Paul Maisonneuve, the founder of Montreal, was born at Neuville-sur-Vanne in the province of Champagne in France, and grew up in the manor house belonging to his family. Like many of his ancestors before him, Maisonneuve entered the French military as a young man. Little is known of his duties, but he probably saw action during the Thirty Years’ War which raged in Europe between 1618 and 1648.
In 1641, the Company of Notre-Dame de Montreal selected him to head the creation of a new settlement in Canada. Up to this time, the only significant French settlement was at Quebec, which had been founded on the site the Laurentian Iroquois had called Stadacona. Maisonneuve sailed from France and arrived at Quebec in August, 1641.
In the spring of 1642, Maisonneuve and members of his company sailed southwest from Quebec and arrived at the large island where the native settlement of Hochelaga had been in 1535 when Jacques Cartier first visited the site (see no. 4). On May 18, 1642, Maissoneueve founded the settlement of Ville-Marie on the narrow strip of land directly under the mountain the French called Mont Real.
Toward the end of 1642, the town was threatened by severe flooding from the St. Lawrence River. As the flood waters lapped at the edges of the palisade built around the settlement, Maisonneuve made a solemn vow that if the town was spared, he would walk to the top of Mont Real with a cross upon his back in a simulation of Jesus Christ’s walk up Calvary.
The waters did recede and Maisonneuve made his historic walk up the mountain in the spring of 1643. His actions commemorated a distinctly pious attitude that would remain a hallmark of Montreal in the years to come.
Maissoneuve successfully fended off another threat in 1643; this time the danger came from an attack by the Iroquois. Maisonneuve returned to France in 1645, to settle the business affairs of his late father, and then he returned to Montreal.
Maisonneuve remained governor of the settlement until 1663, when New France became a royal colony under the jurisdiction of King Louis XIV.France declared an official policy of expanding New France for the glory and wealth of the mother country.
This policy, called mercantilism, was initiated by the French finance minister, Jean-Baptist de Colbert. The era of adventurous explorers and pious settlers had come to an end. Maisonneuve returned to France and settled in Paris, where he lived in relative seclusion for the rest of his life.