The NeverEnding Story: Montréal’s Stade Olympique

By Andrew Bailey

The 70s were an exciting time in Montréal: Expo ’67 set the tone for an exciting decade of disco, escaping the dark ages of La Grande Noirceur, a greater openness to the western world, and economic prosperity. The icing on the cake was of course the hosting of the Summer Olympic Games of 1976, an event placing Montréal firmly on the world stage, indeed becoming the first Canadian city to host the games, beating Moscow and Los Angeles to the title.
One factor favouring Montréal was Canada’s lack of status as a world power, with the IOC wishing to avoid a USSR/USA stand off, later exemplified in the 1980/1984 games. Further “controversy” occurred when separatist René Lévesque sent a letter to Queen Elizabeth II asking her to refuse her invitation to attend the opening of the games, an invitation that had been sent by the then-in-power sovereignist leaders of Robert Bourassa and Pierre Trudeau; she chose to ignore the request.

The main action took place at the Stade Olympique, a purpose built site in the East of Montréal designed by French architect Roger Taillibert that features a circular arena covered by an elaborate retractable roof, a roof supported by the world’s tallest inclined tower. The tower houses an observatory at the summit (Montréal’s sixth-tallest structure), and the stadium is accessible by two purpose built Métro stations on the green line, those being Viau and Pie-IX. This impressive structure has, however, turned out to be something of a white elephant. Construction problems and that oh-so-French pastime of going on strike meant that the roof wasn’t completely installed and operable until 1987, some 11 years after the games had taken place. Furthermore, the roof cannot be retracted in winds of more than 25mph (how embarrassing) The stadium had been home to The Montréal Expos (baseball) and The Alouettes (american football), however both have now left, leaving the stadium with no real purpose, only playing host to the odd rock concert, an audience with the pope (as was the case in 1984), and a biannual monster truck show.

Montréalers are now faced with the choice of demolishing the stadium, or refurbishing it: both options are equally undesirable, being costly in both time and money. Demolition would cost $700 million, an eye-watering figure considering that the city only just paid off the staggering $1.47 billion bill (taking into account all the necessary repairs and alterations) needed to build the stadium in the first place. At the other end of the scale, a redevelopment plan has recently been proposed to construct a new roof, an Olympic museum, a general regeneration of the entire complex, and to provide a centre for Montréal’s diverse communities to come together and get active. Whatever plan is decided upon, the stadium will remain a feature of the Montréal skyline for the foreseeable future, for better of worse.

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