Tristin Hopper - Under a non-descript Old Montreal parking lot, archaeologists are combing for evidence of an early Canadian parliament burned down by rioters in 1849.
The building was burned down by an English-Canadian mob following the passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill, a controversial bill that gave government compensation to participants in an 1837 anti-government uprising. Mobs used a fire truck to smash their way through the building’s locked doors and began flipping over tables and slashing paintings. The fire erupted when a protester hurled rocks at a gas chandelier.
“It’s a fascinating period in Canadian democracy … The challenge of an archeologist is to try to understand the traces from the past and make them significant for people today,” Louise Pothier, director of exhibitions and technologies at Pointe-à-Callière, the archaeological museum sponsoring the dig, told Postmedia News.
Conveniently, Pointe-a-Calliere’s headquarters are located only a few steps from the dig site. Whatever is turned up under the parking lot will be put towards a $22-million expansion of the museum.
Originally a marketplace, the parliament served the United Province of Canada, a union of Ontario and Quebec that was still technically a British colony. The fully-formed Dominion of Canada was still 18 years away.
Following the blaze, the two-storey structure was described as a total loss. Nevertheless, archaeologists suspect ample evidence of the once-imposing building remain underground since 1850s contractors would have simply rebuilt on top of the charred rubble. Since the 1920s, the site has been a paved parking lot.
Canadian parliament buildings are remarkably flammable. In 1854, just months after their completion, fire consumed a set of replacement parliament buildings constructed in Quebec City. Most recently, in 1916, an unattended cigar burned down a set of 1866-vintage Parliament buildings on their current site.