***It’s always best to check hours and activities before heading out, as they sometimes change. This museum often hosts concerts, archaeological digs, summer camps, free things for kids, etc, so choose your best time to go.
We love when an activity or park is so much more than we were anticipating. And when it’s FREE? Even better!
The Maison Nivard-De Saint-Dizier had been on our to-do list since the spring, and I’d kept skipping over it when deciding on something to do. But on a day when it was just me and the 8-year old, it seemed like a good chance for a (quiet, toddler-free) adventure.
“I have NO IDEA what this is about. It might just be a 10-minute tour of the museum, so we’ll see.” I warned him.
But after a 2 hour visit, we left wanting to learn more, and with me fantasizing about going back to school for an archaeology degree. You could spend 10 minutes here, because it also depends what activities are going on….
Located right along the along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and beside the bike and walking path that travels through Lachine/Lasalle/Verdun to Downtown, the house built in 1710, has been a museum and archaeological site since 2012. The area is the largest prehistoric archeological site on the island of Montréal and dates back more than 5,500 years.
5,500 years? To me, that’s mind-boggling. And crazy interesting.
So what did we do?
After parking on Lasalle Boulevard (the museum is right at the base of Rue Lloyd George), we picked up some brochures at the information kiosk (where there are also super clean bathrooms), and read through them while eating our picnic lunch on the funky tables overlooking the bike path.
Packing up, we met one of the staff members outside of the restored house, and though we hadn’t signed up for the 3$ guided tour, she chatted to us (in french and english) about the history of the building, and the artifacts that have been found during digs around the house. Arrow heads, pipes, pieces of pottery, flint, coins and fishing hooks are just some of the pieces displayed. Audioguide headsets are available and you can watch a short movie in french or english that explains life in the 1700’s, as well as giving a glimpse into the attic. The museum IS tiny. Basically one room. So visiting just the house itself isn’t going to take 2 hours!
It was then explained that we were welcome to watch the archaeologists outside under the big white tents, and since it was a public dig, we could ask them questions. As always, I had multiple questions, which the McGill and UdeM students and staff answered and they even let us help with the sifting as they brought up buckets. My big kid stared without blinking as he gently combed through looking for minuscule pieces of bone, pottery and even seeds. The staff were digging at the 1800’s level and we had a look at some of the items that had been found during the week, and even got to help clean them with water and a toothbrush.
One interesting thing I learned: Most of the land that the bike paths are on is landfill from when they dug the Lachine Canal. And the area where they are digging (not in the landfill part obviously), would have likely been a busy spot as it’s where people would have camped before portaging around the rapids.
On weekends between 11am & 4pm kids can take part in a free simulated archaeological dig where they will search through the earth, find (recreated) artifacts, sift, clean and catalogue them. There are also concerts, a day camp, educational conferences and theatre which are all open to the public, and almost all are free. You can read more about the different activities on the Maison Nivard-De Saint-Dizier website HERE, and keep up to date on their Facebook page which is regularly updated with coming events.
An interesting site is the blog from the McGill University students working at the site, where they explain the history, and what makes it an important location for finding prehistoric, Amerindian, and New France artifacts.
One thing I wouldn’t recommend: bringing toddlers. This is a fairly serious, quiet place, and not an activity where I’d bring The Destroyer. “The priceless 2,000 year old artifact he was touching? Ya……sorry about that.”
It was however, great for my studious kiddo who’s also my museum buddy.
Because hours may change, it’s best to always check directly on the official website, which you can find HERE.