Showcasing heritage through innovation and accessibility


Last updated a half-century earlier, Montreal’s overgrown and crumbling Place Vauquelin had lost its significance as a social hub and the showpiece of Old Montreal’s Administrative District, a grouping of several municipal buildings with tremendous heritage value.

A recessed design limited the square’s visitor access. Trees and shrubs obstructed sight lines towards the Old Port and downtown: the square was closed in on itself, a place apart.

This project sought to restore the square’s sense of place and maximize its exceptional natural and historic features as laid out in the District’s master plan, also a Lemay project.

Objectives included reinforcing the square’s role as a connection between Old Montreal and the modern city, until recently separated by a sunken expressway built in the 1960s. The square’s new design leverages its unique strategic placement between the two and restores its official and civic character as a forecourt to Montreal’s historic City Hall building.


Lemay’s experience, in-depth research and a plethora of studies enabled it to integrate historical and contemporary planning principles for a formal, restrained yet elegant result. The latter accentuates and improves the linearity and geometry of Notre-Dame Street along the square’s southern border. It also respects a historic north-south axis in its placement of commemorative monuments and other centralizing objects.

Previously obscured by vegetation, distinguished neighbouring buildings and features are now showcased and illuminated to their full potential.

Lemay navigated around heritage buildings and archaeologically valuable areas with extreme care. Layers of Aboriginal and colonial artefacts below the square required an archaeologist to be on-site during construction. Excavating within metres of the foundations of the current (and operational) City Hall involved creating a diaphragm wall, whose concrete needed to be poured at every excavation stage of excavation. The remains of walls from the City’s first courthouse and prison, demolished centuries prior, were preserved.


Another objective was to revive and reinforce the square’s role as a meeting place and convergence point for numerous pedestrian itineraries. In this regard, Lemay’s integration of subtle yet ergonomic urban furniture, judiciously selected and arranged vegetation, an inviting fountain and level, open spaces, is extremely impactful.

Opening and increasing the square’s sightlines also leverages Place Vauquelin’s natural geography as a lookout over the city and its historic counterpart.


Lemay and Les Consultants SM proposed making the entire square accessible year-round, by implementing heated surfaces – a revolutionary idea for Montreal with its harsh Nordic climate. Integrating heating throughout the entire site involved

installing 10,000 metres of pipes.

Lemay has increased the area’s biodiversity with its vegetation selection and introduced 35% more strategic tree cover. The canopy is now transparent enough to showcase views of the surrounding historic buildings while providing enough shade to ensure user comfort.

The fountain is comfortable and welcoming, with infinitely programmable state-of-the-art technology.

Place Vauquelin becomes universally accessible through leveling out its surface and via Lemay’s landscaped stairs with their integrated ramp – a whimsical signature that asserts Montreal’s innovativeness alongside its heritage treasures.


Lemay played a role in every stage of Place Vauquelin’s redevelopment, including plans and specifications and construction site supervision. The project’s design development and its construction each took one year. Additional intricacy was derived from the project’s four-season building schedule, as the construction site itself needed to be heated and tents installed throughout the winter.

There were numerous stakeholders involved, chiefly brought together through a joint committee that included the City of Montreal’s parks, cultural and heritage services and its borough of Ville-Marie, as well as the Province of Quebec’s Ministry of Culture.

For the universal accessibility aspect, Lemay worked closely with Société Logique to devise the project’s integrated ramp/stair combination. It is now held up as a reference for the City of Montreal’s future urban designs.

In redeveloping Place Vauquelin, Lemay has reimagined the monumental square to make it accessible and engaging for visitors while respecting its heritage character. It has introduced subdued yet welcoming urban furniture to best display its exceptional historic features. It has redefined its tree canopy for optimal views and user comfort. Ultimately, it has overseen the rebirth of the entire site as a giant yet elegant lookout embracing Montreal’s urban and historic panorama.


Project location: 275 Notre-Dame St. East, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2Y 1C6

Design year: 2016

Year Built: 2018




LILA 2023 Sponsor