WHO WE ARE
The Complexe Desjardins shopping centre consists of 110 stores and restaurants offering a full range of products and services, from fashion for women, men and children to accessories, décor items, electronics and much more. Clientele can choose from a wide selection of restaurants, cafés and sweet shops, and enjoy several rest areas. The décor, where grand architectural elements blend harmoniously with abundant natural lighting and the fountain’s music, gives this shopping space a special character.
About Complexe Desjardins
Located in the heart of Montréal’s downtown and the Quartier des spectacles, with direct access to the city’s underground network, Complexe Desjardins is one of the city’s largest and most visited multifunctional buildings. Three office towers as well as a shopping centre circle a large public plaza featuring a spectacular fountain at its centre. People come to Complexe Desjardins for business, work, shopping, a great meal—and even to enjoy a front-row seat to some 200 yearly events that take place on-site. Though it may be a Montréal landmark, the origins of this building are not as well known. Discover the story behind its creation.
In the beginning of the 70s, the Mouvement des caisses populaires et d’économie Desjardins and the Government of Québec joined forces to build a complex that would meet certain economic, social and human objectives. Since its inauguration in 1976, Complexe Desjardins, with its multifunctional concept, has become a dynamic hub for the business and cultural worlds, a meeting space for tourists and conference goers, and a popular shopping destination. It fosters a vibrant synergy among the entire Montréal community. Its activities are managed by Desjardins Property Management.
The history of Complexe Desjardins, the francophone population and the city of Montréal are all closely interwoven. Complexe Desjardins was built during an era when Montréal saw the construction of other landmark developments such as the Olympic Stadium, the Mirabel Airport and a number of other buildings in the downtown core. However, the complex stands apart in many ways, notably by the originality of its design, the octagonal shape of its towers and by the spirit that brought it to life.
THE PROJECT'S ORIGINS
AN UNPRECEDENTED CONSTRUCTION SITE
FROM 1976 TO TODAY
THE PROJECT'S ORIGINS
During the 60s, the idea took shape to create a multifunctional building that would house several subsidiaries of Desjardins Group, which was dealing with the challenges of rapid growth. It was not until 1972, however, that the first shovel broke ground and construction got underway. During this time, the Union régionale des caisses populaires Desjardins de Montréal, the Société de Fiducie du Québec and the General Security Insurance Company of Canada, all three belonging to Group Desjardins, merged with La Sauvegarde, compagnie d’assurance sur la vie, Desjardins’ life insurance arm, which initiated the project. Shortly afterwards, the Government of Québec joined the project, making a significant financial contribution. The arrival of this fifth player also gave the project a whole new dimension. The developers wanted to create a multifunctional building that would bring together both public sector and private businesses activities.
The future site of Complexe Desjardins was subject to well-defined criteria: It had to revitalize a strategic site and create a positive impact on the urban environment. The firm La Haye-Ouellet, consulting urbanists, proposed the area bordered by Jeanne-Mance, Sainte-Catherine and Saint-Urbain Streets and René-Lévesque Blvd. (then called Dorchester Blvd.). This choice would allow the development of an expanded downtown and ensure a stronger exchange between the western and eastern sectors of the city’s core. The proximity of Place des Arts also supported the cultural vocation that was an essential element of the developer’s vision for the real estate development.
In April 1970, the official design for Complexe Desjardins was unveiled at Montréal City Hall: the development, owned 51% by the Corporation immobilière Place Desjardins and 49% by the Société immobilière du Québec, would be comprised of a multi-floor structure surrounded by three towers and a prestigious hotel. At the heart of the structure would sit a public plaza, where sociocultural and educational activities would be held on a daily basis. The building would also feature an underground parking lot for over 1,000 cars, movie theatres, a shopping centre with about 100 stores, cafés and a number of restaurants.
The project’s developers set an ambitious goal: to integrate a complex into the city’s urban fabric that would meet the entire range of human needs and contribute to human development. In other words, nothing short of an urban oasis!
The president of Desjardins Group at the time, Mr. Alfred Rouleau, wanted Complexe Desjardins to have a soul, which led to the inclusion of La Grande-Place as a free multicultural plaza open to the public. Complexe Desjardins was to be an example of Québec society’s know-how and a physical testimony to the cooperation among its members.
An interesting side note: Mayor Jean Drapeau insisted that Place des Arts be visible on one side and the spires of Notre-Dame basilica on the other when standing at the centre of Complexe Desjardins. This requirement explains the massive windows that overlook René-Lévesque Blvd. and Sainte-Catherine Street. The view of the basilica, however, was eventually obstructed with the subsequent construction of Complexe Guy-Favreau and the Palais des congrès.
AN UNPRECEDENTED CONSTRUCTION SITE
The building’s construction, which took 4 years, was skilfully overseen by the management firm Janin Construction Ltd. The project’s developers employed the “design-build” model, which saw the vast site broken up into nearly 150 calls for tender. Over 12,000 people worked on the site and not a single mishap was recorded.
All the companies involved in the development’s construction were local and plans, specifications and reports were written in French. As such, the project represented the most audacious undertaking by the French-speaking private sector up to that point. Complexe Desjardins was inaugurated on April 3, 1976, in the presence of the Québec Premier, Robert Bourassa, Mayor Jean Drapeau and some 3,000 guests.
FROM 1976 TO TODAY
Despite the scepticism surrounding the project in 1976, the years that followed proved that these concerns were unfounded. As soon as it opened, Complexe Desjardins was already 70% occupied, and a few months later, all the spaces had been leased. Year after year, and even through the economic downturn, the vacancy rate remained steadfastly under 1%. On March 27, 1992, the Fédération des caisses populaires Desjardins de Montréal et l’Ouest-du-Québec (and its affiliated caisses) purchased the shares held by the Québec government, thus becoming the majority owner of Complexe Desjardins. On February 8, 2007, Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Company acquired all the shares and became the sole owner of Complexe Desjardins.
In the years that followed, and even today, several major investments have been made in Complexe Desjardins, from upgrading its equipment and infrastructure to the latest standards to revitalizing its commercial activities and revamping its position to reflect the changes to its surrounding area (Quartier des spectacles).
Over the years, Complexe Desjardins has changed considerably while preserving the spirit of its original vision. Today, Complexe Desjardins can claim a place as an important destination, where, since 1976, over 200 free public activities have taken place each year. After more than 40 years, Complexe Desjardins still embodies the dynamic energy that inspired its creation and continues to play a key role in Montréal life.