Although the area was originally explored by Jacques Cartier in 1535, it was not until 1611 that a fur trading post was established here by Champlain. The actual City of Montreal, originally called "Ville Marie" ("City of Mary"), was not founded until 1642. Fifteen years later, the Roman Catholic Sulpician Order established a small parish here dedicated to the "Holy Name of Mary". The Order built its first church down by the old port in 1672. By 1824, the congregation had outgrown this small church, so the Sulpicians hired an Irish Protestant Architect, James O'Donnell to build a much larger church, on its present-day site. The first tower, nicknamed "Perseverance", was built in 1841 on the western side of the church and housed the 11 ton bell named "Jean-Baptiste". This bell was so heavy that when it was rung the traditional way (i.e. 11 men pulling on alternating ropes), the whole tower shook and soon developed cracks. The bell is only rung now on special occasions by means of a striking hammer. The Eastern tower, nicknamed "Temperance", was built in 1843 and houses a carillon of ten bells. Notre Dame had became the first cathedral of the Diocese of Montreal by this time. Considered to be the largest cathedral in North America, it was supplanted fifty years after construction was completed by St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. The beautiful stained glass windows of Notre Dame do not depict scenes from the bible (as was the custom) but rather scenes from the religious history of the city. By 1888, church authorities decided that a more intimate chapel was needed for smaller services, so la Chapelle du Sacre-Coeur (Chapel of the Sacred Heart) was built behind the high altar. An unknown arsonist set fire to this chapel in 1978, pretty much destroying it. Using old drawings and photos of the original chapel, it was quickly rebuilt.
Notre Dame, now raised to the rank of Basilica, has been the site for the wedding of Celine Dion to Rene Angelil and for the funeral of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.