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How Montreal Streets Got Their Names

The history behind the "City of Saints."
A Map Of Montreal History: How Montreal Streets Got Their Names
  • The "City of Saints" got its name from the many apparently holy names that appear on the map of Montreal.
  • But though the city has earned this moniker, few Montrealers know how the city streets got their names.
  • Below are brief histories behind the names of 18 Montreal streets.

Montreal is a city with a rich and fraught in history. Tales of settlement, conflict, resistance and celebration are etched into its landscape, and its street names in particular.

Most of you know that Montreal was named after Mount Royal, the focal point of the city. But throughout its history, Montreal has collected a number of nicknames from locals and visitors, alike. Its many streets named after saints (or, often, people who were only called saints) has earned it the moniker of "City of Saints."

As a born and raised Montrealer, I realized that although I have walked these streets my entire life, I never questioned the history of their names, which is why I wanted to write this article.

This fast and efficient history lesson will give you knowledge about our city that you never knew and is sure to have you giving a second thought to the avenues you tred everyway.

All of this information comes from the City of Montreal, which maintains an online record of place names.

Rue Prince-Arthur

yawper via FlickerLibrary and Archives Canada

Rue Prince-Arthur was named after the 9th Governor-General of Canada. Prince Arthur William Albert was the only British prince to have taken on this role and he served as an officer in Montreal.

Boulevard René-Lévesque

Archieves of Quebec,mxmmlt

Boulevard René Lévesque, which was once called Dorchester, is one of the busiest traffic thoroughfares in downtown Montreal.

René Lévesque was a journalist, a minister of government in Quebec and the founder of the Parti québécois.

He was also the 23rd Premier of Quebec, a role in which he advocated for the independence of the province. In 1980, however, the people of Quebec voted against separation from Canada in the first of its kind referendum.

Rue Saint-Denis

Photo 133201399 © Cagkan Sayin - Dreamstime.comThesupermat

Saint Denis is one of Montreal's most loved streets. Home to some amazing eateries and adorable boutiques and cafés, Saint-Denis is a street that tourists flock down to get a taste of what Montreal is all about.

What you may not know is that Saint Denis street is actually named after Saint Denis of Paris.

Saint Denis of Paris was a 3rd century Christian martyr and was considered to be a legend at the time, so much so that he got a street in Montreal named after him.

Rue Rachel

Rue Rachel is named for the daughter of the landowner who once owned some property where the street now runs.

According to the city of Montreal, Rachel's husband, Jean-Baptiste Chamilly de Lorimier, was "a member of the Sons of Liberty [and] participated in the events of 1837-1838," a rebellion against British rule, "but escaped imprisonment by taking refuge in the United States."

Boulevard Armand-Bombardier

rayel31Library Archives Canada

Bombardier is one of the biggest companies to come to existence in our city. It comes as no surprise that Montreal named a street after its founder.

Joseph Armand Bombardier was a Quebec industrialist and just so happens to be the inventor of the snowmobile, which is pretty badass — and Canadian.

Rue Sainte-Catherine

A popular legend shared by locals holds that the street was named after a Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

But according to the city website, no one is one hundred percent sure how, exactly, this iconic Montreal street got its name. Though there are three leading theories.

The first theory is that locals once referred to the road as the path to a nunnery of the same name.

It's also possible that the street got its name from a settler named Catherine de Bourbonnais.

The third theory is that this street was named after Catherine Elizabeth, who was the daughter in law of Jacques Viger, which brings me to my next point.

Avenue Viger

Photo 142898974 © Jerome Cid - Dreamstime.comMcCord Museum

Rue Viger was named after legendary Jacques Viger, patrician, writer and, most importantly, first mayor of our city.

Rue Robert-Bourassa

Photo 93571849 © Alinareynbakh - Dreamstime.comThomas Kierans

Robert Bourassa was a Canadian politician who was born and raised in Quebec.

Bourassa served as Premier of Quebec for a total of 15 years across two separate terms in the 70’s, 80’s and 90's.

Rue Saint-Hubert

The land where rue St-Hubert is located was gifted to our city by Hubert-Joseph Lacroix. His family settled on this street and officially laid it out in 1826.

Today, according to the city website, the street is famous for its ornate townhouses designed by the French-Canadian elite of the 19th century.

Rue Saint-Paul

Photo 127857068 © Ronniechua - Dreamstime.comJeangagnon

From the Marché Bonsecours to the Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel, this gorgeous cobbled road connects many of the most famous landmarks in Old Montreal.

The street takes its name from Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, who founded Montreal.

Rue Jeanne-Mance

Photo 92001849 © Neilantondumas - Dreamstime.comJean Gagnon

The street was named in honour of Jeanne Mance, who was a French settler and nurse who founded the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, the first hospital in the city.

This hospital's former campus, notable for its stone walls and chapel, is near this street across from the Parc Jeanne-Mance.

Ave. du Docteur-Penfield

Thomas1313United States National Library of Medicine

Docteur Wilder* Penfield was an American-Canadian neurosurgeon who expanded the methods and techniques used during brain surgery.

Penfield clearly had a strong connection to our city. He taught at McGill University and at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Avenue Casgrain

This Mile-End street is known for its adorable residential buildings. Marie-Justine Casgrain was married to Pierre Beaubien who was a large landowner whose property included the land where the road now sits.

Rue Beaubien

Google MapsStudio of Inglis

Pierre Beaubien's properties included large portions of land north of Mount Royal. His son Louis founded Outremont, today a posh Montreal borough.

Avenue De Gaspé

abdallahh via FlickerUnknown

This Montreal street was named in part to honour Philippe Aubert de Gaspé. This famous author is best known for writing The Anciens Canadiens, a work of historical fiction that drmatizes the conflict between the French and English in North America.

Avenue Bernard

This is one of my favourite streets in Montreal and I was curious to know more about it.

According to the Clerics of Saint-Viateur archives, this street was named to honour the memory of Brother Jean- Baptiste Bernard, "a friend to the Beaubien family, which owned several properties in Outremont."

Rue Saint-Urbain

This major Montreal street is one of those pain-in-the-ass one-way routes.

Urbain Tessier was a carpenter and farmer who settled in the area and built a path to connect his land to the settlement of Montreal. This path eventually took the name of the early settler and became the street it is today.

Rue Stanley

Photo 128894046 © Wangkun Jia - Dreamstime.comW. & D. Downey

Edward Smith-Stanley was the 14th Earl of Derby, who served as British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

The street in downtown Montreal intersects with the busy rue Ste-Catherine (pictured above).

What is the namesake of your street?

*This article has been updated.

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