Inside Montreal’s New Waterfront Tetris Tower

The Port of Montreal’s new landmark is a monument to local life

By Carly Pews
Photography: tower by James Brittain; quay, stairs and lookout by Stephane Brugger

May 29, 2024

In the 1920s, Montreal was one of the world’s most active export centres for wheat. The Old Port was peppered with enormous grain silos and, at its south end, Alexandra Pier shipped out all that precious cargo. By 1967, however, the pier served two purely practical purposes: as a parking area and as a processing terminal for cruise passengers, a brief stop-over before they sought entertainment elsewhere in the city.

In 2013, with the Port showing signs of advanced age—some parts were literally crumbling—the port authority launched a design competition to modernize the waterfront. Provencher_Roy, a Montreal architecture firm, won for its plan to convert the concrete-heavy, closed-to-the-public space into a love letter to Montreal. Construction on the newly renamed Grand Quay of the Port of Montreal began in 2015 with the demolition and replacement of the existing pier. The new jetty sloped gently downward toward the St. Lawrence river, a reno that involved calculating the river’s projected water levels well into the future to prevent flooding. Other upgrades followed, like a brand-new ferry terminal with a landscaped esplanade on its roof.

Arriving visitors pass through the newly renovated Grand Quay terminal, whose rooftop walkway, the Promenade D’Iberville, features 20,000-plus plants, like wild bergamot and goldenrod

A 65-metre tower inspired by the area’s industrial past is the port’s pièce de résistance. While old-school grain silos were historically made of concrete, the tower’s glass-and-steel exterior frames a concrete core. The structure, which signals the entrance to the port, has a translucent appearance, mimicking a lighthouse at night.

To make their way up the tower, visitors can take the structure’s spiral staircase, whose curving banisters are painted a bright golden—one might say wheaty—hue.

The tower’s observation deck (altitude: 55 metres) is best described as a glass cage, with minimal obstructions of its 360-degree city view. To pull this off, Provencher_Roy enlisted an engineer who specialized in structural glazing, the installation of load-bearing glass panels, and workers who didn’t mind dangling from ropes to finish the job. After they’ve taken in Notre-Dame Basilica and Habitat67, visitors can enjoy one more view—down through the floor of the cantilevered overhang, which is all glass, too.

Both the Grand Quay and the tower overlook the St. Lawrence. Can’t catch the view in person? The lookout has its own dedicated online livestream, which refreshes every 20 seconds.

Since its opening in 2023, the tower has injected some much-needed fun into the port’s overall function. The lookout space doubles as a reception hall, while at ground level, visitors can play with the tower’s many interactive exhibits, like augmented-reality landmark tours and musical balloons suspended from the ceiling. Each emits a unique instrument sound when pressed, a nod to the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal—another of the city’s main attractions.

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