This is NOT Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery.
The original Notre-Dame parish of Montreal was a small wooden church that existed until approximately 1659. After the 1657 changeover from Jesuit to Sulpician control, another chapel was built near the city's hospital, Hotel-Dieu. A third church, this one of stone, was later built near the current basilica location between 1672 and 1683, in the middle of what is now Notre Dame Street (the road that runs in front of the current basilica, the outline of that church can be seen in the white stones set in the gray / I also uploaded a 1693 map (from the Biblio/Library and National Archives), of the church and cemetery locations). A fourth church, the second of stone, the basilica that exists today, was built next to the first stone church between 1824 and 1829. When this second stone church, or the basilica was built, the graves in the cemetery were moved to what is now known as Dorchester Square. Date of move unclear: sometime between 1799 and 1800. [Source: local historian/guide Isabelle G., Pamphlet La Basilique Notre-Dame Vous Accueille dated Nov 2009.]
Dorchester Square held those buried in the original Notre Dame cemetery until 1854. The presence of this second cemetery is remembered by dark gray crosses of brick embedded into the walkways of the current Dorchester Square, which functions as a green space or park today. According to the plaque at the top of Dorchester Square: "In the middle of the 19th century the land occupied today by Dorchester Square was the site of the Saint-Antoine Cemetery - this was the second location of Montreal's Roman Catholic cemetery...the property was purchased in 1799 by the Parish of Notre-Dame, which moved the graveyard here from its first location in the old town, the area now known as Old Montreal." [Source: local historian, visit to Dorchester Square, plaque at the top of Dorchester Square].
The plaque continues to note that cemetery, Saint-Antoine, that was once located at Dorchester Square is no longer there. In specific, it notes: "public health concerns raised by the cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1854 spurred the cemetery's second relocation in 1854 when it was moved to the western slopes of Mount Royal...the cemetery of Notre-Dame des Neiges [which] has served Montreal's Roman Catholics to this day." [Source: visit to Dorchester Square, plaque at the top of the square].
Of additional note to visitors, the move from Notre Dame to Dorchester Square was not complete. The Musee Chateau Ramezay holds a permanent exhibition related to archaeological digs that started in 2001 in the old city. Within that exhibit is a section dedicated to the cemetery of the original Notre Dame parish. In specific the exhibit signage notes: "the excavation of the first Notre-Dame church's cemetery yielded the remains of 199 individuals...found under the parvis of Notre-Dame church....In accordance with Catholic custom, the first Notre-Dame church was bordered by a cemetery, although some bodies were buried inside the church. The first recorded burial dates from 1691; the last one was in 1796. Although, according to the archives, bodies were exhumed and moved when the old church was demolished, there is archaeological evidence that some remained behind. Since 2001, six archaeological investigations have partially identified three of the four sides of the cemetery and revealed a number of graves." [Source: local historian, arhivist at National Archives; and quote from museum exhibit sign].
Thus, those looking for headstones at the current Notre Dame Basilica will not find them, but their family members could still be buried in graves not exhumed when the cemetery was first moved or when the archaeological digs that began in 2001 were completed. It is also possible that their family member was moved first to Dorchester Square/Saint Antoine and then to Notre Dame des Neiges, or directly to Notre Dame des Neiges.
The staff of the Cemetery Notre-Dame des Neiges is happy to share that the first burial in their cemetery was on 29 May 1855. Their burial database, however, is by surname and the Notre-Dame reburials were done en-masse which seems to prove difficult for location finding. Finding a specific burial location within the cemetery will require additional research, perhaps best done before travelling to Montreal. **Of note, you can search their database online; in Sep 2017 neither I nor they were able to find any of those said to be originally buried at Notre Dame. [Source: cemetery staff, cemetery visit, cemetery pamphlet/map last revised 26 Sep 2016].
To find out more about the 2011-2006 Notre-Dame cemetery discoveries, the book Lumieres Sous la Ville: Quand L'archeologie Raconte Montreal, edited by D'Anne-Marie Balac and Francois Belanger, starting on page 127, contains maps, photos, diagrams, and text related to the exhumed graves, and information about the lives of those found during the dig as revealed by the bones, shroud pins and other artifacts found in the graves. Of note, the book is available only in French, but the exhibit at Chateau Ramezay provides a summarized version with both English and French text.
GPS Coordinates: 45.50473, -73.55656
- Added: 22 Jul 2001
- Find A Grave Cemetery: #639444
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