Old Montréal Itinerary - Architecture

© Tourisme Montréal, Daniel Choinière - Old and new buildings© Pointe-à-Callière, Caroline Bergeron - Maison-des-Marins© Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin - Place Jacques-Cartier and City Hall
© Canadian Tourism Commission - Centre d'histoire de Montréal© Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel - Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel by night© Michel Julien - Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History

© Tourisme Montréal, Daniel Choinière - Old and new buildings

November 25, 2013 — 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 architecture, its history, theory, practice, and role in society, 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.

To see Montréal architecture on foot, consult the schedule at Guidatour. The company offers walking tours of Old Montréal and its surrounding areas throughout the summer.

A good way to start an architectural tour of Old Montréal is by situating the city within its archaeological roots at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History, a national historic site rising above the actual remains of the city’s birthplace. Opened in 1992, the venue provides for an authentic archaeological tour of the evolution of the city from the 14th century, when Natives camped on the island of Montréal, right up to the present day. You will see Native artefacts, the city's first Catholic cemetery, its first marketplace, and more, including cutting-edge technology and a multimedia show that brings Montréal's past to life.

On the second floor of the Museum, get a good look at exceptional views of the Old Port and of Habitat 67, the housing complex made up of superimposed cubes designed by Moshe Safdie for Expo 67. While Habitat 67 rests on Cité du Havre, a narrow peninsula in the Montréal harbour, most of the pavilions for Expo 67 were built on Ile-Sainte-Hélène and Ile-Notre-Dame, including the former American Pavilion (now the Biosphère, Environment Museum), one of the world’s largest geodesic domes, and the French Pavilion (now part of the Casino de Montréal), a futuristic, aluminum swirling structure.

Looking for some delicious croissants? Just a few steps away from Pointe-à-Callière is Maison Christian Faure, a fine pastry shop, café, and boutique on Place Royale in the heart of Old Montréal. Located in a 300-year-old historical building, the establishment, which opened in 2013, is the first international school devoted to French pastry in Canada.

Nearby, the Centre d’histoire de Montréal (Montréal history centre) occupies a renovated 1903 building that originally housed a fire station. Characteristic of Victorian- and Edwardian-era architecture in Montréal, the Centre incorporates a number of architectural styles, including a Flemish-inspired profile. Today, the Centre is an exhibition space and learning headquarters for Montréal’s history and heritage.

The public square facing the Centre is Place D’Youville. Built above the bed of the Little Saint-Pierre River, which was canalized in 1832, the square offers a concise synthesis of history. An obelisk erected in 1894 on the site recalls Montréal’s first pioneers. On the south side, between Normand and Saint-Pierre Streets, you can view the stone walls of the former hospital of the Grey Nuns, dating from the 18th century, as well as the Youville Stables, one of the first of the area’s older buildings to be gentrified, with its shady courtyard, gardens, restaurants, and offices.

Once you are done taking in the sites of this historic area, you can head either to Brit & Chips or Boris Bistro, both of which are nearby, for lunch. Brit & Chips is styled after the traditional British chipper and features several different kinds of fish and chips, each with its own distinctive batter (Orange Crush or maple syrup batter to name but a few), while Boris Bistro offers a classic bistro menu on their enchanting terrace or in their welcoming dining room.

After your midday munching, stroll north on McGill Street, where you will be able to take in awe-inspiring views of the Stock Exchange Tower, built in 1964. When you get to Square Victoria, take some time to appreciate the statue of Queen Victoria, the work of British sculptor Marshall Wood that was unveiled in 1872, and the Art Nouveau entrance to the Square-Victoria Métro station, which was designed by Hector Guimard in 1900 and offered to the City of Montréal by the City of Paris on the occasion of Expo 67.

Now head eastward on Saint-Jacques Street, once Canada’s main thoroughfare of finance, to view the Royal Bank of Canada’s former head office, built between 1926 and 1928. This 22-storey Neoclassical Revival skyscraper is a steel structure clad with grey limestone. The framing of the doors, in Levanto marble, is adorned with decorative bronze motifs representing Canadian and British coins, all surmounted by the coat of arms of the United Kingdom.

Across the street, the multi-use structure comprising a series of facades is Montréal’s World Trade Centre. Completed in 1992 by the architectural firm ARCOP, it incorporates the 1888 Nordheimer building, the old Ruelle des Fortifications (Fortification Lane), a hotel, a large glassed-in atrium, and a fragment of the Berlin Wall given to Montréal for its 350th anniversary. The Centre is also connected to the city’s underground pedestrian network and the Square-Victoria Métro station.

Continuing eastward on Saint-Jacques Street, you will reach Place d’Armes, a square bordered by buildings representing several major periods of Montréal’s development. At the southwest corner of the square is the Saint-Sulpice Seminary, the oldest building in Montréal, which was erected between 1684 and 1687, and then extended 20 years later by the Messrs of Saint-Sulpice who ran the Notre-Dame parish and were “rulers” of the island of Montréal for nearly two centuries. This historical structure is a prime example of the institutional architecture of the colony of New France. Its clock, which dates back to 1701, is possibly the oldest of its kind in North America.

Just next to the Saint-Sulpice Seminary is Notre-Dame Basilica, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, built between 1824 and 1829 by the Irish-born James O'Donnell, who had moved to Montréal from New York City to build the church and died shortly after its completion. The church's interior is grand and colourful with a deep blue ceiling decorated with golden stars. Unusual for a church, the stained glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary do not depict biblical scenes, but rather scenes from the religious history of Montreal.

On Place d’Armes’ east side is the New York Life Insurance Building, erected in 1887-1889. The eight-story structure, Canada's first skyscraper, contained Montréal’s first elevator and rose above the city’s skyline for 12 years before taller buildings were erected. The Old Red Sandstone used in the construction was imported from Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

Sitting next to the New York Life Insurance Building, also on the east side of Place d’Armes, is the Aldred Building, an Art Deco tour de force. Construction began in July, 1929, at the height of the ‘roaring twenties,’ and it was fortunate that work on the Aldred Building continued despite the historical stock market crash three months later. The building was completed, as scheduled, in 1931.

On the north side of the Place d’Armes resides the head office complex of the Bank of Montréal, the oldest bank in Canada, founded in 1817. The Pantheon-like building in the centre was designed and built between 1845 and 1848, while additions were made in 1901 to 1905. The bank’s Beaux-Arts inspired symmetrical plan, consisting of a principal axis, and flanked with secondary axes, offers a monumental path that begins at the entrance hall and then gives way to an atrium leading to the grand banking hall.

After you have finished appreciating the hundreds of years of history at Place d’Armes, head down Saint-Sulpice Street and visit the Cours Le Royer, a section of Le Royer Street that was converted to pedestrian-only use in the early 1980s. It is bordered by former store-warehouses, built between 1861 and 1872, which were redeveloped into apartments and office space as part of a major, urban renewal project conducted between 1976 and 1980.

Now, head down to Saint-Paul Street to check out its characteristic cobblestone streets, street lamps, and other traditional details. Walk eastward until you hit Saint-Gabriel Street, at which point you can turn left to discover North America’s first inn, the Auberge Saint-Gabriel, which was originally built in 1688 by a French soldier and established as an inn in 1754. After being converted into a private mansion during the 19th century, the Auberge was restored to its original vocation, and since then has become a monument showcasing the architectural style of the colony of New France.

Continue walking up Saint-Gabriel Street and you will reach Notre-Dame Street East, where you will be surrounded by three courthouses from different historical periods. To your left on the north side of the street is the newest and largest, completed in 1971. Just east of it is the first Old Montréal courthouse, now a building used for municipal services inaugurated in 1856. And, finally, across the street on the south side is the Québec Court of Appeal, now known as Édifice Ernest Cormier (named after the architect of the building), constructed between 1922 and 1926.

Next up, keep walking east on Notre-Dame Street East where you will notice on your left, City Hall, built between 1872 and 1878 in the Second Empire style, and, on your right, Place Jacques-Cartier, a public square dating back to 1804 and restored in 1998. Just a bit farther east is the Château Ramezay, Montréal’s portal to its past and the first building in Québec to be classified as an historic monument. The site includes the Governor's Garden, a typically delightful 18th century urban retreat.

Now, head back down to Saint-Paul Street to experience what was, for over a century, Montréal’s main agricultural marketplace. The Marché Bonsecours was inaugurated in 1847. Its symmetrical composition, Greek temple-inspired portico (the cast-iron columns were brought from England), tin-plated dome, and simple and varied details make the building a good illustration of the general Neoclassical Revival style favoured at the time. Recent renovations have turned it once again into a bustling marketplace of, among other things, home-grown arts and crafts.

Just one block east of the Marché Bonsecours is the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, a museum and 1771 chapel that houses a tower offering spectacular views of Old Montréal (including The Clock Tower) and surroundings (including the St. Lawrence River and the Biosphère, Environment Museum). The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is the oldest in the city.

Make your way back up to Notre-Dame Street East to visit the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site. Meticulously restored according to the tastes and customs of the Montréal bourgeoisie around 1860, the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site commemorates the life and work of this renowned politician and Father of Confederation.

For a final pit stop before suppertime, proceed to Berri Street to check out the head office and creative studio of Cirque Éloize, located in the renovated Gare Dalhousie, a historic departure station for the first train that went from Montréal to Vancouver in 1886. The station was designed according to the plans of English architect Thomas C. Solby and built between 1883 and 1884. It went through a major renovation in 1986.

For dinner, retrace your steps to Auberge Saint-Gabriel, a romantic inn renowned for its fine classic French and Québec cuisine prepared with the best available market ingredients. You might also want to consider Club Chasse et Pêche, which serves a fresh, creative, and refined menu featuring Québec gastronomy. Bon appétit!

Before heading back to your place of accommodation, stop off at the Champ de Mars Métro station to see Marcelle Ferron’s amazing set of stained-glass windows, dating from 1966 to 1968, whose abstract forms create a spectacular burst of colour within the station.





Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History

350 Place Royale

Dan S. Hanganu and the firm Provencher Roy


Habitat 67

Cité du Havre

Moshe Safdie


Biosphère, Environment Museum (Expo 67 American Pavilion)

Parc Jean-Drapeau

Buckminster Fuller


Casino de Montréal (Expo 67 French Pavilion)

Parc Jean-Drapeau

Jean Faugeron


Centre d’histoire de Montréal

335 Place d’Youville

Joseph Perrault and Simon Lesage


Stock Exchange Tower

Italians Luigi Moretti and Pier Luigi Nervi


Royal Bank of Canada

360 Saint-Jacques Street West

New York architects, York and Sawyer

1926 to 1928

World Trade Centre

747 Square-Victoria Street

Architectural firm ARCOP


Saint-Sulpice Seminary

130 Notre-Dame Street West

1684 to 1687

Notre-Dame Basilica

110 Notre-Dame Street West

James O’Donnell

1924 to 1929

New York Life Insurance

511 Place d’Armes

New York City-based architects Babb, Cook and Willard

1887 to 1889

Aldred Building

501-507 Place d’Armes

Barott and Blackader

(Ernest Isbell Barott is a Canadian architect of American birth)


Bank of Montréal

119 Saint-Jacques Street West

John Wells

(additions by New York firm, McKim, Mead, and White)

1845 to 1848

(additions made in 1901 to 1905)

Banque canadienne nationale (now the National Bank of Canada).

500 Place d’Armes

Pierre Boulva and Jacques David


Auberge Saint-Gabriel

426 Saint-Gabriel Street


Three law courts


1, 100 and 155,  Notre-Dame Street East

Ernest Cormier

John Ostell

Pierre Boulva and Jacques David

1922 to 1926



City Hall

275 Notre-Dame Street East

Henri-Maurice Perrault and Alexander Cowper Hutchison

1872 to 1878

Château Ramezay

280 Notre-Dame Street East

1755-1757 (major renovations  1812 to 1830, 1848-1849 and 1903)

Marché Bonsecours

350 Saint-Paul Street East


Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel

400 Saint-Paul Street East


Sir George-Étienne-Cartier National Historic Site

458 Notre-Dame Street East


Gare Dalhousie

417 Berri Street

Thomas C. Solby

1883 to 1884

(major renovation in 1986)

Maison Pierre-du-Calvet

401 Saint-Paul Street East