The Island of Montréal was originally inhabited by the St Lawrence Iroquois, one of the tribes of the Five Nations Confederacy of Iroquois. In 1642 Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve founded the first permanent mission here which quickly became a major centre for the fur trade. Québec City became the capital of the French colony Nouvelle-France, from which Montréal’s trappers set up a network of trading posts. After the British conquest of Montréal in 1760, Scottish fur traders established their base and consolidated their power by founding the North West Company. The Scots have had quite an influence on the history and prosperity of Montreal. Scottish immigrants constructed Montreal’s first bridge across the Saint Lawrence River and founded many of the city’s great businesses, including Morgan’s, the first department store in Canada, incorporated within the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1970s; the Bank of Montreal; Redpath Sugar; and both of Canada’s national railroads. The Scots were philanthropic, establishing and funding many Montreal institutions, such as McGill University, the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec and the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The Royal Victoria Hospital was established in 1893 through the financial donations of two Scottish immigrants, the cousins Donald Smith, 1st Lord Strathcona, and George Stephen, 1st Lord Mount Stephen who, in 1887, made a joint gift of C$1,000,000 for the construction of a free hospital in Montreal and purchased a site on Mount Royal for a further C$86,000. During 1897 and 1898, Smith and Stephen gave another C$1,000,000 between them in Great Northern Railroad securities to establish an endowment fund for the hospital. As would be expected of Scots, they were ambitious. The Royal Victoria Hospital was “to be for the use of the sick and ailing without distinction of race or creed,” and when it opened in 1893, it was said to be the “finest and most perfectly equipped (hospital) on the great American continent“. McGill University (then McGill College) was founded in 1821 through a bequest from James McGill who was born in Glasgow in 1744, the eldest son of an ironsmith and who had studied at Glasgow University. McGill was a visionary who believed in the value of education and who was instrumental in the establishment of the Royal Institute for the Advancement of Learning (RIAL) to develop a formal educational system in Lower Canada. Montreal in 1956 was a prosperous city, with its population having reached 1 million in the early 1950’s. It was a growing hub for transport by both sea and, more recently air. Air Canada had been born as Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), in April 1937 and continued to grow in passenger numbers and routes, including to Prestwick, the airport for Glasgow in Scotland. The Atlantic route was first crossed during the Second World War because the need for supplies couldn’t be fully met by sea. TCA’s first crossing was a 12-hour-and-26-minute flight from Montreal to Prestwick, Scotland, on July 22, 1943 when an unarmed Lancaster carried three passengers on official government business and 2,600 pounds of mail for the army men. Montréal–Dorval International Airport opened in 1941 with three paved runways, to replace the previous airport which has outgrown capacity. By 1946 the airport was hosting more than a quarter of a million passengers a year, growing to more than a million in the mid-1950s. During World War II thousands of Allied aircraft passed through Dorval on the way to Britain, many to Prestwick, as the nearest airport on the west coast of Scotland. At one time Dorval was the major transatlantic hub for commercial aviation and the busiest airport in Canada with airlines such as British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). KLM operated flights between Havana and Montreal and thence Europe in the 1950’s using DC7’s.