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The Secret History Behind The Many Names Of Montreal

Every name has a story.
The Secret History Behind The Many Names Of Montreal

A name is more than just a name. Not simply a unique epithet or designation, names are the encapsulation of a history, the vessel for a story that has started and yet to end.

So even though you might remember someone or something's name, you might not know everything that has made the title what it is now, because knowing a name is different than knowing a name.

The same can be applied to Montreal, a city housing a variety of rather unique names,  and it's time you learned the secret history behind them.

You toss these titles around all of the time, but probably don't a thing about their origins or importance of their namesake. Discover the untold tales of Montreal's many names in our not-quite-comprehensive list below. For more, check out our list on the origins of Montreal's borough names here.

Photo cred - Benson Kua

Saintly Street Names

Saint Urban, Saint Pail, Saint Elizabeth, the list goes on and on, but what are the origins of these holy names? Contrary to what you might think, their history doesn't lie in the church, for the most part.

Many of Montreal's saintly streets are actually just longstanding cases of nepotism, as the city's early architect pretty much just put in the names of his friends on street signs, then tacking on a "saint."

For more on the how Montreal's streets gained their respective saint-names, check out the video here.

Dic Ann's

The classic pancake-like-bun burgers Montrealers know and love have a fairly simple etymological history. Founded by Dominic “Dick” Potenza and Ann Collecchia, the two just fused their names to dub their own hamburger restaurant, and so Dic Ann's was born.

Photo cred - Wikimedia

YUL Airport

PET would be the far more intuitive abbreviation for the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, but YUL is the official name, a fact that has been confusing Montrealers for years.

The reason behind the "Y" of YUL has a fairly basic explanation. All airports in Canada share the same beginning to their unique three-letter code, as designated by the International Air Transport Association. A "C" can be added as the first letter to such codes too.

The "UL" has a slightly more complex history.

According to Propos Montreal, the last two letters are based off of a beacon placed on the grounds that would become the Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport, which was originally a Royal Canadian Air Force base. Apparently the beacon would constantly send out the morse code message "UL," which was then carried on to name the airport.

The Latin Quarter

This one always put a question mark in my head, because it's not like the area has a high population of individuals of Latin descent, which has nothing to do with it anyway.

Montreal's Latin Quarter/Quartier Latin is actually borrowed from the French arrondissement of the same name. The original Parisian counterpart was named as such due to the educational institutions which are housed in the area, and once you realize that Latin used to be the language of higher education, the name makes a lot more sense.

Back in the 1920s, when École Polytechnique and the Université de Montréal were in the area now known as Montreal's Latin Quarter, the city thought it fitting to use the name for the same reasons as Paris.

As we know, UdeM would eventually migrate north, but thankfully UQAM moved in during the 60s, once again justifying the "latin" designation once-synonymous with higher education.


There's a bit of contestation as to where the term "poutine" comes from, so I'll outline both and let you choose the one you prefer.

One theory attests that poutine was first used to describe a meal of fries and cheese created for a hungry (and rather demanding) customer in a Warwick restaurant in 1958. Using the French slang term for "mess," the server called the dish a poutine.

President of the classic Drummondville eatery Le Roy Jucep, Charles Lambert, has another story, claiming poutine was first made and named at the restaurant. Lambert's account states that the Le Roy Jucep's founder, Jean-Paul Roy, first created the fries-cheese-gravy combo, and the dish was titled by a waitress who took inspiration from another chef at the resto, whom everyone called "Ti-Pout."

There's no way to reveal which account is fact, but you can read more on the origins of poutine here.

Lachine Canal

If as a kid you thought to yourself "why would it be called 'The China' Canal?" then you weren't far from the actual origins of the name.

Wishing to finish what Samuel de Champlain started, European explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, owner of the land we now call Lachine, sought to find a path from North America to China.

Things didn't work out for de La Salle, and no one let him forget it, making fun of him and his crew by calling them "les Chinois." And the name stuck.

Little Burgundy/Petite-Bourgogne

Before 1908, when Little Burgundy was annexed into the City of Montreal, the area had a different name: St. Cunegonde. Why the name changed remains to be seen, but apparently the moniker of "Little Burgundy/Petite-Bourgogne" is derived from an orchard where French immigrants first settled years before, then joined by other cultural communities.

Where the orchard got its name still remains a mystery to me, as even the city's official website doesn't elucidate the origin, so if anyone has the answer, let us know.

Île aux Tourtes Bridge

The obvious answer to this name-origin is that Île aux Tourtes Bridge connects to Île aux Tourtes, which is indisputable, but there's a tad more to it than.

The island itself is named after an extinct species of bird that used to inhabit the area, the ectopistes migratorius, otherwise known as a passenger pigeon, called a "tourte voyageuse" in Quebec.


Somewhat surprisingly, there's actually some contestation as to where the name "tourtière" comes from.

One would think that it's derived from the word for the pastry casing in which all the meat is stuffed inside of, but "tourte" has a double-etymology, as showcased in the Île aux Tourtes entry above.

"Tourte" can also mean pigeon, making some believe that the bird was primarily used as the meat filling for early versions of what we now call a tourtière.

Still, it's far more likely that tourtière gets its name for the pastry vessel, given that the use of tourte to mean a "round covered vessel for cooking" predates the Quebecois term for pigeon.

Gibeau Orange Julep

Obviously the origins of "orange" in Montreal's iconic Gibeau Orange Julep are pretty easy to see, but the rest eluded me 'til researching into the history of the establishment.

"Gibeau" was granted by the restaurant's founder, Hermas Gibeau, who felt the need to put a bit of himself in the name. "Julep" has a similarly simple derivative, namely the paper julep cups the drink is served in.

Nun's Island/Île-des-Soeurs

First titled Île Saint-Paul, after Paul Chomedey, the land eventually grew to be synonymous with the group of nun's who lived on the island and owned it since 1769.

Eventually, what began as an unofficial title became the designated name in 1956 when the land was merged with Verdun.

The Village

Unknown to many is that the queer district of Montreal actually used to be in the west end section of downtown, specifically around Guy street. After a series of forced closures and raids in the 70s, gay businesses were forced to move east, and that's where the origins of "The Village" begin.

Hoping to create a stronger sense of community within the gay community, one bar own decided to call the newly founded queer space "Le Village de l'Est," inspired by the gay community found in New York's East Village.

As time went on, people dropped the "east" part of the name, simply using "The Village" to designate the area we all know today.

Photo cred - Wikimedia


Honestly, if you don't know where this borough's name comes from then you seriously need to bone up on your city history.

But hey, maybe you're new to Montreal, or just didn't pay attention in history class, so here it is: Ville-Marie is named after Fort Ville-Marie, the name of the original French settlement that would grow into our lovely city.

Photo cred - Wikimedia


In my heart of hearts, I hoped that Griffintown got its name from some barely substantiated encounter between a Montrealer and a half-lion half-eagle creature, but alas, the true origin of the area's name is far less magical.

"Griffin" is actually a nod to Mary Griffin, the woman who acquired the lease for the land and commissioned the planning of the expanse we now call Griffintown.

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