According to Cartier, the village of Hochelaga was round in shape and counted about 50 houses. These measured approximately 15 meters in length by 3.5 to 4.5 meters in width; they were made of wood and were covered with larges slabs of bark that were sown together. The village was surrounded by a palisade made up of three rows of wooden stakes that were driven into the ground. These rows were 15 meters high and were intertwined using sections of bark and large trees. Cartier also noted the presence of galleries above the only village entrance as well as along the fortification, where pebbles and rocks were stacked to be used as an active defense against invaders. There was also a central place, where Cartier spent most of his time during his few-hour visit to Hochelaga.
Cartier only briefly described the interior of the houses, mentioning that there were several rooms as well as a central space with a fireplace for socializing. The upper floor was used for storing food, and the smoked fish was kept in containers on the ground. Cartier's description and the archaeological investigations carried out at other village sites, including those of MANDEVILLE AND LANORAIE in Tracy, and DROULERS, MCDONALD and MAILHOT-CURRAN in the St-Anicet area, suggest that the village of Hochelaga was linked to the occupation of the area by the ST LAWRENCE IROQUOIANS, a group of Indigenous sedentary farmers who inhabited the St Lawrence Valley between 1200 and 1600 AD. When Samuel de CHAMPLAIN travelled to the region in 1603, the village of Hochelaga and its inhabitants had disappeared, possibly because of diseases transmitted by the Europeans, wars of conquest initiated by other Indigenous groups, or the control over trading routes with Europeans.
The Description of Hochelaga: Myth or Reality?
To this day, no physical evidence of the ancient village of Hochelaga has been found, and the only reliable source documenting its existence is a document written by Jacques Cartier following his second voyage (1535-1536). The version that was printed in 1545 and presented to Francis I, King of France, is titled Brief recit & fuccincte narration, de la nauigation faicte es yiles de Canada, Hochelage & Saguenay & autres, auec particulieres meurs, langaige, & cerimonies des habitans d'icelles: fort delectable â veoir (loosely translated as Short and succinct narrative of navigation to the islands of Canada, Hochelaga & Saguenay & others, including particular customs, languages & ceremonies of the islanders: very delightful to see). There also exists a detailed plan of the old village that was drawn a few years later by Giacomo Gastaldi (1500-1566) and printed in the work of the Venetian Battista Ramusio (1485-1557), titled Delle Navigationi and viaggi (Of Navigation and Travel). However, according to the narratives of other missionaries and explorers as well as archaeological evidence from other Iroquoian villages of this period, this plan, which was partly based on Cartier's description, is unrealistic. In fact, several details, such as the presence of a central square place and especially the symmetrical layout of the houses, are biased and reflect the European perspective on urban planning during the Italian Renaissance.
Another peculiarity is that Cartier only mentioned the presence of a single fireplace in one of the rooms located at the centre of the household, whereas typical LONGHOUSES of this period normally included an alignment of several fires stretching down a long central corridor. To add to the confusion, during his third voyage (1541-1542), which led him once again to the island of Montréal, Cartier did not in any way mention the existence of Hochelaga but referred instead to a village named Tutonaguy. This village was located in the same area as the village of Hochelaga Cartier previously described, suggesting that Tutonaguy was the name the Natives used to designate the place. On the other hand, the term Hochelaga was probably used to designate the Montréal area or the region's inhabitants. Since a significant portion of the original manuscript of Cartier's third narrative is missing, however, our understanding remains limited.
Therefore, Cartier's description of the village of Hochelaga does not correspond exactly to the ethnographic evidence available about Iroquoian villages from this period. It is worth noting, however, that he was first and foremost a sailor who mainly travelled for commercial purposes. As a result, his writings primarily aimed at describing the characteristics of geographical features and cultural customs as a way to document and anticipate obstacles that could arise during the exploitation of local resources by the French.
Even though the exact location of the village remains unknown, Hochelaga was designated a national HISTORIC SITE in 1920 and a commemorative plaque was erected near the main entrance of McGill University on Sherbrooke Street, Montréal.
Today, the term Hochelaga also refers to a group of 234 islands located at the confluence of the St Lawrence and the Ottawa rivers (Hochelaga Archipelago), to a district of the city of Montréal (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve), to provincial (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve) and federal (Hochelaga) electoral districts, and to a street and a park in the City of Montréal.
See also STADACONA.
Author MICHEL GAGNÉ
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Watch the Heritage Minute about French explorer Jacques Cartier from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
Heritage information about the Hochelaga National Historic Site of Canada located near McGill University on Sherbrooke Street, Montréal. From the Canadian Register of Historic Places.