Gerald Tremblay and the city of Montreal has moved to officially recognize Jeanne Mance as a co-founder of the City of Montreal, along with Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. This bold move goes beyond honouring Jeanne Mance’s memory – her name is already immortalized in over forty local place-names – it’s about recognizing the true value of her contribution to the establishment and survival of the city at its origins.
What does it take to found a city? Certainly more than the words of one man. Certainly the work of more than one woman… You don’t have to dig deep to discover that, in Montreal’s case, it took a lot of religious zeal, money, and brutal warfare.
Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière, a French tax collector, and Jean-Jacques Olier, a priest, hatched a plan for creating a permanent settlement on the island of Montreal with the triple objectives of converting savages to Christianity, caring for the sick, and educating the young. They pulled together the funds to do so by forming the Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal pour la conversion des Sauvages de la Nouvelle-France.
De Maisonneuve was hired to govern and defend the colony. He founded Ville-Marie immediately upon his arrival in 1642 – but keeping the colony alive was a whole other matter. At this time, the population consisted of 58 people, of whom four were women.
Among them was Jeanne Mance, who had been invited to join the Société de Notre-Dame as the bursar and nurse. At this time, Jeanne Mance had independently raised $22,000 livres within circles of wealthy Parisian society women, in order to found a hospital in Montreal. As bursar for the colony, Mance was responsible for distribution of basic day-to-day goods such as gunpowder.
The colony clashed violently with the Iroquois residents of the area, and Mance also tended to many battle wounds. In 1651, the violence got so bad that Mance had to abandon her newly built hospital and retreat into the fort. De Maisonneuve was losing hope, when Jeanne Mance intervened.
Mance made the decision to pour all of the health-care money into the defence budget, sending De Maisonneuve back off to France to recruit a hundred additional soldiers, a move that is credited with saving the small colony.
Along with this second contingency of soldiers travelled Marguerite de Bourgeoys, perhaps Montreal’s second founding mother, who took up the educational mission of Ville Marie.