In Montreal, the challenge of building the Promenades Cathédrale

Canada, North America

1927, a bell tower story

In 1927, the 17-story bell tower, which alone weighed more than 2,700 tons (6 million pounds), proved to be too heavy and began to lean! In 1940, it was replaced by an exact replica made of aluminum, much lighter. But even during construction, the tower’s foundation sagged 13 cm (5 inches) and support piles had to be driven to ensure stability.

The 1980s, new funding

Concerned about the future of the Cathedral, diocesan leaders decided in the early 1980s to initiate talks with real estate groups that could provide new sources of revenue that would allow them to both strengthen the building’s foundation and maintain services to the faithful. The high commercial value of the land, which remained one of the last undeveloped parcels in downtown, attracted several developers.

The high reputation of the three firms involved (The Westcliff Group of Companies, La Corporation Première Québec, and the Cooperants, a mutual insurance company) in the final project and especially the concept that their representatives proposed to the Cathedral’s leaders made it possible to seal the historic agreement between – dare we say it – the merchants and the temple for the benefit of both parties, without undermining the dignity of the Cathedral. The basis of the agreed concept was indeed to work with respect for the historical building of the Cathedral and especially with respect for the worship it houses.

1985, the construction of the KPMG Tower

In 1985, work began on a large-scale project. The first phase consisted of the erection of a 35-story tower, the Maison des Coopérants, renamed Place de la Cathédrale, which is now called the KPMG Tower.

Gradually each floor of the tower was built. First the foundations, then the second floors, buried in the ground. Then the tower came out of the ground and started to rise towards the sky: the second floors were finally visible!

1987, the construction of the Promenades Cathédrale shopping center

Once the tower was completed, the second phase of the work could begin: the construction of the “Promenades Cathédrale” shopping center. The particularity of this center made the works particularly complicated: indeed, the center built had to be entirely underground, and especially, located under Christ Church Cathedral! It was impossible to move the Cathedral or to demolish it to rebuild it. Moreover, it had to remain accessible and functional during the entire construction period. The only solution was to put the Cathedral on pillars.

First, just enough earth was excavated to work on the installation of the caissons and beams needed to stabilize the Cathedral. Then, in sections of one meter at a time, the shapes of 33 concrete pillars (10 under the bell tower and 23 around the perimeter of the church) were driven into the rock nearly 60 feet (19 meters) below and the Cathedral was placed on a stable surface once and for all.

More than 62,600 m3 (82,000 vg3) of earth had to be removed from under the Cathedral, which corresponds to 6,833 truckloads! The work attracted so much attention that special palisades were built with openings for the curious! Anyone who passed by could see the work in progress.

For several months, the Cathedral literally floated between heaven and earth, perched on its pillars. Only a footbridge allowed access. It was a feat of engineering, a North American first that was much talked about. But what is most remarkable is that the cathedral suffered no physical damage and that not one prayer, not one ceremony, not one service had to be interrupted during the 16-month construction period!

The rectory, which was located on the grounds near the Cathedral, had to be dismantled to allow for the construction of the tower and then the center. Under the guidance of subject matter experts, architectural historians and craftsmen, each element was numbered, catalogued and carefully preserved so that the building could then be rebuilt as it was. Today, the presbytery building is still intact and has housed the restaurant Le Parchemin and the restaurant Apollo.

1999, new developments

In 1999, the mall underwent a major transformation: the food court was relocated to the upper level, the mall was reduced from two levels to one, and the parking lot was expanded, with 200 additional parking spaces created, which is strategic for a mall located downtown.

In September 2011, the food court was completely renovated and renamed Espace Restos. With modern tile and columns, sleek ceiling panels and modern design elements, the new space hosts a fair that can accommodate over 480 people. The space accommodates guests at individual tables, group tables with a bistro feel, catering to a multitude of tastes and preferences.

Practical info

  • Montreal, Quebec
  • Opening date: 1987
  • Address: 625 Sainte-Catherine Street West

360° general view

Photos gallery

The KPMG Tower

La tour KPMG, scintillante sous le soleil montréalais

The Cathedral on stilts in 1987

La Cathédrale sur pilotis en 1987

The underground city

Les couloirs de la ville souterraine de Montréal

Entrance to the Promenades Cathédrale

Promenades cathédrale, accès à la ville souterraine de Montréal


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