In 1535 the French explorer Jacques Cartier was the first European known to land on Montr?al Island.
The city of Montreal (at first also called Ville Marie) was founded in May 1642 as a missionary colony. The city's
founder and first governor, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, settled along the Saint Lawrence with some 40 colonists. After difficult beginnings, the city prospered as the fur-trading center of the French colony of New France and became the gateway to the western interior. Fur traders departed
from Montr?al to explore and start trading posts in the Great Lakes area and the Mississippi valley. By 1760 the city's population of French origin had reached about 4000.
In 1760 Montreal surrendered to British forces that were completing their conquest of Canada during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). In the wake of the British conquest a small group of enterprising merchants, mostly Scots, took over the fur trade. Their ventures grew into the North West Company, which built a powerful fur-trading empire reaching to the Arctic
and Pacific oceans. In 1821 the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company, and Montr?al lost its centuries-long control of the fur trade. By then Montreal already had a new role as commercial center for the provinces of Lower Canada (now Quebec) and Upper Canada (now Ontario). The port of Montreal became a major transshipment point on the naval route between Britain and the Great Lakes, fueling rapid growth of the city.
Montreal's population grew from about 9000 inhabitants in 1800 to about 57,700 by 1851, surpassing Quebec city as the most populous place in British North America. Because of immigration, people of British origin were the majority in Montr?al from 1831 to 1866. This change had a visible impact on architecture: the new public and private buildings reflected British tastes.
In 1832 Montreal received its first city charter, which expired in 1836; a new one was granted in 1840. In 1844 the city became the capital of Canada, but it lost this position in 1849 after riotous crowds burned the buildings of Parliament, Canada's legislature.
By the mid-19th century Montreal was Canada's leading manufacturing center, producing a vast array of durable and consumer goods. It also emerged as the national railway hub and maintenance center with the establishment of the
Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (1852) and the Canadian Pacific (1881). Montreal was then the commercial, industrial, and financial metropolis of the country.
Population grew accordingly, reaching 216,650 (250,165 with the suburbs) in 1891 and 467,986 (528,397 with the suburbs) by 1911.
New suburban municipalities sprang up on the island, most of which were annexed to the city between 1883 and 1918. Job prospects attracted many rural French Canadians, and the ethnic majority shifted again: by 1911 francophones were 63.5 percent of the city's population. With new immigration at the beginning
of the 20th century, Montr?al also became a more cosmopolitan city.