by Dr. Juliette Champagne
Originally from a French speaking community in northeastern Alberta, Juliette Champagne has specialised on the largely untapped archival resources available in French in the Canadian West. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Laval University and is currently working on the letters of Hippolyte Beillevaire, a French missionary who served the Battle River Métis and the immigrant settlers of the region for nearly 37 years. She hopes to have the manuscript published shortly. She lives in Edmonton with her husband.
Where is the Maison Dumas?
The Maison Dumas is one of the two oldest dwellings in Montreal, located at 445 Rue Saint-Paul, near the Vieux-Port (Old Port) and the Place d’Armes. The oldest church of the city, Notre-Dame is there, as is the Bank of Montreal, built where there was originally a small graveyard and a little chapel. Now restored, Maison Dumas has become a magnificent single-family home, which since its construction in 1757 has been through many incarnations.
Who was the first owner?
The land, with a timbered house, was purchased by Eustache Prévost, cooper, in 1750 and is located near the Canoterie royale, where the military expeditions of New France were prepared. At the time, the barrel was the standard receptacle for the transport of almost everything- from liquids, such as wine, molasses or vinegar, for bulk objects, such as nails, or for dry goods, (flour, sugar, etc.), as it was sturdy and was easy to manipulate. Near the Old Port, the barrel maker could market his wares and business was good, as in 1757, during the Seven Years War, he hired the mason Joseph Brazeau to built a stone house where he would have workshop. He was doing well, as after the Conquest, Prévost presented a bill of exchange, on June 1, 1763, for the sum of 3,696 livres, to be transferred into the currency of the new government.  In 1798, Eustache’s son, Charles, probably to better house his family, had a second story added, for which he hired the mason, Jean-Baptiste Senet. Much of this information is from the excellent “fiche de bâtiment” of the city of Montreal.
What was original house like?
The façade and square of the house are of grey Montreal stone, dressed rubble stone, while the lateral walls are of field stone, which give a variety of colors and shapes to the walls. The basement has high windows in the front of the building and a very large raised fireplace which the cooper used for his trade, with an ash trap at ground level with a cast iron door. The stones of this fireplace and chimney, as with the four others in the house, are all of grey stone; two of them have been converted to natural gas. Towards the end of the 19th century, the original peaked roof was replaced with a mansard style one, partially flat, with four dormer windows in the front of the building.
A photo taken in 1965 from the “fiche de bâtiment” shows that the owner was doing some restoration work on the windows, now French windows with small rectangular panes, typical of an 18th century dwelling. The front doorway has been restored, and has a large window over the door which provides daylight to the staircases leading to the basement and to the ground floor. The basement is now a self-sufficient apartment, rented out to passing tourists, but according to the 1965 photo, a door led to 447, rue Saint-Paul, Est as the building was divided in two suites. This door may have been original and would have given street access to the basement workshop; it has been replaced with the first window to the right of the front door. The window to the extreme right was also larger at one time. On the right of the building there was a passageway to the back yard, which would have been used for stocking construction material and the cooper’s finished products.
What do we know about the first owners?
An entry in the Canadian Biographical Dictionary specifies that a certain Martin Prévost was in New France since at least 1639 and that he is considered to be the ancestor of the Prévost of North America. Settling at Beauport in 1644, his first wife was the Aboriginal woman, Marie-Olivier-Sylvestre-Manitouabeouich, the first officially known marriage in New France. He remarried after her death, to Marie d’Abancourt, the widow of Jean Jollyet, parents of Louis Jolliet, famed explorer of the Mississippi. Nothing confirms that Jolliet had any influence on the Prévost family, but it is possible. We find traces of a Eustache Prévost in Montreal at the beginning of the 18th century, and by mid-century, of our Eustache, the cooper, who died in 1789, and of his descendants in the Archives Nationales du Québec. Genealogists and researchers could spend many hours unravelling their history in these archival holdings.
What do we know about its tenants?
The house remained in the Prévost family’s possession until 1823, when it was sold to the merchant Toussaint Dumas, who, in 1839, sold it to his son Norbert, who owned a property nearby.  Unoccupied for a few years, it became a rental property. During the 19th century, the house was divided in two and redivided, having various occupants. By 1850, Thomas McCormick kept an inn there, where in 1870, shoemaker Joseph Ayotte lived and had his shop. The Dumas family remained in possession of the house until 1951. A rental property until 1990, it was purchased by William P. Keating in 1964 and resold in 1972. It was for a time a boarding house, with rooms rented by the week, and there was also a snack bar at this location.
Now completely restored, this beautiful dwelling bears witness to the past of the city of Montreal. Would it be that the fine resources available online in the province of Quebec would inspire other provinces across Canada to provide the same, so that their residents could sound out their heritage as well.
 « État général des états et certificats tant de la ville de Montréal que des forts et postes […] approuvé de Son Excellence Monsieur le Gouverneur », Bordereau No. 24, Rapport de l’Archiviste de la Province de Québec pour 1924-1925, Ls-A Proulx, Imprimeur de sa Majesté le Roi, 1925, p. 344.