Flag of Montreal: City wants to make room for natives

Displaced 185 years ago by the “founding peoples” of Montreal, the natives will soon be able to see their recognized place. The metropolis will use its 375th anniversary to modify its flag in recognition of First Nations’ contribution to its history.


In a speech Sunday morning to young Montrealers, Mayor Denis Coderre addressed the complex issue of identity of Montreal. Stressing that the metropolis was made up of several communities, he slipped in passing that his administration was working to modify the flag of the City to better reflect its origins. “We will change it, we will make small changes to respect the indigenous communities,” he said. In his remark, the mayor pointed out that the coat of arms of Montreal, dating from 1833, sought to represent “the DNA of the founding peoples” of the city. There is no First Nations reminder in the coat of arms or flag of the metropolis. The mayor pledged to correct this error, noting that “we are in Mohawk territory”. He also spoke of a process of reconciliation within the framework of the 375th anniversary celebrations.


The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec confirmed that the City had contacted her about the modification of the Montreal flag. “I discussed it a few times with the mayor. I think it’s a nice recognition. It confirms not only the presence, but also the contribution of Aboriginal peoples in what Montréal has become, “says chef Ghislain Picard. The date of May 17, the anniversary of the founding of Montreal, was evoked to unveil the new flag of the city, but time could be missing. Finding a symbol – and integrating it – is a complex and delicate task. The unveiling could take place on June 21 at National Aboriginal Day, in August during the Aboriginal Presence Festival, or in September to highlight the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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Most Montrealers know how to recognize the flag of their city, but few know their meaning. The flag was made in 1939 but its symbols date back to the creation of the “Corporation de Montréal” and the adoption of its coat of arms in 1833. At that time, the metropolis was a city of just over 27,000 Residents, mostly English speakers.

The fleur-de-lis symbolizes the French origin of the first Montrealers; The rose of the house of Lancaster marks the English presence; The thistle illustrates the contribution of the Scots; The shamrock emphasizes the Irish presence and the heraldic cross comes to recall that Ville-Marie was founded as a Catholic city.


The earliest traces of Aboriginal presence in Montreal date back more than 4,000 years, according to archaeological excavations. During a trip in 1535, explorer Jacques Cartier noted the presence on the island of an Iroquoian village, called Hochelaga. So why were the natives removed from the founding peoples of Montreal? The historian Paul-André Linteau explains that the village had disappeared in 1642 when Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance founded Ville-Marie. Moreover, the aboriginal peoples no longer had a permanent presence on the island when the “Corporation de Montréal” was created in 1833. Mr. Linteau believes, moreover, that it is not true that the coat of arms represents the four peoples Founders of Montreal. Rather, they are the four main communities that made up the metropolitan population when it was incorporated.


Ghislain Picard admits that finding a symbol to illustrate the ten Aboriginal nations in Quebec is a delicate exercise. “You have to do a bit of acrobatics,” he admits. He hopes that Montreal will be able to find a symbol as representative as the Inukshuk for the Inuit peoples. As a specialist in Aboriginal history and culture, Dolorès Contré Migwans believes that a rabaska canoe would be the best emblem. The boat served as a bridge between the indigenous peoples and the French settlers. Used for the fur trade, the rabaska contributed to the development of this market, which brought Montreal to life. The four other founding peoples being represented by a plant, the lecturer of the University of Montreal also evokes the possibility of opting for a large pine. This is considered a tree of life in Iroquoian cosmology. Moreover, the Tree of Peace planted to symbolize the Great Peace of 1701 is of this essence.