Montreal Reads: Hochelaga Revisited, text by Ryan Rice

Hochelaga RevisitedHochelaga Revisited was an art exhibition at the MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), which has become an important centre for culturally diverse artistic expression in Montreal. And while we’ve lost our chance to attend this exhibition in person, we can still check out the bilingual exhibition catalogue from the Montreal Public Libraries Network.

This 2009 exhibition set out to display works by a group of artists interested in exploring “Montreal as First Nations urban territory. Refuting Hochelaga’s vanishing narrative, they depict personal experiences that cast a light on the still existent – yet often ignored and marginalized – Indigenous presence in the city.”1

Histories of the European settlement of Montreal typically include some account of the indigenous village of Hochelaga found by Jacques Cartier in 1535 on what is now the Island of Montreal. He published his description of the village in his Bref Récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en 1535 et 1536, and it tells of a sizeable village surrounded by fields of corn very near the slopes of Mont-Royal. However, Cartier’s description is considered to be inaccurate and biased by scholars, reflecting as it does “the European perspective on urban planning during the Italian Renaissance.”2 Cartier’s village bears no resemblance to other villages from that time that have been found by archaeologists. Even as he’s reporting on the culture he’s encountered in his voyages, Cartier is already overwriting their culture.

Sadly this tradition of overwriting indigenous culture in Montreal was just getting started. As Ryan Rice points out in his essay in Hochelaga Revisited, “Montreal is a city admired for its melding of old-world sophistication and charm, technological savvy, and multicultural and distinct societies.…However, colonial strategies of erasure and dominant settler narratives have excluded, ignored and removed its original occupants….Hochelaga Revisited reaffirms an enduring indigenous presence….often absent from official histories of this gathering place.”3

The Artists:

Jason Baerg’s large-scale 5-panel painting Flourish combines colour fields, graffiti and graphics.

Lori Blondeau opened the exhibition with her performance as Cosmosquaw, and contributed her poster-sized photograph I Fall to Pieces to the show.

Martin Loft contributed black and white photography from his Montreal Urban Native Portrait Project series.

Cathy Mattes’s installation Le Twist invites viewers to recognize the cultural contortions demanded of indigenous citizens of Montreal.

Nadia Myre engages with Canada’s national anthem in her video Rethinking Anthem.

Ariel Lightningchild Smith shot her video titled Lessons in Conquest in Montreal

 * * *
Next up: Girl Unwrapped by Gabriella Goliger

Girl Unwrapped


1 Rice, Ryan. Hochelaga Revisited. MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), 2009. p. 12–13.

2 Gagné, Michel. “Hochelaga.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Last updated April 2015. Accessed November 2015.

3 Rice, Ryan. Hochelaga Revisited. MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels), 2009. p. 12.


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