Montreal is home to a slew of interesting history museums but people tend to stick to the ones that are located in the district of Old Montreal. Throughout the city, small museums operated by passionate historians cover specific elements of the past, like the history of audio recording or the evolution of medicine. Here’s a list of 7 off-beat history museums that are often overlooked by visitors:
The Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner is housed in the former Berliner gramophone/RCA Victor factory of Montreal. Named after the German inventor of the gramophone, the museum’s collection includes approximately 30 000 objects pertaining to the recording and broadcasting of sound.
Pompier auxilliaire is French for volunteer firefighter. The name says it all, as this is a museum dedicated to the history of firefighters, more specifically to those that have served in Montreal since it became a public service in 1863. It showcases the evolution of firefighting equipment throughout the years and the climatic and geographic particularities that Montreal firefighters have had to deal with. Each visitor is given a tour by a volunteer and if the fire trucks aren’t out being used (there is a real fire station in the building), you may get to go up and sit inside one of them.
This museum occupies the former fort and barracks built on Saint-Helen’s island by the British military in the 1820s. The permanent collection presents numerous documents and items that speak of the history of Montreal and its’ surrounding area. In the summer, military re-enactments are held in the courtyard. The buildings where the Musée Stewart is located today were also used as an internment camp, a fact that to this day remains little known to the general public. An Untapped Cities article covered the fort’s hidden past last year.
In the past, public baths were quite popular in working class neighborhoods of Montreal, as many people did not have access to running water inside their houses. Some of these baths are still used as pools, while others have been transformed to fill other purposes. For example, the Bain Généreux now houses the Ecomusee du Fier Monde, a museum dedicated to the history of the Centre-Sud district, an area of Montreal that was marked by an important industrial boom in the early 20th century. After many of the factories closed, poverty became rampant and the area earned a bad reputation but the museum aims to celebrate the strong sense of community that remains here.
The Hotel-Dieu hospital was founded in 1645 by Montreal’s co-founder Jeanne Mance and it still exists to this day, though it has been rebuilt several times. Inside the Musée des hospitalières de l’Hotel-Dieu, you’ll learn more about the history of the city of Montreal and about the evolution of illness and treatment since the beginning of the New France settlements.
The Redpath Museum, part of the Mcgill University campus, was built in 1882 as a gift from businessman Peter Redpath to McGill’s longstanding principal, John William Dawson, who was a respected geologist. Housed in an impressive Greek revival building with an interior decor that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Indiana Jones movie, the eclectic collection of this Natural History museum covers various aspects of the history of entomology, geology, paleontology and ethnology. Visits during the annual Nuit Blanche events are a must, as the museum lights are turned off. Using your flashlight, you might just come face to face with a stuffed bear, seemingly ready to make a meal out of you!
Brothers Oscar and Marius Dufresne founded the town of Maisonneuve, formerly a suburb of Montreal (annexed in 1918) They built this mansion at the cost of 1 million dollars, a fortune at the time. The exterior was inspired by the Petit Trianon building in Versailles, France. Inside, the brothers commissioned artist Guido Nincheri to paint murals (Nincheri is also known for having painted a mural of Benito Mussolini in a Montreal church). Temporary exhibits cover a variety of subjects linked to local history.