Itinerary - Montréal Architecture: From the Oratory to HoMa to the Canal

© Michel Caty - Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal© Yves Guertin - The Montréal Tower / Montréal Olympic Park© Espace pour la vie, Raymond Jalbert - Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium – Espace pour la vie
© Studio Nincheri - Studio Nincheri© Canadian Tourism Commission, Pierre St-Jacques - Maisonneuve Market

© Michel Caty - Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal

June 21, 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 voice internationally 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. 

This variety of itinerary options involves rising to new heights in one way or another.

Saint Joseph's Oratory, perched atop one of the three peaks of Mount Royal, is among the world's most visited centres of pilgrimage. The basilica's huge dome reaches 97 meters and is second only in height to Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. The imposing edifice contrasts sharply with the slight stature of its founder, Saint Brother André, the humble doorkeeper who inspired its construction in 1904. In 2002, a proposal for major development and renovation was drawn up with the support of Oratory donors, the public, religious communities, governments, and foundations. Among the projects to be undertaken is the development of the dome to offer access to stunning panoramas of the greater Montréal area.

Founded in 1878, the Université de Montréal is one of North America's largest educational centres. Its main Art Deco style building, the Pavilion Roger-Gaudry, was designed by Ernest Cormier and is known for its imposing tower on the northwest slope of Mount Royal. In the great tradition of North American universities, the entire campus is made up of green space and over 30 buildings. 

A popular oasis in the city's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (HoMa) district, the Montréal Botanical Garden is recognized as one of the world's largest and finest. Its extensive collection of 22,000 plant species and cultivars contained in 10 exhibition greenhouses and some thirty thematic gardens make it an exceptionally beautiful attraction. The Garden's founding director, preeminent botanist Frère Marie-Victorin, drew from and expanded upon four hundred years of western botanical studies and planning to realize the Garden in the 1930s. The Art Deco administration pavilion is ornamented with frescoes and bas-reliefs illustrating scenes from Amerindian life and plant usage during colonial times. 

La Maison de l'arbre (The Tree House) at the Garden is based on an interpretation of the tree as a pillar. In keeping with the theme of the site, local wood (white pine, balsam fir, white spruce, sugar maple, yellow birch and Douglas fir) was used in different forms and ways.

The Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre, at the Garden's main entrance, was designed according to the internationally-recognized Gold LEED standard (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and adapted by the Canada Green Building Council. Some of the features that contribute to this designation include a green roof, the collection and reuse of rainwater for toilet flushing, and a geothermal system for heating and air conditioning. 

Still on the grounds of the Garden is the Montréal Insectarium, whose exterior shape in plan takes the form of an insect. The largest of its kind in North America, the Montréal Insectarium holds about 150,000 arthropod specimens. 

Built between 1915 and 1918, the Château Dufresne is a Beaux Arts style private mansion, designed by Parisian architect Jules Renard, which was owned by the Dufresne brothers, two important members of the Montréal' French Bourgeoisie. Today, it houses the museum, dedicated to Montréal's East side history. The building boasts an interior decor painted by artist Guido Nincheri and is testament to the tastes of the roaring twenties' bourgeoisie. Dubbed by Pope Pius XI as “'the church's greatest artist of religious themes,” Nincheri studied art in Florence and immigrated to Montreal in 1915 after a short stay in Boston where he decorated the Boston Opera House. He was knighted by the Italian government in 1972, and his workshop, the oldest extant stained-glass studio in Québec, is located at 1832 Pie-IX Boulevard, just four blocks south of the Château Dufresne.

A trip to Montréal would not seem complete without a visit to the Olympic Park’s Tower. Built for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, the Olympic Stadium is the Park's centrepiece, a bold design by French architect Roger Taillibert, which serves as a multipurpose facility for a variety of events. Inspired by the Australian Pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka, the “Big O” is an ellipsoidal building resembling a huge shell, open in the center and topped with an inclined tower (165 meters high), the tallest of its kind in the world. The upper part of the tower is a mass of 8000 tonnes which is permanently attached to an immutable concrete infrastructure that goes down to ten metres below ground level and has a mass of 145,000 tonnes, which is equivalent to three aircraft carriers. A funicular-type elevator brings visitors to the top three observation floors of the Tower, which offers a spectacular view of the city. The sports centre, at the foot of the Tower, has seven aquatic pools as well as a multi-sport facility.

Sprawled next to the Olympic Stadium is the Montréal Biodôme (formely the Velodrome for the 1976 Olympics), also by Roger Taillibert. A combined velodrome and judo facility for the Games, the Biodôme is now a nature museum housing four Ecosystems of the Americas, with over 4,800 animals from 230 different species and 750 plant types.

At a nearby site, the new 2013 Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium joins the Biodôme, Insectarium, and Botanical Garden to complete what is known as Montréal Space For Life. Shaped by the creative ingenuity of an inspired group of architects, engineers, contractors, and LEED certification specialists, the Planetarium is an embodiment of state-of-the-art technology and the principles of renewable energy and sustainability. The Planetarium includes two immersion theatres hosting multimedia shows, each housed in a circular structure resembling a telescope peering out at the universe.

A springboard of Montréal's industrial development, the area around the Lachine Canal, from the Old Port westward to the borough of Lachine, boasts a host of cultural and historical sites away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

An excursion to the area might include a stop at the open-air Atwater Market, which is conveniently located just off the bike path. The market's Art Deco building opened in 1933 and is home to an incredible assortment of mouth-watering delicacies, from farm-fresh meats and cheeses to the best baguette you have ever tasted.

You can check out the Maison Saint-Gabriel, Museum and Historic Site. Purchased by Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1662, this magnificent 300-year-old house is a stellar example of traditional Québec architecture. Converted into a museum in 1966, it showcases various aspects of rural life in the 17th century and the extraordinary experience of the King's Wards. The site's garden has been recreated in the spirit of New France.





Saint-Joseph’s Oratory

3800 Queen-Mary Road

Dalbé Viau et Alphonse Venne

1924 (completed in 1967)

Université de Montréal – Pavilion Roger-Gaudry

2900 Édouard-Montpetit Blvd.

Ernest Cormier


Montréal Botanical Garden – main building

4101 Sherbrooke Street East

Lucien F. Kéroack


La Maison de l’arbre (The Tree House)

4101 Sherbrooke Street East

Simon Péloquin


Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre

4101 Sherbrooke Street East

Provencher-Roy et Associés Architectes


Montréal Insectarium

4581 Sherbrooke Street East

Albert Paquette


Château Dufresne

2929 Jeanne d’Arc Street

Marius Dufresne


Montréal Tower and Olympic Stadium

4141 Pierre-De Coubertin Avenue

Roger Taillibert


Biodôme de Montréal

4777 Pierre-De Coubertin Avenue

Roger Taillibert

1976 (Velodrome)

1992 (Biodôme)

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

Olympic Stadium

Cardin Ramirez Julien


Atwater Market

138 Atwater Avenue

Ludger  Lemieux and Paul Lemieux


Maison Saint-Gabriel

2146, Place Dublin

Mid-17th century (restored and transformed 1966)