Between the Laurentians and the Appalachians, the St. Lawrence Plain is punctuated by a series of hills extending from east to west. These Monteregian Hills, as they are known, were formed by intrusions of molten magma over 100 million years ago. One of them, Mount Royal, dominates the largest island of the Montreal archipelago, right in the heart of Quebec’s biggest city. This remarkable urban park is subject to equally remarkable protection and enhancement measures. Exploring the mountain’s rich, multifaceted heritage is a perfect way to reconnect with the natural and human history of Montreal and appreciate the charms of its natural and human landscapes, a testimony to ongoing efforts to balance nature and culture.
When Jacques Cartier landed on the island of Montreal in 1535, he was met by aboriginal people who had been living there for centuries. It was these Iroquoians from the village of Hochelaga who guided the French explorer to the top of the mountain dominating the island. Impressed by the view out over the vast wooded plain and the St. Lawrence and other surrounding rivers, Cartier decided to name it “Mount Royal.” Of course, the island environment has changed considerably since Cartier’s day, but Mount Royal remains an ideal place to get in touch with nature.
In addition to its natural heritage, Mount Royal has preserved a significant cultural heritage that bears witness to the successive communities that have made the area their home. Trails follow the steep, rocky contours where, amidst a still dense and diverse forest, people out for a stroll pass prestigious institutions and the numerous private residences that line the sides and base of the mountain. Other pathways wend their way through passes and vales to reveal a succession of rich natural and urban landscapes. Two parks were established to protect this exceptional natural environment, and two large cemeteries were also created.
On March 11, 2005, the government of Quebec officially adopted an order-in-council creating the historic and natural district of Mont Royal. The first and only such designation of its kind in Quebec, it aims to ensure the harmonious development of the mountain’s natural and cultural heritage resources and facilitate the conservation and enhancement of its distinctive features. On the same day, the City of Montreal announced the creation of an issue table—Table de concertation du Mont-Royal—which brought together the mountain’s main institutional landowners, heritage protection associations and elected municipal officials and civil servants.
The Tam-Tams is the informal name of a weekly free festival that takes place on Sundays, near the monument to Sir George-Étienne Cartier and in Mount Royal Park’s surrounding green spaces. Its name is onomatopoetic, referring to the drum circle that forms the focal point of the gathering. A colorful gathering of drummers, dancers, vendors and their admiring audiences.