Archaeology Magazine Archive

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History in the Chapel Cellar Volume 51 Number 6, November/December 1998
by Lisa Mullenneaux

[image] Postholes, foreground, and wall from 1675 chapel (Pierre Fauteux) [LARGER IMAGE]

Renovation of the eighteenth-century Notre Dame de Bonsecours Chapel, a popular tourist attraction in old Montreal, has led to the discovery of the foundations of the first chapel built on the site in 1675 and a wooden palisade wall that once protected the colonial city. Archaeologists supervising construction work next to the chapel excavated a test pit in the chapel cellar in advance of planned electrical work. "After digging one and a half meters [five feet], we found ourselves on top of an Amerindian campsite more than 2,000 years old as well as the southeastern wall of the original chapel," says François Véronneau, an archaeologist with the Group de Recherches en Histoire du Québec. The site dates to the Early Middle Woodland Period.

A 1675 chapel, built of fieldstone, was incorporated early in the eighteenth century into a palisade wall of 15-foot-tall cedar posts intended to protect settlers from Indian and British attacks. No one suspected that either the chapel foundation or evidence of the wall lay hidden beneath the Notre Dame de Bonsecours cellar. Postholes and remnants of the stone foundation of the chapel show that the palisade wall ran directly into its side. According to Véronneau, the postholes are among the first evidence that has emerged of the wooden fortification that surrounded Montreal.

The original chapel was destroyed by fire in 1754, rebuilt about 1771, added onto in 1892 and renovated four times. Its most recent renovation--sponsored by the city and the Order of Notre Dame--is costing $3.3 million.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America