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Montreal’s strategic geographic location as the gateway to North America, since it was founded at the exact breakpoint for shipping on the St. Lawrence River, quickly earned it a key role as a continental and Atlantic hub. There are a number of heritage assets that clearly illustrate this role, i.e. the historic city centre, the old port and the railway station district.

Montreal’s historic city centre, old port and railway station district are home to a remarkable group of buildings and facilities used for transporting, transferring and handling both people and goods. They are evidence of local innovations and important interchanges of influence with other parts of North America and with Europe. The warehouse-showrooms built from 1850 to 1880, for instance, prefigured the 20th-century Rationalist movement (like New York’s cast-iron buildings); the functional architecture of Montreal’s grain elevators inspired European modernism; the early railway stations proudly reflected the major architectural trends in North America, and another, newer railway station spearheaded an avant-garde urban planning phenomenon.

Montreal’s historic city centre, for its part, is an example of conservation unique among the major cities of North America: the late 19th-century and early 20th-century downtown area is still remarkably well preserved, as an irreplaceable witness of the days when Montreal could claim to be the Canadian metropolis. The historic city centre has even retained the layout and some buildings from the old fortified town. Since the historic city centre was vital to Montreal’s role as a hub, and moreover was its administrative centre, it is a crucial witness to a whole epoch in the development of North America, and hence of Western history.

Finally, and also related to the functional architecture of the transit facilities connected with Montreal’s role as a hub, the City has a number of major examples of functional modern architecture, some of them true icons.


Montreal was founded in 1642, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, at a site that had already been visited for millennia by Natives, located just at the foot of the rapids posing the first major obstacle to navigation on the St. Lawrence.
• The heart of the original town was soon fortified, and became its business centre in the 19th century. The area flourished until 1929 and then fell into neglect, only to be protected and redeveloped in later years.
• The old port and the nearby entrance to the Lachine Canal, bypassing the rapids, are inseparable parts of the historic city centre. Here one can still see the huge facilities built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in a carefully restored environment. The Victoria Bridge, the first across the St. Lawrence River, lying just downstream from the rapids, and the imposing railway stations speak of Montreal's role as a major railway centre at the heart of transcontinental systems criss-crossing North America.
• One of these stations in fact served as the nucleus of a remarkable underground pedestrian network and led to the erection of a huge modern complex whose main building, Place Ville-Marie, is an internationally recognized architectural icon in Montreal. Facing it is another such symbol, Habitat '67, a huge residential development that has dominated the jetty separating the River and the old port basin since 1967. All together, these buildings form a unique concentration of North American heritage, a reflection of Montreal's historic role as a North American and Atlantic hub.


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March 2003