Geographical Name - Island of Montreal

The island of Montréal, where the city of Montréal is located, is encircled by the Rivière des Prairies and the St. Lawrence River.

The name Montréal is generally thought to be derived from "Mont Royal", the name given to the mountain by Cartier in 1535: "Nous nommasmes icelle montaigne le mont Royal." (We named the said mountain mont royal.) It is not yet known how mont Royal became Montréal. Perhaps it was through the Italian translation in the sixteenth century. On his map of Hochelaga in 1556, Italian geographer G.B. Ramusio wrote Monte Real to designate mont Royal. In his Cosmographie universelle de tout le monde (1575), historiographer François de Belleforest was the first to use the form Montréal with reference to this area. In translation it would read: "let us now look at Hochelaga, ... in the midst of the countryside is the village, or Cité royale, adjacent to a mountain on which farming is practiced. The Christians call this city Montréal...".

On his 1601 map, Le Vasseur wrote hochelaga for the inhabited area and called the hill mont royal. In 1609 Marc Lescarbot called it "Hochelaga, ville des Sauvages".

On Champlain's 1612 map the mountain is called Montreal. This name was used from then on to designate the island, since in 1632 Champlain twice wrote "Isle de Mont-real au sault sainct Louys" (i.e. the island of Montréal at the falls of Saint-Louis). This name is not used in the Jesuit Relations until 1638, when reference is made to "L'autre c'est la grande Isle, nommée de Mont-Real". The 1641 report mentions "l'Isle de Montreal", while two years later Father Vimont wrote: "depuis cette Rivière jusques à Montreal, douze autres lieuses;" (i.e. twelve leagues more from this river to Montréal). Bourdon's map (1641) shows the "abitation du Monreal", and Boisseau's (1643) the "Sault de Montreal".

De Maisonneuve gave the name Ville-Marie to the town he constructed at the foot of mont Royal in 1642. He was familiar with the name Montréal, since he had written in 1642: "Ville marie en l'isle de Montréal en la nouvelle-france". However, in 1643 de Maisonneuve wrote at the conclusion of a legal document: "a Villemarye en l'isle Mont-royal".

In 1535 Cartier used the name Hochelaga to identify the Indian village, as did most authors up to the early seventeenth century. It was felt that this Huron-Iroquois name meant either "Big Rapids" or "Beaver Dam".

There is another far less plausible hypothesis on the meaning of Montréal. Some feel that it has an anthroponymic origin. Claude de Pontbryand, son of the seigneur of Montréal in the Department of Gers and cupbearer of the Dauphin, is known to have accompanied Jacques Cartier to Hochelaga in 1535. However, this hypothesis has never been proven. It can be said that there is a simpler explanation for there being and having always been a "de" rather than a "du" between the words "Île" and "Montréal".

On his 1616 map, Samuel de Champlain named the island Lille de Villemenon, in honour of the sieur de Villemenon, a French dignitary who was seeking the viceroyship of New France.

Two maps done by Nicolas Bellin in 1744 show Isle de Montréal as the island and Ville Marie as the inhabited area, although the later was falling into disuse, as recorded documents have indicated. For example, one map is entitled: "Montréal 1726. Plan de la ville de Montréal en Canada".

In 1713, jurisdiction of the Government of Montréal began to the west of Maskinongé and Yamaska and ended at the extremity of the inhabited area, namely fort Saint-Jean, Châteauguay and Vaudreuil.

In the Iroquois language of today, the city of Montréal is called Tiohtià:ke; Tiohtià:ke Tsi and Ka-wé-no-te are used to designate the island of Montréal. In many native languages, including Algonquin, Moniang is the name for Montréal.

The French designation for a Montrealer is "Montréalais", but this was originally "Montréaliste".

Four French communes bear the name Montréal (Ain, Yonne, Aude and Gers). Portugal has a place called Mont Real (Leira); and there are two locations called Montereale in Italy (Aiquila and Udine).


Source: Poirier, Jean (1979): "Island of Montréal", Canoma, Vol. 5(2), pp. 6-8.

Jean Poirier, Assistant to the President, Commission de toponymie du Québec.