Located in the borough of Ville-Marie, the area is usually thought of as being bounded to the west by McGill St., to the north by Saint Antoine St., to the east by Berri St., and to the south by the Saint Lawrence River.
It was not until 1639 that a permanent settlement was created by a French tax collector named Jérôme Le Royer. Under the authority of the Roman Catholic Société Notre-Dame, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, Jeanne Mance and a few French colonists set up a mission named Ville Marie on May 17, 1642. On January 4, 1648, de Maisonneuve granted Pierre Gadois the first concession of land - some 40 acres. In November of 1653, another 140 individuals arrived to enlarge the settlement that eventually became known as Montreal.
The town was fortified in 1725 and remained French until 1760, when, during the French and Indian War, Pierre François de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal surrendered it to the British army under Jeffrey Amherst. Fire destroyed one quarter of the town on May 18, 1765.
As time went on, however, the business district moved northwest, reaching its present location, centred around Sainte Catherine Street, south of Mount Royal. Through the mid-to-late twentieth century, the old city decayed. However, major urban renewal programs have resurrected its commercial and residential life while protecting its heritage.
In the eastern part of the old city, near Place Jacques-Cartier, are found such important buildings as Montreal City Hall, Bonsecours Market, and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, as well as preserved colonial mansions such as the Château Ramezay and the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site of Canada.
Further west, Place d'Armes is dominated by Notre-Dame Basilica on its southern side, accompanied by the 1684 Sulpician seminary, the oldest extant building in Montreal. The other sides of the square, however, are devoted to commerce; to the north is the former Bank of Montreal Head Office and to the west, the Aldred Building and the 1888 New York Life Building, the oldest skyscraper in Canada. The rest of Saint Jacques Street is lined with lofty old bank buildings - like the Old Royal Bank Building - from its heyday as Canada's financial centre. The southwest of the old city contains important archeological remains of Montreal's first townsite, around Place d'Youville and Place Royale, and in the Pointe-à-Callière museum.
Architecture and cobbled streets in Old Montreal have been maintained or restored to keep the look of the city in its earliest days as a settlement, and horse-drawn calèches help maintain that image. Finally, the old town's riverbank is completely taken up by the Old Port (Vieux-Port), whose maritime facilities are surrounded with a vast recreational space with a variety of museums and attractions.
The city of Montreal plans to make part of Rue Saint-Paul pedestrian-only starting in the summer of 2008.