The Origins Of Montreal's Neighborhood Names
Cover photo cred - Yves Pouliguen
Montreal has some pretty strange names for its many districts and neighborhoods. Some are pretty easy to figure out the origins of, but what about the weirder ones? Did a griffin fly over Griffintown, thus inspiring the name? Who exactly was St. Henri? I'm sure you've asked yourself these questions before, and we've got the answers. Get ready for a few lessons in Montreal history.
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While it would be awesome, Griffintown doesn't get its name from the mythological creature. The much less exciting, but historically accurate origin came from Mary Griffin who, like a boss, illegally got the lease for the land and planned out the area.
A lot of people think Mile End is called as such because its a mile away from a specific point. This isn't entirely true, although the area is a mile north from Sherbrooke street along St. Laurent. Mile End was most probably stolen/inspired by the East London suburb that shares the same name.
Côte-des-Neiges - NDG
As many would guess, this 'hood takes part of its name from Côte-des-Neiges street. The street was named after the Village of Côte-des-Neiges, created in 1862. The Notre-Dame-de-Grâce part is a standing legacy of the the Church of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce built in 1853, which served as the church, school, and town centre for the area way back when, and is still standing today.
Plateau - Mont Royal
Here's an easy one. The Plateau gets its title because of how its fairly flat north of Sherbrooke and east of Mount Royal...as the area 'plateaus' out. Nothing fancy, just the forefathers being straight up literal.
Before the neighborhood was officially a thing (and called St. Henri) there was Église Saint-Henri, a church named to honour Fr. Henri-Auguste Roux, who was the superior of Saint-Sulpice Seminary (a priest school and oldest structure in Montreal) and died in 1831. Eventually, the municipality of Saint-Henri was created in 1875, an amalgamation of a few settlements, which was then made part of the City of Montreal in 1905.
This 'hood is named after the First Nations village of Hochelaga, first put in the history books by Jaques Cartier. No one is exactly certain where the village was situated, but the general consensus is somewhere around downtown, and definitely not where the district stands now.
The 'maisonneuve' is a nod to Montreal's first governor Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, who had a pretty tumultuous relationship with the First Nations peoples back in the settlement days.
In the early 1900s Ucal-Henri Dandurand bought land in the area that is now Rosemont, and then incorporated the area into a new municipality called the Village of Rosemont. The name was chosen by Dandurand in memory of his mother, Rose.
Here's where it all started. Ville-Marie gets its name from Fort Ville Marie, a French fortress outpost which became the centre for the settlement of Montreal. Originally a temporary fur-trading fort in 1611, Ville-Marie went big time in 1642 when Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve led a bunch of French settlers to the island.
This 'hood takes its name from the Parish of Saint Laurent which was there long before it became an official district of Montreal in 1967. Fun Fact: Rockland shopping center was built on the same spot where the first chapel of the parish stood.
The history of Lachine's name is maybe the longest running joke ever. "La Chine" was a mock-title given to Robert Cavelier de La Salle, an explorer looking for Asia but instead found North America. His contemporaries thought the whole thing was ridiculous, and started to make fun of Rob and his men by calling them "les Chinois." The name was then attached when the parish of Saints-Anges-de-la-Chine was created in 1678
The Society of Saint Sulpice, the priest-lords of Montreal in the late 1600s, gave land (what is now western Verdun) to a chief in the Montreal militia named Major Zacharie Dupuis. It is believed Dupuis then named the area after his hometown Saverdun in the south of France. Also, how werid/cool is it that Montreal used to be run by an Illuminati-style order of super powerful priests?
Unlike some of Montreal's religious-sounding 'saint' names (which aren't even based on any real people!), the borough of St.Leonard does have true religious roots. The area is named after the parish of Saint-Léonard-de-Port-Maurice which was founded in April 1886, then later became the City of Saint-Léonard-de-Port-Maurice on March 5, 1915. The OG St. Leo was an 18th century missionary known for his travels in Italy, public preaching, and humble nature.
Photo cred - Kid Kodak VP
Some may find it surprising that the original gay 'hood was close to St.Laurent, the area people now call "The Main." The move was made after queer-businesses were ousted from the area and they had to move into the current spot, what was then a poor working class neighborhood. Wikipedia cites that a bar owner used the term "East Village" to refer to the newly moved 'hood (taking the name from the NYC area) which then got shortened and removed the clunky "east" part.
Before gaining its modern title, the area now known as Westmount was called La Petite Montagne, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Côte-Saint-Antoine at one point or another. 1895 is when the 'hood got its lasting name, called Westmount for the reasons you would think: it's southwest of Mount Royal and the large number of Anglos.
Given the kind-of compound word that makes up this boroughs name, you'd think Outremont's naming had something to do with the mountain. Apparently not. Outremont's name is actually derived from a giant house built by Louis-Tancrède Bouthillier in 1833, called, you guessed it, Outre-Mont. In 1875, the area was named the Village of Outremont after the house. You can still see the infamous residence today on McDougall street.
Everyone knows the McGill Ghetto, or any university ghetto, is unlike any other area referred to as "the ghetto." The name comes from the actual definition of the word ghetto, which is a socioeconomically homogeneous area. So instead of low-income families and gangstas, you just have bros, biddies, and hipster students.
Montreal's West Island is an amalgamation of areas, each with their own unique name-history. Here's a quick rundown:
- Dorval : Originally named “Gentilly”, the area was later renamed “La Présentation de la Vierge Marie” and finally “Dorval” in 1892
- Pointe-Claire: Refers to the peninsula, or point, where the windmill, convent, and the Saint-Joachim de Pointe-Claire Church are located.
- Kirkland: Named after a Quebec provincial politician Charles-Aimé Kirkland.
- Dollard-Des Ormeaux: The DDO is named after French martyr Adam Dollard des Ormeaux.
- Beaconsfield: Yet another nod to a famous dead person, Lord Beaconsfield was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1860s and 1870s and bosom buddy of Queen Victoria.
- Baie-D'Urfé : Named after François-Saturnin Lascaris d'Urfé, or l'Abbé d'Urfé, the community's first pastor.
- Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue : One of the original parish priests was allegedly rescued by Saint Anne during a snowstorm, and so dedicated/renamed the parish soon after. The name stuck.
- Pierrefonds-Roxboro : Pierrefonds origins lie in Joseph-Adolphe Chauret's inspiration from an engraving on the Castle of Pierrefonds in Oise, France. Roxboro remains a mystery, despite its relatively recent founding in 1914.
- L'Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève: Jacques Bizard was the original lord of the island, and the name was later attached to the village of Sainte-Geneviève.
- Senneville: In remembrance of Fort Senneville, built way back in 1671
'Cuz it's hella old, like oldest area of the city, all the way back to New France old.