Native burial grounds and arrowheads under the UdeM campus?

Do the remains of the Hochelaga Iroquois village, observed by Jacques Cartier in 1535 and described in his writings, lie under a wooded area at Université de Montréal? “It's unlikely, but not impossible,” said archaeologist Claude Rocheleau, who conducted a study on the archaeological potential of the campus at the request of the university's building management service. “It is generally believed that Hochelaga, which consisted of a number of longhouses, was on the slopes of Mount Royal. But since we never found it, it is theoretically possible that it could be under the university campus or nearby.” Rocheleau is founding director of the company Arkéos and led the 2012 study.


To prevent the possibility of traces of the past being lost forever, the university commissioned his specialized firm to complete a study of archaeological potential of targeted areas most likely to contain archaeological remains. "Because of the restrictions related to our location in the Mount Royal Historic and Natural District, we are required to obtain municipal and provincial permits whenever we do any kind of excavation," explained project manager Jean-Philippe Cyr. "Instead of conducting case by case studies, we asked Arkéos to supply us with a management tool that could provide an overall picture of the areas requiring intervention before any development work is done."

“Archaeological potential” refers to “places most likely to contain traces of human occupation in the Prehistoric and Historic Periods.” The objective was “to determine whether spaces occupied by the Université de Montréal campus may have been used by native populations to establish settlements or other activities, including burial grounds, during various prehistorical periods.” For the Historic Period, we know that the Côte-de-Neiges area was long used for its farmland. Old historical and topographical maps consulted by Arkéos helped to locate places and vestiges from these eras.

10,000 year of human presence

Where is the richest archaeological potential? Rocheleau cannot say. Evidence of native burial sites from several thousands of years ago has been discovered, for example, near St. Joseph's Oratory, along Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, and near the Firefighters' Monument. “It would seem plausible to discover other evidence in the area occupied by the campus.” Such places may have been used by nomads and the first sedentary people for burial rituals. Individual or common graves on plateaus or perhaps in rock crevices are quite conceivable,” he said.

A total of 25 areas of Prehistoric and Historic archaeological potential were identified, and all are located on strips of land that have been undisturbed or little disturbed by the various developments that have marked the campus's development. Some are in the wooded areas below the Roger-Gaudry Building, between the Louis-Colin Garage and the CEPSUM, near the HEC Montréal Building, and close to the Maximilien-Caron Building. “These areas,” says the document, “represent surfaces with little slope and varying expanse, which are part of a generally hilly and sloped landscape [...] These ledges could have accommodated small camps of native groups present on the mountain when the area under study bordered the ocean, or, in more recent periods, by groups who frequented the mountain slopes at a distance from the shorelines that had considerably receded.”

The authors of the study thus suggest undertaking surveys prior to any development work. "In cases where significant archaeological remains are uncovered, protective measures regarding the location and the remains should be applied; otherwise, inventories and, if possible, archaeological digs should be carried out to ensure the safeguarding of these resources.”

In terms of the Historic Period (after the arrival of the first Europeans), the areas are more delineated. In 10 areas, traces of human occupation until the 1940s can be found. The recommendation for these areas is the same as for the Prehistoric Period: no excavation without surveys.

Nevertheless, archaeologists do not rule out the possibility that significant remains and artifacts may exist elsewhere. But due to the construction of buildings and roads that have succeeded over the years, the potential is diminished. “Since delivery of the report, it is easier to obtain permits when authorities ask us for archaeological studies,” says Cyr, who led the project. “The document comes in handy several times a year.”

Archaeologists needed

Arkéos has existed for 32 years and employs 12 people full-time. For larger projects, the staff can reach 60 employees. Contracts have increased with the adoption of heritage protection measures such as the Environmental Quality Act, the Act Respecting Land Use and Development, and the Cultural Heritage Act (revised in 2012). The creation of the Mount Royal Historic and Natural District has also stimulated demand for qualified archaeologists.

“We arrive before the bulldozers," laughs the entrepreneur and archaeologist, who, in 1999, discovered a rich Woodland cultural site near the Magog River. With his team, he unearthed a collection of artifacts including around fifty stone arrowheads dating from 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.

Presenting a report on the archaeological potential of the campus has given Rocheleau a special sense of pride. He holds bachelor and master degrees from Université de Montréal and has explored Inuit remains in Québec's far north. His master's thesis was written under the supervision of Professor Emeritus Norman Clermont in 1982.

This article is a translation from a document originally published in French by Mathieu-Robert Sauvé