Covering a total area of approximately 4 million square feet, Complexe Desjardins is the largest building in the metropolitan area.
- 3 office towers with a total of 99 floors;
- 3 parking levels;
- A commercial gallery with 110 shops and restaurants, including a grocery store and one of the loveliest food courts in Montreal;
- An immense public plaza in the very heart of the Complexe, where a wide variety of events are organized throughout the year;
- A complete Customer Service
- Several Desjardins Group institutions;
- Numerous governmental services, such as Revenu Quebec, the CSST, a post office, etc.;
- 15 ATM machines;
- Health services including a clinic, a radiology centre, two dental clinics and an optician;
- Facilities for individuals with impaired mobility;
- Direct access to the luxury DoubleTree by Hilton hotel.
The history of Complexe Desjardins is closely linked to that of both the French-speaking population of Montréal and the city itself. In fact, Complexe Desjardins was built during a period when Montréal pulsed to the beat of many large projects, including the construction of the Olympic Stadium, Mirabel airport and many other buildings in Montréal’s downtown core. Yet Complexe Desjardins remains distinctive in many ways, particularly for the originality of its design, the octagonal shape of its towers and the spirit with which it was conceived.
The original idea for a multifunctional building for several of the entities that made up the Desjardins Group, which at the time was dealing with the challenge of rapid growth, was first launched in the 1960s. But the project only got into full swing when construction work started in 1972. During that time, the Union régionale des caisses populaires Desjardins de Montréal, the Société de Fiducie du Québec and La Sécurité, compagnie d’Assurances Générales du Canada, all three of which belonged to Desjardins Group, merged with La Sauvegarde, compagnie d’assurance sur la vie, Desjardins’s life insurance arm, which initiated the project. Shortly afterwards, the Government of Québec joined in, making a significant financial contribution. With the arrival of this fifth partner, however, the project took on an entirely new dimension. The designers wanted to create a multifunctional building that would house public as well as private undertakings.
The choice of the location for the future Complexe Desjardins was subjected to a number of well-defined criteria: the Complexe had to revitalize a strategic site and make a positive contribution to the urban environment. The urban consulting firm of La Haye-Ouellet, urbanistes-conseils, proposed a block formed by Jeanne-Mance St., Ste. Catherine St., St. Urbain St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. (known as Dorchester Blvd. at the time). This choice provided an opportunity to contribute to the development of an extended downtown area and ensure better contact between the Eastern and Western sectors of the downtown core, while the presence of Place des Arts supported the cultural vocation which developers wanted to give to the entire real estate development.
In April 1970, the official design for Complexe Desjardins was unveiled at Montréal City Hall. The entire development, owned jointly by Corporation immobilière Place Desjardins (51%) and Société immobilière du Québec (49%), would consist of a basic infrastructure of several floors surrounded by three office towers and a prestigious hotel. The heart of the structure would house a public plaza where socio-cultural and educational activities would be held on a daily basis. The building would also include underground parking for up to 1,000 vehicles, movie theatres and a shopping mall with about 100 shops, cafés and a number of restaurants.
The project developers set an ambitious goal for themselves: to integrate a complex into the Montréal urban fabric that would satisfy the entire range of human needs while contributing to human development. The idea was to create a veritable oasis in the city!
The President of Desjardins Group at that time, Mr. Alfred Rouleau, wanted Complexe Desjardins to have a soul, which is why the developers chose to include the Grande-Place area as a multicultural, public space that was free of charge. Complexe Desjardins was to demonstrate the know-how of the Québec community and, above all, serve as a physical reminder of cooperation within Québec .
N.B.: Mayor Drapeau insisted that someone standing in the middle of Complexe Desjardins should be able to see Place des Arts on one side and the bell towers of the Notre-Dame Basilica on the other. This is the reason for the immense glass windows that look out onto René-Lévesque Blvd. and Ste. Catherine St. Since that time, however, Complexe Guy-Favreau and the Palais des congrès were built, hiding the Basilica
AN UNPRECEDENTED CONSTRUCTION SITE
The construction work, which took four years, was supervised by a management firm, Janin Construction Ltd. The project designers opted for a “design-construction” model. As a result, the gigantic construction site was broken down into 150 calls for tender. More than 12,000 workers worked on the site and no accidents were reported.
N.B.: All of the firms hired were from Québec and all of the plans, specifications and reports were written in French. Complexe Desjardins was the most audacious undertaking of the French-speaking private sector at that time.
Complexe Desjardins was inaugurated on April 3, 1976, in the presence of Québec Premier, Robert Bourassa, Mayor Jean Drapeau, and some 3,000 guests.
FROM 1976 TO TODAY
Despite the skepticism that surrounded Complexe Desjardins in 1976, the following years proved that those concerns were groundless. As soon as it opened, it had an occupancy rate of 70% and, just a few months later, all of the spaces were leased. Year in, year out, and despite the recession, the vacancy rate remained less than 1%.
On March 27, 1992, the Fédération des caisses populaires Desjardins de Montréal et de l’Ouest-du-Québec (and its affiliated caisses populaires) redeemed the shares held by the Québec government and became the majority owner of Complexe Desjardins.
In the years that followed, and still today, numerous major investments have been made to improve the Complexe, from upgrading its equipment and facilities to the latest standards to revitalizing its commercial activities and repositioning the Complexe to adapt it to its changing surroundings (Quartier des spectacles).
Over the years, Complexe Desjardins has changed considerably, while preserving the spirit behind the initial concept. Today, Complexe Desjardins is proud of its status as an important attraction where, since 1976, over 200 free, public activities have been organized every year. After 25 years in existence, Complexe Desjardins still embodies the energy that inspired its creation and continues to play an essential role in Montréal life.