A businessman and collector with a passion for Canada’s history, David Macdonald Stewart founded the Montreal Military Museum in 1955. Located on St. Helen’s Island, the Museum first occupied the blockhaus. As it grew, it moved to the barracks, then to the small powder magazine, and finally to the arsenal. In 1963, the Museum launched its military re-enactment program with the reconstitution of the Compagnie franche de la Marine.
In 1965, the Olde 78th Fraser Highlanders joined the military re-enactment program, and, to better reflect the themes presented, the Museum’s name was changed to the Montreal Military & Maritime Museum. Initially a seasonal museum, the institution opened its doors year-round in 1975.
This era marked the professional training of Museum personnel, the implementation of a program of temporary exhibitions, and the development of educational programs adapted to the school curriculum. During the period, the institution was renamed the Île Sainte-Hélène Museum. In 1983, the Museum oversaw the transformation into a museum of Manoir de Limoëlou in Saint-Malo, France, the house that once belonged to Jacques-Cartier, discoverer of Canada.
In 1984, following the death of Mr. Stewart, the Museum changed its name to the David. M. Stewart Museum, in honour of its founder. Since then, the Museum has been presided over by his wife, Liliane M. Stewart. This period marked the beginning of a collaboration with a number of Canadian and European museums as part of an international program of temporary exhibitions. The Museum has presented exhibitions displaying its own collections alongside those of some of the world’s best known institutions. It also established a program of touring exhibitions that have travelled across both Canada and the U.S. Widely recognized and respected by their peers, the professionals at the Stewart Museum contribute to the development of museology in Quebec and throughout Canada. The Museum welcomes close to 55,000 visitors each year, with school groups representing some 30% of its clientele.
The Museum, which, since its founding has been housed in heritage buildings on St. Helen’s Island in Parc Jean-Drapeau, was delighted when, in September 2007, St. Helen’s Island was designated as a heritage site by Montreal City Council. As part of the Entente MCCCF-Ville de Montréal, the Bureau du patrimoine de la Ville de Montréal allocated $4.5 million to the Société du parc Jean-Drapeau to restore and showcase the island’s heritage. The Museum renovation project has had a major impact on both the layout of its physical space and on the Museum’s basic functions. Concurrent to this work, the Museum renewed its exhibition, which now puts more focus on the link between history in general and St. Helen’s Island and its heritage. As a result, the fully renovated Stewart Museum re-opened its doors on June 29, 2011 and held the official launch of its new exhibition, History and Memory, on August 31.
The Stewart Museum’s courtyard has been accessible to the public during opening hours since 2013. Visitors can enjoy picnic areas, outdoor games and a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence River. The Stewart also enhanced what it offers as a Museum. Throughout the year, it shows two temporary exhibitions, one of them outdoors, and a permanent exhibition. On July 1, 2013, a merger agreement was signed between the Stewart and McCord Museums to strengthen ties between the two institutions and sustain the preservation of Montreal and Canadian heritage. The Stewart Museum celebrated its 60th anniversary on July 2, 2015.
THE FUTURE OF THE STEWART MUSEUM
The McCord Stewart Museum is proud to announce that its planned new museum will be located in the heart of downtown Montreal. The new establishment will expand the McCord Museum’s current site by building on Victoria Street, which runs along the west side of the Museum, and the lot housing the former Caveau restaurant on President Kennedy Avenue.