The remains of an old zoo discovered on the Plateau Mont-Royal

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The remains of an ancient zoo discovered on the Plateau Mont-Royal

Excavations carried out near Avenue des Pins have uncovered a fountain near an old botanical garden.

Archaeological excavations carried out in the Plateau-Mont-Royal recently revealed to find a fountain that would have been located at the entrance of a former zoo and a former botanical garden where Montrealers could admire in the 19th century hippos, a whale living in a cistern and numbers of acrobats.

Jonathan Choronzey, an archaeologist with the firm Ethnoscop, says the fountain was discovered during roadwork on Avenue des Pins.

“I don't know if a tourist attraction today could compare to that,” he says. Everyone came there, English and French, rich and poor. Everyone came to admire the exotic animals and the shows.

—Jonathan Choronzey, Archaeologist

The fountain was part of one of the first botanical gardens in Montreal, founded by Joseph-Édouard Guilbault in the 19th century.

Mr. Choronzey recounts that this Joseph-Édouard Guilbault was a horticulturist who moved his garden several times before settling it around 1860 near what is now Avenue des Pins. At the time, this area was predominantly rural, which allowed him to expand the area of ​​the garden to include a zoo and accommodate traveling circuses.

Justin Bur, administrator of the Plateau-Mont-Royal Historical Society, says Mr. Guilbault began by selling exotic plants to the wealthy, but branched out into other forms of entertainment. /p>

A poster dating from 1862 announces the arrival of the Hippozoonomadon circus featuring the largest elephants in the world, a hippopotamus, horses and… comedians.

In 1864, a journalist from the Montreal Heraldhad written an enthusiastic article about a tightrope walker named Farini whose act was so daring that many spectators who silently watched him were amazed at his temerity.

The newspapers also reported that Mr. Guilbault had hired a hunter to capture a white whale, probably a beluga. He had planned to transport the beast by train in a cistern.

The white whale in question was probably a beluga.

This monster is, depending on what& #x27;we were told, largest animal ever transferred from one location to another, read an article in the Montreal Heraldof May 1863. The 19-foot animal was larger than the one presented by Barnum and which had enabled him to make an immense profit, continued the journalist in reference to the eminent American circus man, P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum & Bailey.

The garden hosted an ice rink in winter. Historical sources mention the holding of plays and the presence of a circus school, picnic areas and sports fields.

This is long before the invention of cinema, long before the invention of radio. People needed a form of entertainment that was real, says Mr. Bur.

Bernard Vallée, a tour guide who studied Montreal gardens, describes Mr. Guilbault as a Canadian Barnum who understood that people needed an escape from their everyday lives.

“There was a visionary side to this entrepreneur. He saw that the citizens of growing cities needed recreation, needed nature. In a context of urban development and misery, they needed to escape. »

— Bernard Vallée, tourist guide

Mr. Choronzey says the fountain is currently the only artifact related to Mr. Guilbault's garden that was found during the excavations.

With the exception of a small public square located nearby and named in honor of Mr. Guilbault where the pink hippopotamus sculptures were installed, there is only well few traces of the city's first amusement park.

There have been several excavations archaeological sites in Montreal, notably on the site of Fort Ville-Marie as shown in our photo. (archives)

Archaeologist M. Choronzey mentions that the excavations have uncovered objects typical of life in the Victorian era, including crockery, foundations of houses and old toilets. He adds that there are many things buried under the streets of Montreal, probably the traces of the presence of First Nations, French settlers or inhabitants of the 19th century, depending on the sector.

There are always some hidden gems under our feet, he says.

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