In 2016, the city had a population of 1,704,694. Montreal's metropolitan area had a population of 4,098,927 and a population of 1,942,044 in the urban agglomeration, with all of the municipalities on the Island of Montreal included. French is the city's official language and is the language spoken at home by 49.8% of the population of the city, followed by English at 22.8% and 18.3% other languages (in the 2016 census, not including multi-language responses). In the larger Montreal Census Metropolitan Area, 65.8% of the population speaks French at home, compared to 15.3% who speak English. The agglomeration Montreal is one of the most bilingual cities in Quebec and Canada, with over 59% of the population able to speak both English and French. Montreal is the second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris. It is situated 258 kilometres (160 mi) south-west of Quebec City.
Archaeological evidence demonstrates that First Nations native people occupied the island of Montreal as early as 4,000 years ago. By the year AD 1000, they had started to cultivate maize. Within a few hundred years, they had built fortified villages. The Saint Lawrence Iroquoians, an ethnicity distinct from the Iroquois nations of the Haudenosaunee then based in present-day New York, established the village of Hochelaga at the foot of Mount Royal two centuries before the French arrived. Archeologists have found evidence of their habitation there and at other locations in the valley since at least the 14th century. The French explorer Jacques Cartier visited Hochelaga on October 2, 1535, and estimated the population of the native people at Hochelaga to be "over a thousand people". Evidence of earlier occupation of the island, such as those uncovered in 1642 during the construction of Fort Ville-Marie, have effectively been removed.
Montreal was incorporated as a city in 1832. The opening of the Lachine Canal permitted ships to bypass the unnavigable Lachine Rapids, while the construction of the Victoria Bridge established Montreal as a major railway hub. The leaders of Montreal's business community had started to build their homes in the Golden Square Mile (~2.6 km2) from about 1850. By 1860, it was the largest municipality in British North America and the undisputed economic and cultural centre of Canada.
The 1970s ushered in a period of wide-ranging social and political changes, stemming largely from the concerns of the French speaking majority about the conservation of their culture and language, given the traditional predominance of the English Canadian minority in the business arena. The October Crisis and the 1976 election of the Parti Quebecois, supporting sovereign status for Quebec, resulted in the departure of many businesses and people from the city. In 1976 Montreal was the host of the Olympics. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Montreal experienced a slower rate of economic growth than many other major Canadian cities. Montreal was the site of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre, Canada's worst mass shooting, where 25-year-old Marc Lepine shot and killed 14 people, all of them women, and wounding 14 other people before shooting himself at Ecole Polytechnique.