Downtown Itinerary - Architecture

© Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin - Windsor Station© Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin - Centre CDP Capital - The Parquet© Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin - Mary Queen of the World Cathedral
© Réjean Ménard - Montréal Convention Centre (Palais des congrès de Montréal)© OSM, Nicolas Ruel - Maison Symphonique de Montréal© World Trade Centre Montréal - World Trade Centre Montréal

© Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin - Windsor Station

August 19, 2016 - Montréal architecture is characterized by the juxtaposition of old and new with a wide variety of styles dating as far back as 1685. As home to four institutions of higher learning (McGill University, Université de Montréal, Concordia University, and Université du Québec à Montréal) offering programs in architecture, interior design, industrial design, and urban planning, as well as the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), a leading international voice  in promoting knowledge, understanding, and debate on architectural history, theory, and practice, Montréal is a city that is well-aware of the ways in which the built environment continues to reflect its development in the 21st century. As you will see, the buildings in Montréal and the architects who designed them follow a common path of diversity that continues to this day and gives the city the unique backdrop that well reflects the multicultural nature of its population.

If you would like to tour the city’s architecture on a bicycle, Montréal on Wheels, the metropolitan area’s largest bicycle touring and rental centre offers a variety of tours in the company of experienced guides capable of explaining much about the city’s built environment.


Architecture in downtown Montréal is as diverse as the people who inhabit and work in the area. Montréal’s downtown combines commercial and residential structures as much as it does older and newer buildings and traditional and innovative design.

Start off the day where Old Montréal meets downtown at the Quartier international, a public area dotted with interesting works of art and architecture, including the Palais des congrès de Montréal (Montréal Convention Centre). The Palais is a tribute to architectural cohesion, combining a mix of materials while successfully integrating three centuries of the built environment into its structure. The original Palais dates from the 1970s, and major expansion work, executed from 1999 to 2002, incorporated a number of historic structures including: the façade of the Rogers and King foundry, built in 1885; the façade of Fire Station No. 20 constructed by Louis-Roch Montbriand in 1908; and the Art Deco style Tramways Building, built in 1928 and preserved in its entirety. The Palais, incidentally, is listed among the architectural wonders of the world in the book 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die.

Just off the west side of the Palais is the Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, where a sculptural fountain, La Joute, brings to life the vision of the artist after whom this public square is named. Across the street and on the other side of Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle is the Centre CDP Capital, the Montréal regional office of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the main investment arm of the Quebec government. Overlooking the Ville-Marie Expressway, this award-winning structure contains many architectural, technical, and bioclimatic innovations. The brightly lit Parquet is a public space where people can gather and enjoy entertainment or browse the displays of artwork.

At the south side (Saint-Antoine Street) of the Palais and housed behind the Fire Station No. 20 façade is the Maison de L’Architecture du Québec, a centre that aims to stimulate and diffuse creativity related to architecture, landscape design, and urban planning.

Now, head northwest to visit one of North America’s earliest megastructures, Place Bonaventure. The first multi-use building complex in Canada to create a permanent trade fair with large-scale convention and exhibition facilities, Place Bonaventure occupies a full block and incorporates a shopping concourse connecting to subway, railway, and interior and exterior pedestrian systems; an exhibition hall of 250,000 square feet; an international trade centre; and on the roof, a 400-room hotel.

Just north of Place Bonaventure is the 1958 Queen Elizabeth Hotel by George Drummond and Harold Greensides, the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous 1969 Bed-In. A bit farther north is Place Ville Marie, which forms a vast multi-functional complex that includes five office towers and a shopping centre. Inaugurated in 1962, it was the first phase of Montréal's famed Underground City. The cross plan of the main building allows natural light to penetrate right into the very centre of the structure.

Standing kitty-corner across René-Lévesque Boulevard is Mary Queen of the World Cathedral. Inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, this Catholic cathedral was built from a scale model, produced by Fr. Joseph Michaud, at the end of the 19th century, in the heart of what was then the city's Anglo-Protestant sector. Inside, a superb gilded neo-baroque baldachin overlooks the altar. In the transept, paintings by Georges Delfosse illustrate the historic beginnings of Montréal.

Cross René-Lévesque Boulevard once more to get a closer look at the Sun Life Building. Inaugurated in 1918, this impressive Beaux Arts style monolith long held the distinction of being the largest building in the British Empire. At one point, it represented the power of the Anglo-Saxon establishment in Montréal and was even used as a safe, during World War II, for the gold reserves of a number of European countries and for the jewels of the British Crown.

The Sun Life Building sits on the edge of Dorchester Square, an urban oasis of greenery lined with historic structures. At the north end of the Square is another Beaux Arts style construction, the Dominion Square Building (Dominion Square was renamed Dorchester Square in 1987 in honour of Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester).

On the western edge of the Square is the Second Empire Style north annex of the Windsor Hotel (today an office building called, “The Windsor”). The now demolished original hotel, built between 1876 and 1878, was the historic site at which Mark Twain famously said, “This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window.” Resting next to The Windsor to the south is the International Style Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) Building. The office tower remains a quintessential example of the modernist skyscraper.

To see a Romanesque Revival archetype, walk a block south to see Windsor Station, a former train station that was a hub of Canada’s railway system. The station is no longer connected to the rail network, although the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and other companies use the building for some of their operations. The station lobby contains a vast interior space topped by a stunning vaulted roof pierced with windows.

As lunchtime approaches head back to Dorchester Square and step back into the roaring twenties at the Dominion Square Tavern, a reinvented eatery with fittings reminiscent of an English pub. Chandeliers, wrought iron details, terrazzo flooring, and ceramic walls complement a pleasant meal of delectable cuisine typical of European brasseries.

Once you have reenergized for the afternoon, head up to Sainte-Catherine Street West and stroll westward to experience downtown energy at its best. As you get closer to Guy Street and the Shaughnessy Village neighbourhood (bounded by Guy Street to the east, Atwater Street to the west, Sherbrooke Street West to the north, and René Lévesque Boulevard to the south), you will start to notice some recent additions to the Montréal skyline at the Sir George Williams campus of Concordia University. This “Quartier Concordia” is in the process of being transformed from a collection of scattered buildings into a welcoming and cohesive urban campus.

When you reach Saint-Mathieu Street, turn south and walk two blocks until Baile Street, where you will come across the world-renowned Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). Founded in 1979, the CCA is an international research centre and museum recognized for the richness of its collections and the quality of its exhibitions. Since 1989, it has been housed in its current complex comprising a newer building, which is integrated with the historically classified 1874 Shaughnessy House, designed by William T. Thomas.

Facing the CCA building from the south side of René-Lévesque Boulevard is the CCA Garden, designed by Montréal artist and architect Melvin Charney. At once a garden in the city and a museum in the open air, it evokes the history of landscape design and comments on Montréal’s early industrial sector.

From the CCA Garden take René-Lévesque Boulevard to head east and back towards the city centre. After a block, you will see on the north side of the street the Grey Nuns Motherhouse and Garden, which were completed in 1901. The building was sold to Concordia University in 2005 and in the future will house academic functions including the university’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

For supper options consider Brasserie Le Pois Penché, a classic Parisian restaurant offering freshly prepared French specialties and a selection of over 150 imported French wines.

If you would prefer to try more inventive and modern cuisine prepared from the best products in Québec, then proceed to Restaurant Europea, which is a 4-Diamond CAA/AAA establishment and has recently joined the ranks of the prestigious Grandes Tables du Monde de France.

Another flagship of fine dining is restaurant Toqué!, owned by Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux Normand Laprise. This establishment, rated Five Diamonds by AAA/CAA and member of the exclusive Grandes Tables du Monde family,  promises to dazzle even the most discerning palates.

From classic to innovative, the cuisine offered in Montréal is in this respect much like the architecture of the city.



For another shining example of how one little area of the city can embody over a hundred years of architecture, head to Sherbrooke Street West and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), whose four pavilions represent 19th, 20th, and 21st century building practices.

The earliest of the four pavilions, the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion (formerly the Erskine and American United Church and also known as the Canadian Art Pavilion) is also the one that encompasses the latest architectural advancements. On the northeast corner of Sherbrooke Street West and Du Musée Avenue, the original church is a splendid example of the Romanesque Revival style. The church’s impressive Tiffany stained glass windows date from 1903 and were installed in 1938-39 to form the most extensive group of Tiffany religious stained glass in the country. Acquired by the MMFA in 2004, the church underwent a massive renovation and expansion that includes five new exhibition halls and an underground gallery linking the existing network to a new concert hall.

The remaining three pavilions of the MMFA are: the Beaux Arts Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion; the Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion (just behind the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion); and the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion (on the south side of Sherbrooke Street West at the museum main entrance).

The Museum will be enhanced with a new building in 2017 on Bishop Street, south of the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion and Sherbrooke Street. The contemporary-style building, which will be composed of glass, stone and wood, will highlight the beautiful Victorian heritage of the surrounding area by incorporating grey stone filigree to its facade.

As a traditional thoroughfare in the centre of Montréal’s Golden Square Mile, Sherbrooke Street West is home to several architectural masterpieces such as the Art Deco Holt Renfrew store and the regal Ritz-Carlton Montréal hotel, which has recently undergone full renovation and expansion works.

Just a few blocks farther east is the Maison Alcan. Completed in 1983, it was one of the first large commercial projects in Canada to integrate historic buildings in their entirety with new construction. Take some time to stroll down Sherbrooke Street West to admire the plethora of old and new buildings. When you are ready for lunch, make your way to the McCord Museum, one of the most important historical museums in Canada, which celebrates Montréal life past and present. The Museum’s Café Bistro is a great stop for your midday meal.

Stay in the neighbourhood for the afternoon and take a short walk up and down McGill College Avenue, which was created in the 1840s when the southern portion of the McGill University estate was subdivided into building lots to raise funds for the school. Its current state dates from 1988 when the avenue was widened and the sidewalks and the central landscaped meridian were installed.

At the southwest corner of McGill College Avenue and Sherbrooke Street West is the Dr. William A. Molson House. Typical of the Edwardian era, this grey limestone mansion is the lone survivor of the time when this part of Sherbrooke Street West and both sides of McGill College Avenue were lined with mansions and townhouses. The house was extensively rebuilt in 1992, with its front façade intact. The richly carved entrance portal shows the influence of the Jacobean period and is typical of the revival architecture in vogue at the turn of the century in North America.

Across the street is the McGill University downtown campus. Founded following a bequest from James McGill, a Montréal fur trader born in Glasgow, McGill University received its charter from King George IV in 1821. Walking around the campus, which comprises more than 80 buildings on 80 acres of land, will give you a good sense of the eras through which McGill has literally risen to prominence as an outstanding institution of higher learning.

Once you have explored the campus, head farther east down Sherbrooke Street West until you get to Jeanne-Mance Street, where you will find the Pierre-Dansereau Science Complex of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Sited on a quadrangle bordered by Sherbrooke Street West, Saint-Urbain Street, and President Kennedy and Jeanne-Mance Avenues, the complex  comprises four pavilions, a centre for the dissemination and popularization of science (Coeur des sciences), and university residences.

One block south of the complex is the city’s Quartier des spectacles, Montréal’s entertainment district where within one square kilometre, more than 80 cultural venues offer an exceptionally diverse range of activities. Here you will find the Maison symphonique de Montréal, the innovative concert hall for the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM). Because the structure of the hall is lined with wood, a material well-known for its exceptional acoustic properties, concert-goers are able to appreciate the full clarity and richness of each and every tone they hear.

Right next to the Maison symphonique is Place des Arts. With its five halls containing nearly 6,000 seats and its outdoor plaza playing host to the city's largest festivals, Place Des Arts is a hub for cultural events. The Espace culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme is a lively interior public space.

Just across Sainte-Catherine Street West sits Complexe Desjardins, noteworthy for the unique octagonal forms of its towers, as well as for the context in which the building’s design was conceived. As with many of the projects built at the time, the architecture of Complexe Desjardins was influenced by the wishes of then mayor of Montréal, Jean Drapeau, who wanted both Place des Arts and the spires of Notre-Dame Basilica to be visible from the centre of the complex. This explains the presence of the massive glass windows on the Sainte-Catherine Street and René-Lévesque Boulevard sides of the building. The view of Notre-Dame’s spires have since been blocked by the construction of Complexe Guy-Favreau and the Palais des congrès de Montréal.

Among the many other notable buildings in the area is the Society for Arts and Technology [SAT], with its recent sound and video dome addition, the Satosphere, designed by Luc Courchesne, director of the school of industrial design at the Université de Montréal and SAT co-founder. The Satosphere is 15 metres high, 18 metres in diameter, and is equipped with eight video projectors and 157 speakers.

From the Quartier des Spectacles, walk east on De Maisonneuve Boulevard for a couple of blocks to see the Habitations Jeanne-Mance, one of the largest and oldest social housing projects in Canada. Large and colourful murals at the site, by American artists Phillip Adams and David Guinn, were inaugurated in 2011.

Continue farther east until you get to Berri Street and the Grande Bibliothèque, which houses Québec’s largest collection of recent, rare, and old books, multimedia documents, reference materials, maps and prints. The building is clad with over 6,000 U-shaped plates of glass of a type never before used in North America, placed horizontally on the copper uprights that run the whole height of the building. Inside are two chambres de bois (wooden rooms), multi-storey areas that are demarcated by walls of wooden slats, either allowing indirect natural light or blocking it depending on the conservation needs of the collection. The slats are made of Québec-grown yellow birch, the official tree of the province.

Now, head back to Saint-Denis Street (one block west) and walk up to Square Saint-Louis which is lined with imposing 19th century homes. Attracting well-to-do French-Canadian families to the area in the early 1800s, a number of artists also called this their stomping ground, including renowned poet Émile Nelligan.

For a delicious and rewarding supper, head to La Prunelle, a BYOW which offers the finest in market-fresh cuisine exquisitely showcasing regional produce in an unpretentious décor, or to Bistrot La Fabrique, which serves up tasty reinvented French cuisine in a rustic atmosphere highlighted by wooden accents.






Palais des congrès de Montréal (Montréal Convention Centre)

1001 Jean-Paul-Riopelle Place

1970 and 1999-2002

Centre CDP Capital

1000 Jean-Paul-Riopelle Place

consortium of architects, including FABG and Lemay Associés


Place Bonaventure

800 De La Gauchetière Street West

Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold, Sise (predecessor of the firm ARCOP)


Place Ville Marie

Corner of McGill College Avenue and Cathcart Street

Sino American architect Ieoh Ming Pei


Cathedral Mary Queen of the World

Corner of René-Lévesque Blvd. and Mansfield Street

19th century

The Sun Life Building

1155 Metcalfe Street

1929-1931 –by Canadian firm Darling, Pearson and Cleveland

1913-1918, 1923-1926 and 1929-1931

Dominion Square Building

1010 Sainte-Catherine Street West

Architectural firm Ross and Macdonald


The Windsor

1170 Peel Street

G.H. Worthington


Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)

1155 René-Lévesque Blvd.

British-born architect Peter Dickinson


The Windsor Station

Corner of Peel and De La Gauchetière West Streets

American architect Bruce Price


Quartier Concordia - Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Building and the John Molson School of Business Building

Corner of Guy and Sainte-Catherine Streets

Canadian firm Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB).

2005 and 2009

Canadian Centre for Architecture

1920 Baile Street

Peter Rose with Phyllis Lambert, consulting architect, and Erol Argun, associate architect


Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion known as Canadian Art Pavilion (formerly the Erskine and American United Church)

1339 Sherbrooke Street West (main museum entrance); formerly 1339 Sherbrooke Street West

Church designed by Montréal architect Alexander Cowper Hutchinson

Pavilion completed by Provencher Roy + Associés



Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion

1379 Sherbrooke Street West (main museum entrance)

William Sutherland Maxwell and Edward Maxwell (brothers)


Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion

1379 Sherbrooke Street West (main museum entrance)

Fred Lebensold


Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion

1380 Sherbrooke Street West (main museum entrance)

Moshe Safdie


Holt Renfrew store

1300 Sherbrooke Street West

Ross and Macdonald


Ritz Carlton Montréal

1228 Sherbrooke Street West

American firm Warren and Wetmore


Maison Alcan

1188 Sherbrooke Street West

Raymond Tait Affleck and ARCOP


Dr. William A. Molson House

892 Sherbrooke Street West

Robert Findley


Rebuilt in 1992 with its front façade intact.

Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) – Pierre-Dansereau Science Complex

4 pavilions - Sherbrooke Street West, Saint-Urbain Street, and President Kennedy and Jeanne-Mance Avenues

Saia Barbarese Topouzanov Architectes; Tétreault Parent Languedoc and Associates; Birtz Bastien; and Claude Cormier, Architectes-Paysagistes Inc.


Maison symphonique de Montréal

1600 Saint-Urbain Street

Diamond+Schmitt Architects


Place des Arts

175 Sainte-Catherine Street West

Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold, Michaud and Sise


Complexe Desjardins

150 Sainte-Catherine Street West

built by several architects


Society for Arts and Technology [SAT]

1201 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

Satosphere, designed by Luc Courchesne, director of the school of industrial design at the Université de Montréal and SAT co-founder


Habitations Jeanne-Mance

150 Ontario Street East

Rother, Bland, and Trudeau


Grande Bibliothèque

475 de Maisonneuve Blvd. East

Patkau Architects from Vancouver and Croft-Pelletier/Gilles Guité from Québec