This sweeping transformation project sparks wonder by recreating the magic of a legendary site, showcasing a rich history and boosting biodiversity through maximum multifunctionality, with a meticulously optimized, four-season user experience. Punctuating the majestic St. Lawrence River that runs along Montreal’s southern edge, Saint Helen’s Island’s bucolic character and proximity to downtown naturally invited its use as a public park as early as 1874.
With the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century, EXPO 67, however, the island “put Montreal on the map.” Enlarged by then-Mayor Jean Drapeau, the artificial portion of the island became known as Man and His World for the landmark event. Some 50 million people – over twice the entire country’s population at the time – attended the six-month exhibition. It boasted pavilions from over 60 countries, including the United States with its iconic, 200-foot-high Biosphere designed by American architect Richard Buckminster Fuller.
Although Man and His World remained open as an exhibition during the summer months until 1984, its pavilions fell into disrepair, and post-EXPO development was focused on promoting the original island’s natural regrowth. Following extensive study, our firm brought its unique approach to rethinking, restoring and reshaping the mythical site, integrating master planning, urban design, landscape architecture and architecture, branding and visual communication to optimize the visitor experience – and bring back the wonderland.
Reborn as Espace 67 by Lemay, the site is now a must-see scenic, social and cultural destination year-round, easily accessible with a global feel and EXPO-reminiscent motifs woven throughout. Its master plan adds green or snowy hills (depending on the season) and a whimsical new Central Concourse (Calder Alley) that reconnects island riverfronts and key landmarks, creating visual openings towards downtown, Old Montreal and the St. Lawrence River. Calder’s monumental “Trois disques” sculpture crowns its namesake alley and a spacious belvedere that opens onto the river and stunning Downtown Montreal.
The new landscape experience integrates grand and human-scaled gestures as it fragments the site into comfortable subspaces, inspired by the site’s genius loci: indigenous forest, urban parkland and, of course, its landmark event.
The project introduces an event village, abundant vegetation, impromptu gathering areas and a new, 65,000-spectator natural amphitheater: eloquent public spaces with multiple functions year-round. Custom furniture and lighting recall EXPO’s innovation and signature materials, echoing pavers, façade and other treatments inspired by the era’s space-frame design approach.
Building volumes echo the vocabulary and act as key way-finding elements that guide visitors through the site experience. Their strategic positioning facilitates crowd management and showcases high-quality built and natural environments. The site’s redesign is in line with a contemporary view of shared spaces and environmental protection, offering close contact with nature while providing safe and universal access to an experiential space that recalls the multifaceted, magical destination it once was, but with modern adaptations and considerations.
The low-maintenance planting strategy is based on a Nordic four-season landscape: coniferous and deciduous trees, profusions of florals that bloom at different times, oversized custom planters that offer comfortable seating while protecting vegetation and directing crowds. Hills and pathways invite skiing and skating as much as hiking and strolling.
The landscape strategy promotes flora and fauna biodiversity by reintroducing native species that are characteristic to the island. Other sustainability measures include extensive use of recycled glass, the use of site-salvaged crushed concrete and the installation of a self-contained stormwater management and sediment filtration system.
The city wanted to maximize the mythical site’s event-hosting vocation. The surfaces of what is arguably North America’s largest outdoor amphitheater were rigorously tested to withstand the elements as well as heavy vehicles. Its accesses are designed to host huge crowds, while complex electrical infrastructure includes a miles-long underground network and 30 connection points to support events of all scales.
In addition to design, Lemay’s landscape architects coordinated consultants to develop a sophisticated surveillance system, a specialized island evacuation plan, staging infrastructure and lighting that highlights the site’s compositional elements.
Lemay’s thoughtful and strategic integration of nature, culture and site memory has created a unique, multifunctional year-round destination, enhanced by a landscape signature highlighting history and spectacular urban and natural panoramas.
Name of the project: Espace 67 – Parc Jean-Drapeau
Role of the entrant in the project: Lucie St-Pierre, Landscape Architect
Andrew King, Lead Designer
Patricia Lussier, Landscape Architect, Design Manager
Mylène Carreau, Landscape Architect, Project Manager
Jean-Philippe Di Marco, Landscape Architect
Carlos Santibanez, Landscape Architect
Valérie Gravel, Landscape Architect
Benoit Gaudet, Landscape Architect
Jean-François Doyon, Landscape Architect
François Ménard, Landscape Architect
Arnaud Villard, Landscape Architect
Project location: 67 Chemin Macdonald, Montréal, QC H3C 6A3
• 2016-2017_APP: Preliminary design: production of a report on the current state of the site, baseline scenario analysis, presention of findings and assessments, master plan proposal for the entire western sector of the island
• 2017_APD: Final pre-project: production of a document illustrating the project concept, diagrams and development plans, final site development outline for Phases 1A and 1B and sub-areas
• 2017_Implementation documents: Plans and specifications
• 2018_Integration of works of art and project selection (1%)
• 2017-2018-2019: Site supervision
• 2019_Project delivery
Year Built: 2019