original: Métro Place Saint-Henri
Intervention by:Carmelina Imola, Misty-Dawn MacMillan, and Ari Isensee