Photograph by the author. Click on image for a larger picture. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]

Montreal's oldest public monument, which was erected in 1809, just four years after the Battle of Trafalgar, is a full thirty years older than London's much larger and more grandiose imperial tribute in Trafalgar Square. Place Jacques Cartier, the square in which Montreal's more modest monuments sits, was originally the formal, eighteenth-century gardens of the Chateau Vaudreuil (1723). When the Chateau burned to the ground in 1803, a new public square was planned by two civic-minded members of the Quebec House of Assembly, Jean-Baptiste Amable Durocher and Joseph Perinault, although the site was not named after the early French explorer until 1847. From Dickens's time until the mid-1950s the area was used as a public market. Although Place Jacques-Cartier has been the centre of old Montreal's commercial and administrative life since the eighteenth century, it was still unfinished when the Dickens's stayed with the British garrison in 1842.

The crocodile on the western base of the monument facing Rue Notre-Dame Est is an allusion to Nelson's victory over the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile:

On the First and Second Days of August, 1798, Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson with a British fleet of 12 sail of the line and a ship of 50 guns defeated in Aboukir Bay a French fleet of 13 sail of the line and 4 frigates without the loss of a British ship.

Both English and French Montrealers eagerly subscribed to the erection of the monument in 1808 after Nelson's great victory at Trafalgar three years earlier, united by a common detestation of the French Revolution and its current leader, the Emperor Napoleon. On the base of the monument are four ornamental panels with scenes representing the Battle of the Nile (west), the Battle of Copenhagen (east), Nelson's death at Trafalgar (south), and a dedicatory inscription on the northern side:

In memory of the right honourable Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, who terminated his career of Naval glory in the memorable battle of Trafalgar on the 21st of October, 1805, after inculcating by signal this sentiment: England Expects Every Man Will Do his Duty. This monument column was erected by the inhabitants of Montreal in the year 1808.

Rondel Rondel

Inscription and Roundel on the Nelson Column. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

Among those Montreal citizens were the "Gentlemen of St. Sulpice," whose basilica, modelled on Westminster Abbey and the Church of St. Martin's in the Fields, London, by New York architect James O'Donnell in 1824, continues to dominate the south side of the square known as Place d'Armes, which the Dickenses doubtless visited since the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral stood nearby. After a number of members of the Sulpician order, secular priests dedicated to working with the poor, had been guillotined during the French Revolution, the order temporarily relocated its headquarters to London before moving it to Montreal with British assistance.


According to Hustak, "the Champ-de-Mars was the first site in Montreal to be lit at night by electricity on May 24, 1879 in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday. This enabled the field to be converted into a popular recreation centre after dark. It was flooded every winter after that for years and was dubbed the Prince of Wales Skating Rink" (42). Where the margin of the grass ends (centre) are the remains of the stone walls that once protected Old Montreal. Built by the king's engineer, Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry, between 1722 and 1744, they were no longer deemed necessary after the War of 1812.

The Champ-de-Mars, or British Military Parade Ground (1812), Rue Saint-Antoine Est, Rue Gosford.

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Last modified 1 November 2007