Roadwork reveals remnants of 1800s Montreal zoo run by the ‘Canadian Barnum’

MONTREAL — Extensive prior to the Plateau-Mont-Royal became a person of Montreal&#8217s trendiest neighbourhoods, the spot was household to a 19th-century botanical backyard and zoo where Montrealers marvelled at the sight of hippopotamuses, acrobatic circus acts and a stay whale in a tank.

This piece of background has resurfaced in latest months many thanks to an archeological dig that unearthed what is considered to be section of a fountain marking the former web-site&#8217s entrance.

Jonathan Choronzey, an archeologist with the business Ethnoscop, reported the fountain was identified all through roadwork having position on Pine Avenue.

&#8220I don&#8217t know if there&#8217s a tourist attraction nowadays that would evaluate,&#8221 Choronzey reported in a phone job interview. &#8220It was as considerably English as French, rich and bad who could go there to admire the unique animals and the demonstrates.&#8221

Historical data suggest the fountain base was section of just one of the town&#8217s initial botanical gardens, which was founded by Joseph-Édouard Guilbault in the 19th century. 

Choronzey reported Guilbault was originally a horticulturalist who moved his yard quite a few periods in advance of landing in close proximity to what&#8217s now Pine Avenue, about 1860. At the time, the location was however mainly rural, which gave him lots of area to extend and contain an exotic animal menagerie and room to host travelling circuses.

Justin Ber, a board member of the historical modern society for the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood, stated Guilbault started out out offering unique vegetation to the rich but quickly branched out to other sorts of leisure.

A poster from 1862 advertised the arrival of the Hippozoonomadon circus, showcasing the &#8220greatest elephants the entire world,&#8221 a hippopotamus, as effectively as horse using and comedy reveals.

The Montreal Herald, in the meantime, presented a glowing account of a tightrope walker named Farini, whose higher-flying antics ended up so daring that &#8220not a couple of those who silently watched him appeared awe struck at his temerity,” the reporter wrote in 1864.

Newspaper accounts from the day prompt the entrepreneurial Guilbault even hired another person to seize a white whale — most likely a beluga — which he prepared to transportation to the zoo internet site in a tank by practice.

&#8220The monster is, we are explained to, as large as any one has ever attempted to transfer from one put to an additional,&#8221 examine a Montreal Herald short article from Might 1863. The 19-foot animal was &#8220bigger than the a single exhibited by Barnum, and by which he understood such huge income,&#8221 the report ongoing, in reference to P.T. Barnum, founder of the American travelling demonstrate Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The back garden on the outskirts of the metropolis bundled inexperienced room in the summer months, an indoor skating rink in the wintertime and the travelling circuses. Other historic resources reference a circus faculty, as nicely as picnics, balls and theatre shows.

&#8220Bear in mind, we&#8217re perfectly right before the invention of cinema, ahead of the invention of radio, so persons for leisure will need items that happen in serious lifetime,&#8221 Ber claimed. 

Bernard Vallée, a historic tour guide who has studied the gardens, described Guilbault as a &#8220Canadian Barnum&#8221 who comprehended individuals&#8217s have to have to escape their challenging lives.

&#8220There was a visionary facet to this entrepreneur who observed that citizens in a rising city will need hobbies, need mother nature and, as neighbourhoods create and a sure city misery exists, they require an escape,&#8221 he said. 

Choronzey stated that so significantly, the fountain is the only product that has been brought up throughout the dig that can be definitively linked to Guilbault Gardens. 

Other than a close by general public square named right after the founder, which features diving pink hippopotamus sculptures, there is very little trace of what was at the time one particular of the city&#8217s 1st fantastic amusement parks.

Having said that, Choronzey claimed the dig has also introduced up things common of Victorian everyday living, such as dishware, home foundations and old latrines. He mentioned there is nevertheless a lot to explore under Montreal&#8217s streets, together with traces of ancient Indigenous inhabitation, the French routine or Victorian lifestyle — relying on the spot. 

&#8220There are usually quite a number of surprises concealed below our ft,&#8221 he claimed.

This report by The Canadian Push was first released Oct. 9, 2022.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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