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2006 03 01
A History of the Underground City III
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Entrace to the underground Place de la Cathédrale at Christ Church Cathedral on St-Catherine

After its initial burst of construction in the 1960s, the underground city continued to expand, and it was given a major boost in 1974 by the erection of the Complexe Desjardins. Like Place Ville Marie, the development created new spaces both above and below ground. During this same expansion, la ville souterraine was also made to stretch from Place des Arts to Place d’Armes metro stations, so that by the decade’s end the underground boasted over 12 kilometres of passages.

During the 1980s, a period of profound recession in Quebec, three new shopping complexes were appended to the existing underground city, the Cours Mont-Royal, Place Montréal-Trust, and the Promenades de la Cathedrale. These new shopping centres dramatically increased the underground city’s concentration below St-Catherine.

Place Montréal Trust was opened at the corner of McGill College and St-Catherine in 1988 by Cadillac Fairview, later taken over by Ivanhoe Cambridge. Initially, this center was relatively modest, but it underwent a $15 million renovation in 2002, including a redesign of courtyard spaces and the installation of additional “anchor” stores.

Les Promenades de la Cathédral were built in 1987, and are so named for the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral on St-Catherine. The shopping complex and office towers are tenants of the cathedral, and were granted special permission to build from the Anglican diocese, the Canadian Bible Society and the cathedral’s administration. The Cathedral itself had been plagued by misadventures since its construction. An original structure in Old Montreal burned down in 1856, and its replacement, the extant building, was designed by architect Frank Wills and completed in 1859. While lovely, its structure proved flawed, sinking into the soft mud under its own weight. Its impressive stone steeple was removed in 1927 to lessen the burden, and new foundations had to be laid just over ten years later. The steeple was eventually replaced by a lighter aluminum spire in 1940, but the continuous maintenance of the building has proved extremely costly. Finally, the cathedral found a tenable means of sustaining itself (and its repairs), by allowing developers to build a 34-storey office building behind the church and a mall below it, a concession that yields the church some $400,000 in rent. The construction famously required the cathedral to be literally supported in mid-air on steel braces for the duration of the initial groundwork, from February until November of 1987.

Les Cours Mont-Royal was developed in 1988 from the skeleton structure of the old Mount Royal Hotel. The original hotel dates back to 1922 and was a staple of Montreal nightlife and big band culture in the 1930s and 40s. The old hotel was dismantled to make room for the development, which created condos and office space in the upper storeys and, of course, the mall below. Given the recession that gripped Montreal during the project’s execution, it is unsurprising that over half of the retail space remained empty until the 1990s, by which point the development had gone into receivership. The complex was bought by Soltron Realty in 1997, which quickly turned the property around by refining its interior architecture and moulding the Cours Mont Royal into a trendy galleria that accepted only high-end clothing retailers and resisted chain store tenants.

By 1990, the underground city had nearly doubled, meandering 22 kilometres under the downtown core.
[email this story] Posted by Emily Raine on 03/01 at 12:00 PM

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