Hundreds of Montréalers, day in day out, fail to recognize the history they might be standing above…and that the dead may be sleeping underfoot. 

The Place du Canada square is located right in the centre of downtown Montréal and is an oasis of flora and history surrounded by skyscrapers and concrete. Most Montréalers are not aware that the bodies over 38,000 human beings were buried under the plaza in the 19th century, when Place du Canada was formerly a part of the Sainte-Antoine Cemetery. Since then however, the possibility of urban expansion along with the continuous growth of a metropolis has seen the bodies of many of these individuals moved to the much larger Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery. Currently there is a new construction plan worth over $9 million to refurbish the plaza and the bodies of 200 people will once again be uncovered, transported and re-buried. Although we all love urban green spaces, this practice of disturbing the dead, of having to move human remains to complete a construction project, leaves one with a bitter and uneasy aftertaste.

 Most Montréalers are not aware that the bodies over 38,000 human beings were buried under the plaza… 


The haunting story behind Place du Canada and the adjacent Dorchester Square is one that is likely unconsidered by those who eat their lunches, and walk through it on a daily basis. Both plazas sit upon the land of what was once the Saint-Antoine Catholic Cemetery. The cemetery had its largest influx of burials after the cholera and typhus disease outbreaks in 1832-1854, leaving over 7500 dead. Following the epidemics, the cemetery closed. Soon after, the nearby Dorchester boulevard needed to expand to better handle traffic which resulted in the first movement of bodies. A few years later, the other adjacent streets were widened, taking even more land from the cemetery. Following protests in the 1870s due to the continuous removal of bodies from the cemetery, the city decided to develop the area in the form of two parks (today’s Dorchester Square and Place du Canada). As such, the city could avoid moving the remains of the dead, keeping them only meters underfoot.

Historical PdC/DC

The historical plan for the development of the two plazas.


Since then the city has grown, most noticeably upwards, as skyscrapers surround Place du Canada and Dorchester Square. Both plazas remained still for years upon years, enduring harsh Montréal winters and only being given minor clean ups. Finally in 2010, construction to Dorchester square was completed and the park looked brand new. However, the work completed did require some relocation of human remains. Similarly, the ongoing work to refurbish Place du Canada will require yet another 200 bodies to be relocated to Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery.

We  bury our relatives, and even purchase our own graves, assuming that they will be there for generations to come. Is it now becoming acceptable for others to eventually move us, without consent, after a few generations have passed?

Disturbing the Dead

The displacement of bodies and entire cemeteries is becoming more and more common for a multitude of reasons. In this case, the growth of a surrounding city was the grounds for relocation of  the Saint-Antoine Catholic Cemetery. As mentioned in an article by Katy Meyers, there are many other reasons that this could happen- from being unaware that an ancient cemetery even existed, to the threat of natural disasters. In any matter, is there a line we should not cross when faced with a cemetery in a inopportune space? When is the act of disentombment immoral?


Tell us what you think.

Is it O.K. to move human remains?






  1. Very interesting article. I don’t know if its OK to remove human remains but I am definitely curious if the relatives of those being moved have even been notified…

    1. Thank you for your comment Solomon! That really is a pertinent question. As there were so many sudden deaths from the spread of disease, it is difficult to know if families had a say even in the initial burial!

  2. That’s an ethical question. Per so, you could try to see it all black or white. If we never touch’d graves, considering there has been 100 billions peoples on earth, giving them 2 square meters for their burial, the graveyard would fill the entire united kingdom. You cant do that forever. On the other hand, this is just a personal choice to be buried, and wanting to remain there forever vs the needs of the living ones? That’s not a hard choice to me. Just get burned down 😛 Otherwise, some day, thesociety will prevail over your selfish envies.

    1. It is definitely a difficult question. However, if your own family or loved one was being moved without consent, how would you feel? This is where it becomes, so to say, “black and white”. You are right however, something definitely does have to be done concerning burial traditions, especially since the global population is only rising. What do you think will happen down the line?

  3. […] several cases in North America where human remains have been moved for sake of land development, as touched upon in our last blog post. There has also been lawsuits filed against certain Cemeteries and their associated umbrella […]

  4. […] Check out the full story from our friends at Qeepr. […]

  5. […] outbreaks in 1832-1854, leaving over 7500 dead. The cemetery was eventually relocated, but thousands of bodies remain buried in the downtown core. Today the Square is a great place to picnic, take a break from […]

  6. I have family buried there, “Dominion Square” and unless you know that’s where they are at the time it’s a little difficult to be notified. He died in 1846. It also isn’t right to move them.

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