After years of research, officials at Montreal's archaeology and history museum say they're now able to pinpoint the precise location of the city's first European settlement.

Although archaeologists have been digging the Fort Ville-Marie site for years, a recent discovery has allowed them to confirm the exact dimensions of the structure that housed the city's early French settlers.

"For the first time we know what it looked like in the mid-17th century, what it was made of, and where the site of the future pavilion was inside the fort," said Louise Pothier, an archaeologist at the Pointe-à-Callière museum.

Pothier said the discovery of one of the fort's northwest palisades beneath a Montreal sidewalk in 2015 was the "key piece" that allowed historians to finally visualize the entire structure using information gleaned from an old treaty.

"We did 13 years of digging before that, but we never really knew where we were in the fort," she told a news conference Thursday.

The museum says Montreal's founding settlement measured about 2,500 square metres, was rectangular in shape and oriented parallel to the St. Lawrence River.

New building for historic fort

It is building a pavilion to showcase the site, and the city hopes to make it accessible by May 17, 2017 — the 375th anniversary of Montreal.

Pothier says the museum is still analyzing the 250,000 artifacts have also been found on the site since digging began back in 2002.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre described the discovery as a "moving" one.

"You don't have very many cities that know exactly where their foundations started," he said.

"To find the place where the city was born is a key part in our history."

Ville-Marie was established as a Catholic settlement in 1642 on land near the St. Lawrence River that had been occupied by Indigenous people for thousands of years.  

It quickly became a major trading hub and Montreal was incorporated as a city in 1832.

Pothier said knowing the fort's dimensions could help researchers better understand the lives of the fort's original 51 inhabitants.

Her personal hope is to find remnants of the residence of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve -- the French military officer credited as the city's founder.