Far from being the potentially stuffy, artifact-heavy museum its name implies, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History is delightfully 21st century in its approach to presentation.
Split across four interconnecting buildings, the museum is located at Pointe-à-Callière, a point of land between the St Lawrence River and another, smaller river, where in 1642 a mass was held celebrating the founding of Montreal. In 1688 Chevalier Louis Hector de Callière, third governor of Montréal built a home on the point, hence its name.
On the same site, significant archaeological remains were discovered in the 1980s, indicating 1,000 years of human activity. These remains are housed in the museum's vast archaeological crypt and under the main Eperon building.
Archaeological remains under Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History
The multi-media show 'Yours Truly, Montreal', which runs every 30 minutes, is one of the highlights of the museum. You are seated in a sloping auditorium which looks down on to the architectural remains beneath the building. Visual effects and lighting used on the ruins and on the three screens surrounding them really bring alive the history of Montreal and how it has developed into the modern city it is today.
You can take a closer look at the archaeological findings under the museum via a metal staircase which takes you into the spacious crypt. Here there are underfloor displays recreating the site at various stages in its history. A light show against the backdrop of the remaining walls is a wonderfully innovative way of showing the sort of activity at that spot centuries ago. The remains of former buildings are extensive and there is plenty of signage and interactive displays to explain the history and purpose of each structure as you walk through.
In the basement of The Mariners' House is an interactive adventure for children. This part of the museum also houses temporary exhibitions. When we visited they were showing an excellent Agatha Christie exhibition. It explored her life using a combination of photos, film footage, narrative and objects including many related to her lifelong interest in archaeology.
The J.Armand Bombardier Foundation Building is the venue for the permanent exhibition 'Pirates or Privateers', where children can gain hand-on experience of the day to day life of a pirate.
We spent about four hours in the museum, including a one-hour break for lunch in L'Arrivage restaurant, where the food was excellent and there was a view over the harbour.