Open Letter Regarding the Turcot Interchange

Dear Mr. Mayor,

As you probably know, the archaeological research conducted this summer as part of the Turcot Interchange reconstruction project led to the discovery of archaeological remains of an exceptional value. It is actually under the structure of the existing interchange that the foundations of many buildings three centuries old and constituting the old district of Saint-Henri-des-Tanneries came to light. Among these remains are the walls of houses and tanneries dating as far back as the year 1670, the canalisation of the former Glen brook which drained the former lac à la Loutre (Otter Lake), as well as thousands of artifacts of all kinds: architectural elements, wooden barrels, pieces of leather, work tools, dishes, animal bones, a safe, coins, smoking pipes, leather shoes, clothing buttons, and even toys, reflecting the varied activities of the men, women and children who once inhabited the area now buried. The preservation of these remains is absolutely remarkable and its spatial extent is impressive.

These unique witnesses to the history of Montreal have received an unusual and uninterrupted media coverage since the announcement of the first discoveries earlier this summer. Many citizens of the Sud-Ouest, Saint-Henri, and other districts of Montreal have expressed a great interest in these remains, but also their deep dismay at the announcement of their planned destruction at the end of the work. Consternation also reached the circles of archaeologists, historians, planners, museologists and several other professionals who have the conservation of Montreal's heritage at heart. This concern found echoes even among our fellow archaeologists from English Canada, the US and Europe, all dumbfounded before the impending disappearance of such a vast, rare and precious heritage.

The existence of these remains has long been known, thanks to archival documents and archaeological assessments conducted more than eight years ago. It appears to us very surprising that over the years, officials of the Turcot project have not seen fit to incorporate these remains in their planning. Certainly we are promised the continuation of archaeological excavations, storage of artifacts, and a 3D scanning of the structures before their destruction. This is clearly insufficient, you will agree. There is indeed no comparable site: it is unique, and we never will be able to recreate it once destroyed. We therefore seek your support to ensure its survival.

People may well object to us - and perhaps to you - that the project is too advanced and that the costs would be too high. We would reply that it is never too late, and that the history of a city is priceless. The conservation and enhancement of archaeological remains in the district of Saint-Henri-des-Tanneries might even bring added value to the overall project, as is often the case. We know indeed of no example of an integration of the archaeological remains in a construction project that has not been a true success. Absolutely none. Also imagine the powerful message that would be sent to the residents. What a wonderful legacy it would be for the residents of these poor and too often overlooked neighborhoods...

Mr. Mayor, there will be no second chance to save these archaeological remains. It would be embarrassing, damaging and paradoxical that the celebration of the 375 years of Montreal be marked by the destruction of what could instead become one of its most beautiful heritage sites. We wish to work to avoid such an error. Can we count on you?

Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information on this issue.

With our best regards,

Christian Gates St-Pierre, Ph.D.
President of the Public Advocacy Committee, Canadian Archaeological Association
Chercheur invité / Invited Researcher
Département d'anthropologie
Université de Montréal<>

George P. Nicholas, Ph.D.
Professor of archaeology, Simon Fraser University
Director, Intellectual Property Issus in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) Project

Moira T. McCaffre, M.Sc.
Archaeologist and museologist, Ottawa

Peter G. Ramsden, Ph.D.
Adjunct, Department of Anthropology, McMaster University

Christian Gates St-Pierre, Ph.D.