Once French explorer Jacques Cartier started poking around the St. Lawrence River in 1535 he had no choice but to discover what would become modern-day Montreal - it was as far as ocean-going ships could sail upstream before encountering impassable rapids. After planting the French flag there were repeated attempts to establish a fur trading post on the spot but the Mohawks who lived in the area defended their traditional hunting grounds with spirit.

Even after what would ultimately be the permanent settlement of Ville-Marie was established in 1642 its success was scarcely assured. At one point, with the population reduced to 50 by native defenders there were plans to pull up stakes and head back to Quebec City. But the outpost survived and officially became Montreal in 1705. Stone fortifications began rising and a dam was built to link the river to the Île de la Visitation by Simon Sicar which spurred the rise of water-powered industry. It was one of the great engineering triumphs of New France. 

Soon the Montreal area was home to over 20,000 people and realized its destiny as the center of fur trade in North America. Then in 1759 the British achieved what the Mohawks and Iroquois Nation couldn’t quite accomplish - they drove the French out of North America on the battlefield on the Plains of Abraham. The people are allowed to stay and keep their French language and institutions as they so desire. Montreal remained primarily French until the 1830s; it was incorporated as a city in 1832 as more British citizens pointed towards the Saint Lawrence Seaway. By the 1850s Montreal was the largest and most important city in British North America. 

The streets began to reflect the status of Montreal as the economic centre of the Dominion of Canada with ornate company headquarters designed by some of the leading architects in Great Britain and the United States. Well into the 20th century, as the population climbed over one million, Montreal builders were constrained by a law that limited high-rise buildings to no more than ten storeys, below the height of fabled Notre Dame Basilica.

In the middle of the century the prohibition was removed and Montreal began to modernize. It became a truly international city, staging a world’s fair in 1967, becoming home to the first major league baseball franchise outside of the United States in 1969 and hosting Canada’s first Olympic Games in 1976. While the financial and business sector moved into trendier quarters the part of Montreal where the city grew up on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River was declared an historic district in 1964. The buildings (many of them but not all) were saved, renovation projects were launched and revitalization plans implemented. Today Old Montreal is the leading tourist destination in the city and we will kick off our explorations of this slice of 19th century British North America at the spot where it all began...  

Old Port of Montreal
St. Lawrence River

“Old” in this case means 1611 when the first French fur traders set up a trading post here. Several wharves were redeveloped under the eye of architects Aurèle Cardinal and Peter Rose in the 1990s, blending relics of the past like cobblestone streets with modern attractions like the Montreal Science Center.


Montreal Clock Tower
Quai de l’Horloge/Victoria Pier

This 45-metre tower was originally known as The Sailors’ Memorial Clock since it was completed in 1922 as a tribute to Canadian sailors who perished in World War I. The Prince of Wales laid down the cornerstone on October 31, 1919. The clock mechanism was crafted in England by Gillett and Johnston to be an exact replica of the clockworks in London’s Big Ben. The Clock Tower’s accuracy was so precise that sailors passing by on the way in and out of the Port of Montreal set their time pieces to it. The tower light serves as a friendly beacon for incoming ships. Local engineer Paul Leclaire provided the design; the only thing standing between you and spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River are 192 steps. An urban beach has been created in the shadow of the Clock Tower.


Musee Marguerite-Bourgeoys
northeast corner of Bonsecours Street and Commune Street East

Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in the Champagne region of France in 1620 and at the age of 20 turned profoundly religious. In 1653 she sailed to New France and began educating the natives and downtrodden which led to the formation of the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal. In 1982 Pope John Paul II made her a saint. This building serves as a museum to her life.


Bonsecours Market
400 Commune Street East

This stately Palladian building was Montreal’s main public market for the better part of 120 years. Forty-five year old architect William Footner undertook the construction of the project in 1844 and the main core opened three years later. The quarters were impressive enough to host one session of the Provincial Parliament and the Montreal city government for a quarter-century. Looming over the port, the central dome was a landmark for seafarers and city folk alike.The Bonsecours Market dodged the wrecking ball after it was shuttered in the 1960s and has been repurposed as office, retail and event space. It is now celebrated as one of the finest heritage structures in all of Canada.


Place Royale
southwest corner of Place d’Youville and Place Royale

This unadorned and often overlooked public square stands much as it did as Montreal’s first public market when this was a frontier town and grand squares and magnificent buildings were decades in the future. The Old Custom House arrived in 1838, a Greek Revival-styled stone structure from the pen of John Ostell, one of the most esteemed of Montreal’s early 19th century architects. Ostell was 20 years old when he sailed from London to be an apprentice surveyor in 1834. This was his first architectural project; there would be two dozen more major buildings on his Montreal resume. The handsomely proportioned building housed the city’s customs business until 1871.
Pointe-à-Callière Museum
350 Place Royale

This ground is the birthplace of Montreal. The French colonists erected a rudimentary fort here in the 1640s but it did little to deter ongoing attacks by the Mohawks on what was called Ville-Marie. The Little St. Pierre River once separated this wedge of land from the mainland but it has long since been channeled underground. A chateau for colonial governor Louis-Hector de Callière rose here in the late 17th century. It was followed by a grand Victorian pile for the Royal Insurance Company in 1861; that building was demolished in 1951 after a fire. Architect Dan S. Hanganu designed this award-winning structure in 1992 that echoes the ruins of the Royal headquarters. It now houses an archaeological and history museum that tells the story of the city. 


The Allan Building
333 Commune Street at intersection of Saint-Pierre Street and Marguerite d’Youville Street

Hugh Allan was born into a seafaring family in Scotland in 1810. His father Captain Alexander Allan started the busiest transportation line between Glasgow and Montreal in 1819. Five of the Captain’s sons went into the family business but it was the second son, Hugh, who came to rule the waves. He was sent by his father to clerk in a Montreal grain office when he was 16 years old. Hugh leveraged his family connections into business expansion and civic service. He was President of the Montreal Board of Trade and crowbarred the profitable Royal Mail contract from Samuel Cunard in the 1850s for his Montreal Ocean Steamship Company. Sir Hugh Allan was a major player in railroad and banking as well and died one of Canada’s richest men. This building handled passenger service for Allan’s empire; it was constructed in 1858. Look for a high water mark from the flood of 1886 on the entrance pillars. The John Young Monument out front honours the first Chairman of the Port Commission. Young laid such an enduring foundation for the port of Montreal trade he was considered the “father of the port.” The statue by distinguished sculptor Louis-Phillippe Hebert was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of Young’s birth in 1911.  

Harbour Commissioners Building
333 Commune Street

This building was also owned by the Allan Company and home to the offices of the Port of Montreal. The ornate French Second Empire design was contributed by two firms: Daniel B. Wily and John W. Hopkins and Alexander Cowper Hutchinson. The office space was first occupied in 1876. Port officials in various incarnations stayed for pert near 100 years. After pedestrian duty as the home of a Chinese furniture importer until 1997 the building received an exhaustive makeover and emerged as one of the tonier private clubs in the city. 


Montreal Customs House
105 McGill Street

This block-swallowing Beaux Arts edifice began in 1912. The best Canadian granite and sandstone were used in its construction. Eight storeys rise above a formal rusticated base; expansion came along in 1916 and a matching annex was added in the 1930s under the supervision of architect and politician Dalbe Viau. The grand scale of the classically flavoured federal building shows the growth of trade in Montreal during the early years of the 20th century. The Customs House took a star turn in 2001’s The Score with high-wattage stars Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro and Ed Norton; it was Brando’s last feature film role.

Grand Trunk Building
360 McGill Street

The Grand Trunk Transit Company and the City of Montreal cut a deal in 1899 that gave the railroad land downtown in exchange for the promise from the American company to maintain its Canadian head office in town for 20 years. English-born architect Richard A. Waite tapped classical French and Greek influences for the five-storey headquarters that was ready in 1902. High-grade Indiana limestone is ornamented with columns of polished gray Stanstead granite. Financial reversals kept the Grand Trunk for holding up its end of the bragin and the railroad’s assets were absorbed by the Canadian National Railway. The Canadian National stayed until 1961 when the building was sold to the Government of Quebec for office space.

Canadian Express Building/St. Paul Hotel
355 McGill Street

Alexander Cowper Hutchison was nearing the end of an illustrious career as one Montreal’s best Victorian architects when he took on this commission for Canadian Express, a subsidiary of the Grand Trunk Railway trafficking in money orders and traveler’s checks, in 1908. Hutchison delivered an elegant Beaux Arts design for the ten-storey building that features a classical tripartite design of base-shaft-entablature to mimic an ancient column. The main facades are clad in sandstone while the back elevations feature brick. The building spent 15 years at the end of the 20th century empty but received an award-winning restoration to reopen as the boutique Saint-Paul Hotel in 2001.


Place D’Youville

After the early settlement of Montreal migrated from the waterfront to a less flood-prone area up the hill, the land on this historic square was owned by the Old Montreal General Hospital that was run by the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal founded by Marie-Marguerite d’Youville. In 1833 St. Anne’s Market was constructed here for local farmers to sell crops. The building was so handsome the Provincial Parliament moved in during 1844. It was ultimately destroyed by fire in 1849. The replacement market was pulled down in 1901 to create this open space that takes its dimensions from the filling in of the St. Pierre River that had been converted to a canal in 1832.

Hôpital des Soeurs Grises (Grey Nuns’ Hospital)
south side of Place D’Youville at corner of Normand Street
Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais of Quebec was prepared to marry into French high society when her mother up and married an Irish doctor and the family was drummed out of favour. Marie-Marguerite wound up marrying a bootlegger named François d’Youville who died in 1730, leaving her as a 28-year old widow. In 1737 she led the founding of a home for the poor. Marie-Marguerite never quite shook off her past and was often ridiculed as the “gray woman,” a slur referencing her husband’s liquor dealings. Her Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal came to be known as the Gray Nuns. In 1747 the nuns were granted a charter for the General Hospital of Montreal that was erected here. The current building, plainly constructed of stone rubble, dates to 1765 after a major fire.

Centre d’histoire de Montréal
335 Place D’Youville

This Flemish-style ornament in the center of Place D’Youville stands out among the surrounding sea of Montreal gray stone buildings. It was constructed in 1904 to be the city’s central fire station; architects Joseph Perrault and Simon Lesage used contrasting buff sandstone and red brick to create the lively design. Horse drawn pumpers were based here until 1931 when the fire department adopted all motor vehicles. After the station closed in 1972 a transformation into a museum devoted to the history of Montreal began.

Stores of the Gray Sisters
northeast corner of Saint-Pierre Street and Place D’Youville

In the 1870s the Gray Nuns hired busy Montreal architect Michel Laurent to build a series of warehouses for the community. Five warehouse stores were built of Montreal gray stone in similar Romanesque styles. Merchants and commission agents and small manufacturers occupied the commercial spaces. In the 1970s the properties began to be repurposed primarily for residences.

Youville Stables
300-310 Place D’Youville
Jean Bouthillier constructed these three gray stone warehouses in 1827-1828 for his potash business on land leased from the Gray Nuns. Many other businesses used the space over the years: grain dealers, dairy producers, and wholesalers. One thing the buildings were never used for was stables.

Ogilvie Flour Mills Building
224 Place d’Youville at northeast corner of Port Street

William Watson Ogilvie was born on a farm outside of Montreal in 1835. His father founded the Ogilvie Flour Mills which was prosperous enough to provide William a private education before the obligatory entry into the family business. Ogilvie commanded a regiment in the Royal Montreal Cavalry which helped repel the Fenian raids during the 1860s when Irish nationals from the United States launched attacks on British army forts. Ogilvie ascended to the helm of Ogilvie Flour Mills as a great champion of the potential of the Canadian West. He forged a monopoly with the nascent Canadian Pacific Railway to be the sole exporter of grain from Manitoba. By the time this building was purchased in 1890 for a headquarters Ogilvie was the largest miller in the dominion. The esteemed firm of Hutchison and Steele converted the warehouse into office space, sparing no cost on the exquisite interior woodwork and the Romanesque exterior, highlighted by a corner turret. The Ogilvie Flour Mills Company disposed of the building during World War II and it has been reconfigured for residential use.


Lyman Building
285 Place D’Youville at northwest corner of Saint-Nicolas Street

Benjamin Lyman hailed from an old New England family that came to the Massachusetts colony in 1631. Benjamin was born in Vermont in 1810 but his family left for Montreal when he was six years old to join his uncle in the drug business. Led by Benjamin, the Lymans were well-known druggists around town well into the next century. This corner was purchased by Henry Herbert Lyman in 1905 for warehouses and a laboratory. Charles Alexander Mitchell and Daniel John Crighton crafted this Chicago style six-storey building to to do the job; it was ready for occupancy in 1909. The Lyman Building has done duty as condominiums since 1987.

Coristine Building
410 Saint-Nicolas Street at northwest corner of Saint Paul Street West

James Coristine was born in Ireland in 1836 but came to Canada as a young boy. By the age of 14 he was running errands for a local furrier. In time-honored fashion he worked his way all the way to the head of the firm and turned James Coristine and Co. into one of Canada’s most powerful furriers. After fire leveled a large swath of the West End in 1901 Coristine set about rebuilding. Howard Colton Stone, a Massachusetts architect who did a brisk practice in Montreal, drew up plans for an ambitious U-shaped structure that rose in three sections and covered 170,000 square feet when it was all finished in 1907. The fur business occupied only a fraction of the space in one of the city’s biggest buildings and departed completely in the 1930s. Today the Coristine Building is all office space. 


Lake of the Woods Building
261 Saint-Sacrement Street

Members of the board of directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway started the Lake of the Woods Milling Company in 1887 to exploit the opening of the Canadian West by the railroad. Decisions were made in Montreal and milling took place in Keewatin, Ontario. Lake of the Woods became one of the largest milling operations in the world, with flour sent out to bakers everywhere under the iconic Five Roses brand. When it produced a cookbook for using Five Roses it was said that one in two Canadian households owned the recipe book. George Allen Ross and David MacFarlane, who formed one of Canada’s greatest architectural partnerships, designed this Beaux Arts headquarters in 1909 to replace the Corn Exchange building that stood here. In the 1980s the space became mostly condominiums.

Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal
300 Saint-Sacrement Street

Fifty merchants gathered in Montreal in 1822 to promote commerce in the city. Some of their biggest projects included dredging the St. Lawrence River and expanding the Port of Montreal to welcome the largest of ocean-going ships. In the 1890s one of the finest creators of institutional architecture on a grand scale, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston, won a design competition for the Montreal Board of Trade Building. It was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1901 and Montreal architect David R. Brown emptied out his classical toolbox to build a massive six-storey U-shaped replacement that is perfectly symmetrical. The Board of Trade moved on in 1967 and sold the building in 1983. 


Thomas-Philippe-Barron warehouse
439 Saint-Pierre Street at northwest corner of Saint-Sacrement Street

Thomas Philippe Barron was a businessman who bought a commercial building on this corner in 1862 and bankrolled this sturdy five-storey Italianate-flavoured building. It remained in the Barron family for 90 years. An eclectic array of tenants has occupied this space through the years. 

Caverhill Block
451-457 Saint-Pierre Street

The Caverhill family were prominent wholesale merchants in 19th century Montreal and then Winnipeg. These three identical gray stone buildings with cascades of arched openings were constructed in the 1860s as hardware emporiums.

Insurance Exchange Building
northeast corner of Saint-Pierre Street and Notre Dame West

This 11-storey monolith rose in 1924 on five contiguous lots purchased by the Insurance Exchange Corporation Limited. It was the first building in Montreal to break through the ten-storey height limit, taking advantage of a modified code that year. Architect David Jerome Spence hewed to the convention of constructing high rises to look like a classic column with a distinct lower base, unadorned middle floors to represent the shaft and decorated top stories in the manner of a crown. The Insurance Exchange Building boasts more than 20,000 square metres of office space filled with agents and financiers; it is one of the largest office buildings in Canada. From this viewpoint you are looking at the secondary entrance; you will see the front entrance in due order.

Royal Bank Tower
360 Saint-Jacques Street

When the construction crews went home in 1928 this was the tallest building not only in Canada but the entire British Empire. It was the first building in Montreal that could look down on the Notre-Dame Basilica. The Royal Bank of Canada took its first deposits as the Merchants Bank in Halifax in 1864. After a name change in 1901 the bank followed the bulk of the Canadian financial industry to Montreal in 1907. In the 1920s the company hired the foremost bank architects in the United States, Edward York and Philip Sawyer, to design a new financial temple. To make room for the enormous footprint of the 22-storey tower the structures on the entire block were bought up and torn down. The Renaissance Revival tower with Florentine, and Gothic influences rises from a broad six-story pedestal. The Royal Bank moved onto an even bigger tower in 1962 but customers can still make deposits in a branch here.  


Canadian Northern Building
380-384 Saint-Jacques Street

William Tutin Thomas was born in Birmingham, England the son of an architect. William Thomas brought his practice and family to Montreal in the middle of the 19th century and father and son did much to shape the streetscape of Old Montreal. Thomas designed this lively commercial building in 1867, directing operations from his offices across the street. The client was Joseph Tifflin, who made his money from importing teas, sugar and wine. The Canadian Northern Railway bought the building in 1914 and kept it for half a century.


Montreal World Trade Center Building
359-413 Saint-Jacques Street

The Arcops architectural firm in Montreal executed its “horizontal skyscraper” concept here by welding an eclectic collection of Victorian facades for this 1990s office building. Behind the colourful facades is a large skylight-lit open space.


Nordheimer Building
363 Saint-Jacques Street

Samuel Nordheimer was a Bavarian immigrant who came to Canada by way of New York City in the 1840s as a young man. Samuel and brother Abraham set up a piano importing business in Toronto and eventually became the country’s leading publisher of sheet music. The publishing rights to “The Maple Leaf Forever,” the unofficial national anthem penned by Alexander Muir in 1867, were owned by the Nordheimers. A & S Nordheimer bought this land as a warehouse store in 1856; four years later Abraham sold out to Samuel. The original three-storey building, that included a performance hall to showcase Nordheimer-owned music, burned in a December 1886 fire. Architect John James Browne designed this eye-catching replacement and moved his practice here. 

Merchants’ Bank Building
355 Saint-Jacques Street at the northwest corner of Saint Pierre Street

After Hugh Allan built the biggest and most powerful private shipping line in the world he began to spread his money around to other interests. He ran the Montreal Telegraph company and founded the Merchants’ Bank in 1864. John William Hopkins, one of Montreal’s greatest starchitects of the 1800s, and Daniel Berkley Wily provided the extravagant Italian Renaissance design for the original bank headquarters from the 1870s. You can look up and see the additional stories that architect Edward Maxwell tacked on at the turn of the 20th century. Maxwell’s work is only a little less showy. The Merchants’ Bank disappeared into the Bank of Montreal in 1922 and the property was sold off in 1929. Since 2002 the nine-storey building has operated as the luxury Hotel Le St. James. 

Canada Life Building
275 Saint-Jacques Street at the northeast corner of Saint Pierre Street

Hugh Cossart Baker founded the Canada Life Assurance Company, the country’s first life insurance company, in 1847 before he was 30 years old. Home base was in Hamilton for the first half-century and Canada Life retained Buffalo, New York architect Richard Waite to design company buildings there and this one in 1895. The Canada Life Building was one of Montreal’s first skyscrapers at eight stories and the 121-foot tower was one of the first buildings raised where the masonry walls do none of the heavy lifting in supporting the structure. The Romanesque Revival triumph has graduated into residential use. The facade also features several sculptures by Henry Beaumont, a British-born artist whose work was a familiar site on Old Montreal buildings.

Molson Bank
278 Saint-Jacques Street at the southeast corner of Saint Pierre Street

In 1780 when John Molson, an orphaned English boy being raised by his grandfather, was 17 years old he contracted a mysterious malady that stumped doctors could not treat and only advised a sea voyage. And so Molson found himself in Montreal with no skills and no prospects. There were no duties and taxes on locally brewed beer so Molson went to work for a brewery and bought a book on brewing. He discovered that “my beer has been almost universally well liked beyond my most sanguine expectations.” Molson made so much money he poured it into the lumber business and a steamship line. His son William founded the Molson Bank in 1854; control was not out of family hands until the assets were swallowed by the Bank of Montreal in 1925. This spectacular Victorian vault dates to 1866 and was the result of a design competition won by George and John James Browne. The Molson Bank was the first French Second Empire building in Montreal, festooned with stone carvings and polished Corinthian columns. The building is tucked into the shadow of the L-shaped Insurance Exchange Building whose secondary entrance we saw earlier and whose main entrance is next door. 

Canadian Bank of Commerce
265 Saint-Jacques Street

Toronto architects Frank Darling and John A. Pearson were the go-to designers for the Canadian Bank of Commerce and delivered a string of Beaux Arts banking temples across the country. This five-storey confection for the Montreal branch features a parade of Corinthian columns fashioned from Stanstead granite from eastern Quebec. The bank was founded in 1867. One of the tenants after this building was finished in 1909 was the White Star Line which sold tickets for the RMS Titanic in 1912.

City and District Saving Bank
266 Saint-Jacques Street at the southwest corner of Saint Jean Street

Early in his architectural career Michel Laurent did the bulk of his work with the city of Montreal but as he reached his forties in the 1870s he achieved the apex of his design work. This Renaissance Revival tour de force for the Montreal City and District Saving Bank fashioned from gray stone was one of his highlights. In addition to the banking hall there were many notable tenants here. Montreal’s first telephone exchanged operated from this building in the 1880s.

London and Lancashire Life Building
244 Saint-Jacques Street at the southeast corner of Saint Jean Street

Great Britain’s London and Lancashire Life Assurance Company set up shop in Montreal in these ornate digs in 1898. Edward Maxwell drew up the plans with a strong classical French vibe with an assist from his little brother, William Sutherland. The insurance men sold the seven-storey office building in 1920. 

Guardian Fire and Life Building
244 Saint-Jacques Street

One of Victorian Montreal’s most impressive buildings, the Barron Block, burned in 1896 which opened this lot for redevelopment. Thomas Phillippe Barron sold the property to the Guardian Fire and Life Assurance Company and turned it over to Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb, who was know for his high-profile work. Cobb built a nine-storey Beaux Arts skyscraper in classic tripartition style.

Montreal Star II Building
235 Saint-Jacques Street

Hugh Graham and George Lanigan were restless young men at the Montreal Gazette in 1869, Lanigan as a sports editor and Graham, 1st Baron Atholstan, in the business department. Together they founded the Evening Star and put the first editions on the street for a penny. Lanigan sold his shares shortly thereafer but Graham ran the paper for almost 70 years until his death at the age of 89 in 1938. The evening paper dominated the English-language market in Montreal and  paid for this 13-storey Art Deco tower in 1930. Leading Montreal architects George Allen Ross and Robert Henry Macdonald supplied the plans for Montreal Star II that stands next the the five-story Montreal Star I from Alexander Francis Dunlop in 1899. The Star suffered a crippling pressmen’s strike in 1978 and never really recovered before stopping the presses forever in 1979. It is now doing hotel work.

Dominion Express Building
201 Saint-Jacques Street at northwest corner of Saint-Francois Xavier Street

This elegant 12-storey downtown skyscraper came from the drawing tables of Edward and William Sutherland Maxwell in 1912. The Maxwells employed the orderly Chicago style of high-rise construction, embellishing the facade with classical sculpture groups and cartouches and garlands. The steel frame is clad in gray granite and polished terra cotta. Dominion Express was attached to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. The top floor was always reserved for the Montreal Club, a private hideaway for Montreal lawyers.

Bank of Montreal
119 Saint-Jacques Street

The Bank of Montreal was the first bank in Canada, established in 1817 - the stock company has not missed a dividend payment since 1829. Nine founders signed the Articles of Association. Today the main branch is at the Place d’Armes where the bank has been since 1819. John Wells got the assignment to create a monumental Greek Revival banking temple in 1845; it was later enlarged with a dome restoration by Charles F. McKim, one of the titans of Gilded Age architecture in New York City. The Corinthian colonnade supports a pediment that contains the center of arms of the Bank flanked by two Indians. John Steel completed the sculpting in 1867. The third company bank building to occupy this space arrived in 1960, an International Style tower from Barott, Marshall, Merett & Barott Architects. The space is needed for one of the ten largest banks in North America.

Royal Trust Building
119 Saint-Jacques Street at northwest corner of Place d’Armes

Thanks to a history of strong relations with the Bank of Montreal, the Royal Trust company slid into the prestigious location in 1908. So strong were those ties that an impressive Imperial Building that dated only to 1889 was razed for this nine-story headquarters. The esteemed firm of McKim, Mead and White, who was renovating the bank next door did this beautifully proportioned Neoclassical tower with a tripartite composition as well. Nothing but the toniest tenants occupied this space. Eventually the Bank of Montreal consolidated its position on this side of the Place d’Armes by buying the building in 1983.

Life Association of Scotland Building
59 Saint-Jacques Street at northeast corner of Place d’Armes

The Life Association of Scotland from Edinburgh showed up on Saint-Jacques Street in 1868 and made their splash by hiring the top architectural firm of John W. Hopkins and Daniel B. Wily for their headquarters. Additional floors were tacked on by the National Bank when they bought the corner in 1891. Look up to see the how the stories increase in height in the middle of the richly decorated Italian Renaissance rounded facade. The sensational detailing has earned the old Life Association building a designation as as historical monument. 


Place d’Armes

The Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice were instrumental in founding Montreal and the second oldest public square in the city was named after them when it was created in 1693. As it became a staging ground for military demonstrations in the fortified city the name was switched to Place d’Armes in 1721. There was a market here for a time and later a Victorian garden. The monument in the square remembers Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, the French military leader considered the founder of Montreal. He headed the colony for 24 years, fending off Indian incursions and battling flood waters.


New York Life Insurance Building
100 Saint-Jacques Street at Place d’Armes

The red sandstone for this heritage building was imported from Scotland in the 1880s; when it was finished it was the tallest commercial structure in Quebec and remained so until 1908. The New York architectural firm of George Fletcher Babb, Walter Cook, and Daniel W. Willard that was known for its baronial residential work was recruited for this ground-breaking tower. Using a budget of $750,000, they created the first “Canadian skyscraper” by adapting elements of Henry Hobson Richardson’s burly Romanesque style with a corner clock tower, monumental arched opening, and corner turret way up high.

Alfred Building
507 Place d’Armes

One of Montreal’s best Art Deco buildings rose here in 1927. It was originally intended to be a modest 18 storeys but a relaxing of Montreal law allowed the Alfred Building to poke 23 stories high, provided setbacks were employed to allow sunlight to bathe the Notre Dame Basiica. The result from the firm of Barott and Blackader looks much like a quarter-height Empire State Building, which is appropriate since the Alfred and Company Limited was New York-based. Top of the line Indiana limestone dresses the 318-foot building and bronze and aluminum are used for decorative splashes - more than 20 percent of the building’s surface is windows.

Notre Dame Basilica
110 Notre-Dame Street West

Completed in 1829 the seat of Roman Catholicism in Montreal is among the purest expressions of Gothic architecture in North America. This was the last major project for architect James O’Donnell, an Irishman who moved from New York to oversee construction beginning in 1823. All the while his health was deteriorating and he died on January 28, 1830 at the age of 55. On his deathbed he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism so he could be buried in his church; he is the only one resting in the crypt of the Basilica. Due to the overwhelming nature of its interior a more intimate house of worship, Chapelle du Sacré-Cœur, was constructed in the back in 1888. It is  a highly favoured spot for weddings, Celine Dion is on ewho tied the knot here. The stained glass windows pay homage to the history of Montreal rather than traditional religious images.


Saint-Sulpice Seminary
130 Notre-Dame Street West

Only the Le Ber-Le Moyne Trading Post (1669) is older in Montreal than the core of this U-shaped mission that was completed in 1684 by the Society of Priests of Saint Sulpice. The Sulpicans are still the sole owners of the fieldstone building 340 years on. The clock was installed in 1701 and its dial was crafted in Paris. It is one of the oldest of its kind in North America, as is the geometrically arranged French-styled garden. A more recent section to the three-and-a-half storey structure was added in the 19th century. 


Cuvillier-Ostell Warehouse
4 Notre Dame Street West at southwest corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard

The beginnings of this gray stone souvenir from Montreal’s past started in 1803. Auctioneer Augustin Cuvillier hired go-to architect John Ostell to spruce up the house in 1836. Holding its corner against the rise of modern insurgents, the three-storey structure provides a glimpse into the time when Montreal streets were dominated by such house-shops.

Metropolitan Building
4 Notre Dame Street East at southeast corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard

In the days before indoor plumbing and electrical wiring it was not unusual for houses to be loaded on carts and dragged by oxen around a town. But this is a special relocation case. The ten-storey skyscraper was erected on St. James Street by the Bank of Ottawa in 1904. Two decades later when the Royal Bank gobbled up several buildings for its gargantuan tower the Bank of Ottawa was one of those that stood in its way. But bank officials were so apparently enamored with the design of Howard Colton Stone that the steel structure and facade details were saved and it was reconstructed identically on this corner in 1928.

Montreal Courthouse
1 Notre Dame Street East at northeast corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard

The need for an expanded house of justice in Montreal was so dire in the 1960s that a 40-storey courthouse was proposed. As such a behemoth would have been out of scale in Old Montreal the project was scaled back to a mere 17. Pierre Boulvard and Jacques David designed the International Style building composed of black metal and granite which was completed in 1971 as the city’s third courthouse.

Ernest-Cormier Building
100 Notre Dame Street East

This is courthouse number two, crafted in serious Neoclassical style between 1922 and 1926. The main entrance is flanked by a phalanx of 14 full-height fluted Doric columns. After the judiciary moved on in 1972 the building did duty as the home of the National Archives and also as conservatories of the arts. At that time the monumental structure was given the name of one of its contributing architects, Ernest Cormier. The Montreal-born Cormier was trained as a civil engineer but showed enough promise as an architect to be selected to study in Paris and Rome. This was his first major project in a long career that culminated in his induction into the Order of Canada during his 89th year in 1974. It is now hoem to the Quebec Court of Appeal that is the highest judicial court in the province.

Old Montreal Courthouse
155 Notre Dame Street East

And this is the oldest palace of justice standing in Montreal, erected between 1851 and 1857. John Ostell was a veteran of large scale Montreal projects when he collaborated on the grandest of Victorian buildings with his nephew Henri-Maurice Perrault. Perrault would go on to burnish his reputation to such an extent that he was one of four architects who got Montreal streets named after them in a 1990 celebration. The textbook Palladian design is perfectly symmetrical with a central portico and two wings executed in Montreal gray stone. Perrault’s son Maurice executed an expansion in the 1890s. The City of Montreal now owns the property and uses it for office space.

La Sauvegarde Building
140 Notre Dame Street East

This ten-storey skyscraper on a narrow footprint was finished in 1914, following closely in the tradition of tripartite composition. The client was the Life Insurance Company La Sauvegarde and policies were selling at a brisk enough clip to allow architects Charles Saxe and John Smith Archibald to indulge in some French Baroque flourishes. Given its location, it is no surprise that the building’s office space was a favourite of lawyers. 

House Jean-Baptiste-Guillon-Duplessi
160 Notre Dame Street East

This peek at early 19th century Montreal shows a stone townhouse with high fire walls on the gable end. There was some 1960s restoration involved but the stone house-shop remains much as it was in 1811 when Jean-Baptiste Guillon dit Duplessis hired mason Nicolas Morin to build it.

Nelson Column
Place Jacques-Cartier

This was originally the chateau and formal gardens of Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil, the Governor-General of New France from 1703 until 1725. Fire destroyed the house in 1803 and the sloping terrain from the waterfront was made a public square, renamed for Jacques Cartier, who claimed for Canada for France in 1535. In 1809, the City erected its first public monument, a tribute to Admiral Horatio Nelson after his death in victory over the French and Spanish navies at the Battle of Trafalgar. The destruction of Napoleon’s fleet was cheered by the French Sulpicans living so backers of the monument were able to raise funds from both the English and French living in the city. The triumphant column is one of Canada’s oldest expressions of classical architecture.

City Hall
275 Notre Dame Street East

Henri-Maurice Perrault and Alexander Cowper Hutchison joined forces to create one of Canada’s finest examples of French Second Empire style architecture. Completed in 1878, this was the first building in Canada built solely to handle the duties of the city government. The municipal council that had done business in the Bonsecours market scrambled up the hill to take residence in its new permanent digs. A fire in 1922 left only the exterior walls and Jean-Omer Marchand oversaw reconstruction. The form of the original was retained and matched as sympathetically as possible although the central tower was altered to assume a more slender presence on the roofline. 

Château Ramezay
290 Notre Dame Street East

Claude de Ramezay was a French military man assigned to New France in 1685 as a 26-year old lieutenant. Through marriage and ability he rose through the ranks to command the regular colonial troops and become governor of Montreal in 1704. This is the house he built for his family. During the American Revolution the Continental Army made the limestone building a recruiting center and headquarters for its adventures in Canada. After filtering through a number of private owners the Château Ramezay was converted into the first provincial museum in 1894. The house was designated the first historical monument in Quebec.  


Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours
400 Saint-Paul Street East

This portside sanctuary was a refuge for sailors since 1678. That original stone church burned in 1754 and the current building dates to 1771, erected on the ruins of its predecessor. The close ties with the sea earned the chaple the sobriquet the Sailors’ Church. The house of worship is part of a museum dedicated to Marguerite Bourgeoys which was seen early in the tour and will be passed again as you...