Traces found from 24,000 books lost when Canadian parliament in Montreal burned down
Archaeologists have uncovered a reminder of the heritage items lost by the destruction of Canada's pre-Confederation parliament in Montreal.
The charred remains of seven books have been recovered from a dig at the Old Montreal site since last Friday.
They are hardly recognizable as books and appear, in colour and consistency, like a cross between charcoal and bitumen.
About 24,000 books and documents—some of them dating back to the original colony of New France—were destroyed in an 1849 fire.
A mob of English-speakers burned down the parliament in a fit of fury against plans by the government of the day to compensate francophone landowners for losses during the 1837-38 rebellions.
That building had only housed parliament for a few years but it was the site of key moments in Canadian history—including the establishment of a modern democracy.
A cabinet was formed from the majority party in the legislature that was accountable to the voters of Upper and Lower Canada.
Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine became the first Canadian prime minister of the colony, known then as the Province of Canada.
The parliament moved on to Quebec City and Toronto and, eventually, to Ottawa but many of the conditions of Canadian governance and English-French shared institutions were laid in Montreal.
The site supervisor, Louise Pothier, said she was thrilled to find the artifacts.
She said the Pointe-à-Callière museum has been digging at the site since 2010 without finding books so the discovery was a pleasant surprise.
"This is an extraordinary symbolic discovery in the history of the building that we didn't dare hope for [anymore]," Pothier said. "We hoped to find what might be the remains of a library—and it's starting to look that way, so we're very happy."
Diggers had found other items over the last few years, including a pair of glasses and a tea set.
Pothier said there was an "extremely precious library" in that parliament, with books dating back to the original colony established by France centuries earlier.
Some artifacts had been rescued from the fire—including about 200 books, and a portrait of Queen Victoria and a piece of legislation that are both stored at the current Senate.