Hundreds of Montréalers, day in day out, fail to recognize the history they might be standing above…and that the dead may be sleeping underfoot.
The Place du Canada square is located right in the centre of downtown Montréal and is an oasis of flora and history surrounded by skyscrapers and concrete. Most Montréalers are not aware that the bodies over 38,000 human beings were buried under the plaza in the 19th century, when Place du Canada was formerly a part of the Sainte-Antoine Cemetery. Since then however, the possibility of urban expansion along with the continuous growth of a metropolis has seen the bodies of many of these individuals moved to the much larger Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery. Currently there is a new construction plan worth over $9 million to refurbish the plaza and the bodies of 200 people will once again be uncovered, transported and re-buried. Although we all love urban green spaces, this practice of disturbing the dead, of having to move human remains to complete a construction project, leaves one with a bitter and uneasy aftertaste.
Most Montréalers are not aware that the bodies over 38,000 human beings were buried under the plaza…
The haunting story behind Place du Canada and the adjacent Dorchester Square is one that is likely unconsidered by those who eat their lunches, and walk through it on a daily basis. Both plazas sit upon the land of what was once the Saint-Antoine Catholic Cemetery. The cemetery had its largest influx of burials after the cholera and typhus disease outbreaks in 1832-1854, leaving over 7500 dead. Following the epidemics, the cemetery closed. Soon after, the nearby Dorchester boulevard needed to expand to better handle traffic which resulted in the first movement of bodies. A few years later, the other adjacent streets were widened, taking even more land from the cemetery. Following protests in the 1870s due to the continuous removal of bodies from the cemetery, the city decided to develop the area in the form of two parks (today’s Dorchester Square and Place du Canada). As such, the city could avoid moving the remains of the dead, keeping them only meters underfoot.
Since then the city has grown, most noticeably upwards, as skyscrapers surround Place du Canada and Dorchester Square. Both plazas remained still for years upon years, enduring harsh Montréal winters and only being given minor clean ups. Finally in 2010, construction to Dorchester square was completed and the park looked brand new. However, the work completed did require some relocation of human remains. Similarly, the ongoing work to refurbish Place du Canada will require yet another 200 bodies to be relocated to Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery.
We bury our relatives, and even purchase our own graves, assuming that they will be there for generations to come. Is it now becoming acceptable for others to eventually move us, without consent, after a few generations have passed?
Disturbing the Dead
The displacement of bodies and entire cemeteries is becoming more and more common for a multitude of reasons. In this case, the growth of a surrounding city was the grounds for relocation of the Saint-Antoine Catholic Cemetery. As mentioned in an article by Katy Meyers, there are many other reasons that this could happen- from being unaware that an ancient cemetery even existed, to the threat of natural disasters. In any matter, is there a line we should not cross when faced with a cemetery in a inopportune space? When is the act of disentombment immoral?
Tell us what you think.
Is it O.K. to move human remains?