After the Pointe-à-Callière archeology and history museum opened in 1992, executive director Francine Lelièvre sent employees on a mission: scour the neighbourhood for buildings without basements.

They found one and only one – a nondescript, two-storey, brown-brick, 19th-century building, a former ship-repair warehouse on Place-d’Youville, a few doors from the museum.

No cellar meant that the earth under the structure might have not been excavated in centuries – secrets of the past could still lay underneath, waiting to be discovered. The museum bought the building in 2000.

“We wanted to see if we could maybe find traces of the French period,” Lelièvre said in an interview. “What we found was Montreal’s first (European) construction.”

It’s Montreal’s birthplace, a lost fort.

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