In February 1963, Canadian National Railways sought proposals for the development of air rights above its downtown Montreal railway line.
The Concordia Estates Development Company took this opportunity to submit a major project involving the construction of a Canadian Trade Centre measuring two million square feet in area. It wanted to lease these spaces for the holding of conventions and exhibitions, as well as for the development of offices and a wholesale trade centre.
At the same time, subway construction and preparations for the 1967 world’s fair were contributing to an explosion in the real estate sector in the downtown area. Montreal was about to experience an urban transformation of historic proportions. Everything was combining to ensure great success for the Place Bonaventure project!
The Place Bonaventure concept took on huge proportions as the plans evolved, with the final version determined in October 1965. Construction took slightly more than two years, and ended in 1967. In its final form, the complex reached the staggering size of 3.1 million square feet, exceeding the Empire State Building and becoming the world’s largest building at the time.
Place Bonaventure is one of the most spectacular examples of brutalism, a trend that was popular among architects between 1950 and 1970, with a style that is easily identifiable for its angular geometric shapes and the use of concrete as the primary construction material. Various other buildings in Montreal were part of this trend, including the McLennan Library at McGill University, Habitat 67, Hôtel Le Germain and the Judith-Jasmin Pavilion at Université du Québec à Montreal.
Following a rocky start, Place Bonaventure became the place to be in the early 1970s. Its wholesale trade centre housed mostly big-name fashion firms from across Canada as well as furniture and toy companies. A few years later, the Hilton Hotel achieved great success, with its hanging gardens and all-season open-air pool. The complex’s integrated concept met expectations and fulfilled the role intended for it ten years earlier.
The tide turns
Political change in the late 1970s led to a period of economic turbulence, and Place Bonaventure was not spared from this.
After a difficult period, the Montreal economy adjusted and regained momentum, with a sudden spurt in demand for large contiguous office spaces. Place Bonaventure, holding the attributes to meet this demand, was quick to adopt new approaches and to adjust to the market.
Place Bonaventure is transformed
In 1998, Place Bonaventure underwent a major transformation to re-establish an image worthy of its exceptional status in the heart of Montreal’s Quartier international. More than $60 million was invested in renovating the office space and refurbishing the public areas and exhibition halls.
With this transformation, the building – long nicknamed “the fortress” – was endowed with windows on each side, producing much better natural lighting inside the facilities. Also, construction of a tunnel under University Street linked Place Bonaventure to a new underground pedestrian network.
The table below sums up the main transformations that took place:
|Offices||955,000 sq. ft.||1,354,000 sq. ft.|
|Retail space||197,000 sq. ft.||22,000 sq. ft.|
|Wholesale businesses||172,000 sq. ft.||0 sq. ft.|
|Exhibition halls||241,800 sq. ft.||315,000 sq. ft.|
With its highly successful transformation, Place Bonaventure is now the perfect place to establish a business.
A number of leading companies are now located there, and numerous exhibitions draw more than a million visitors per year. With nearly 50 years of history, Place Bonaventure continues to stand out as a multifunctional complex with a unique personality.