Vibe to 150 years with us!

The Parc over the years

Société du parc Jean-Drapeau Spectacularly human!

Parc Jean-Drapeau is much more than a simple park; it is a living and breathing tapestry that weaves together history, culture and innovation. An integral part of Montréal's DNA, its roots extend well beyond the last 150 years.

Actually, the discovery of various artifacts, shows that Île Sainte-Hélène was first inhabited by the Saint Lawrence Iroquoians. In 1611, while exploring the area, Samuel de Champlain named it Île Sainte-Hélène in honour of his wife, Hélène Boullé. Successively held by the Le Moyne family, and then occupied by the British as a military complex, the island eventually became the property of the federal government after the Canadian Confederation and the retreat of the army, which led to discussions between the City of Montréal and the government of Canada to make it a public property.

In honour of its 150th anniversary, we invite you to delve into the Parc's history since its founding in 1874. Through this timeline, discover a tapestry that is rich in narratives and anecdotes, tightly woven into the history of Montrealers and anyone who has already experienced the excitement of the Parc.


A park for everyone

Île Sainte-Hélène becomes the first major para-municipal park devoted to entertainment and recreation. Enjoying an outstanding natural setting amid the Saint Lawrence River, the Parc is frequented by hikers, snowshoe and ski clubs, as well as a swim club.

The new park is celebrated in grand style on the day after the Saint-Jean-Baptiste holiday, June 25, 1874. A crowd of more than 6,000 people attend a picnic-style spectacular concert!

Until the opening of the Jacques Cartier Bridge in 1930, visitors had to take a steam boat to get to the site.

1936 to 1963

Major work

After the opening of the Jacques Cartier Bridge, Frederick Gage Todd, a landscaper-architect, develops the first major plan for building the Parc. The project includes the restoration of the military installations, construction of the Swimmers' Pavilion, Hélène-de-Champlain restaurant. and Lévis Tower, which houses a water tower. The Playgrounds area is also built to accommodate large picnics and sports competitions.

At the turn of the 1950s, the Parc reiterates its cultural vocation with the opening of a military museum inside the fort and a theatre in the former powder magazine, along with staging art exhibitions in the Hélène-de-Champlain restaurant.

The construction work is done during the Great Depression, with more than 1,000 unemployed workers performing the task.


A window on the world

Montréal plays host to the Universal and International Exposition, commonly known as Expo 67, which offers an exceptional showcase for innovative ideas, putting the know-how of participants in the forefront.

With the theme of "Man and His World", the event welcomes 62 nations, close to 100 thematic pavilions and over 50 million visitors in a six-month span: a triumph that thrusts Montréal onto the international scene.

Did you know that ahead of Expo 67 the Saint Lawrence River was expanded and remodeled using rock and sediment dredged from the river and excavations from the new subway system being built? La Ronde, the amusement park, was created by expanding Île Sainte-Hélène.

Many Expo 67 pavilions are still at the Parc, including the Canada Pavilion, Québec, France, United States, Jamaica, Tunisia and Korea, as well as the Place des Nations amphitheatre.

1968 to 1981

Pursuing the dream

From 1968 to 1981, Expo 67 becomes the permanent exhibition Man and His World, an event that plays host to outdoor exhibitions and concerts, with such famed musical artists as Black Sabbath, Robert Charlebois, the Guess Who, James Brown and Chuck Berry, to name just a few.

The emblematic site is also the stage for the first-ever edition of the Festival international de jazz de Montréal in 1980.

In 1968, mayor Jean Drapeau announces that the former United States Pavilion will now be known as the "Biosphere" in conjunction with the exhibition which takes place there.


The legacy of the Games

Montréal makes history by playing host to the first Olympic Games held in Canada. A 2.2-kilometre long Olympic Basin is set up on Île Notre-Dame in the same direction of the river to take advantage of the prevailing winds.

Even now, it is regarded as the largest artificial rowing and canoe-kayak basin in North America.

The 1976 Games marks the first appearance by women in the Olympic rowing competition. Meanwhile, John Wood enables Canada to win a silver medal in the men's C-1500-metre canoe competition.


The legend of the track

On October 10, 1978, Île Notre-Dame hosts the Canadian stop on the Formula 1 World Championship motor-racing circuit. In succeeding years, a paddock, starter's tower and a track hospital are added to the Parc's landscape.

Since then, Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is a must-go-to place for motor-racing fans, providing the thrilling experience of a Canadian Grand Prix event every year. It also provides a unique, high-calibre sports infrastructure for cyclists, skaters and runners.

The hairpin turn near the Cosmos bridge walkway is now a focal point of the track.

Did you know that Gilles Villeneuve earned his first career victory by winning the first-ever Canadian Grand Prix at the Parc? The racetrack now bears his name.


Flowers in the forefront

In 1980, Montréal hosts the first Floralies internationals flower show In North America. The event brings together more than 700 local horticulturists, which positions Île Notre-Dame as a horticultural tradition worldwide.

The innovative landscapes and arrangements elicit the admiration of more than two million visitors and play a key role in promoting horticulture and spurring ecological research and awareness.

In the canal gardens sector, the Parc turns into a garden devoted to flower and plant arrangements from countries, provinces, cities and institutions, earning the admiration of more than two million visitors. Beyond the beauty aspect, the creations play a key role in promoting horticulture and spurring research and ecological awareness.

Currently, the former Floralies site still houses more than 2,000 trees of some 90 distinct species as well as a public art collection that comprises 12 sculptures. There are also many remnants of the exhibition.

1983 to 2020

Winter wonderland

January 29, 1983, marks the debut of a winter tradition in Montréal: the first-ever edition of the Fête des Neiges is held. For 37 editions, this outdoor family event attracts thousands of visitors who come to discover and celebrate the joys of winter together.

The event even has its own mascot, known as Boule de neige.


Fiery focus

A new competition is introduced at La Ronde: the Montréal international pyrotechnical arts competition.

Now known as the L'international des Feux Loto-Québec, the event draws a crowd of close to three million spectators, making it one of the most attended events in the province of Québec.


Immersed in nature

By integrating the principles of sustainable development, a program to naturalize the landscape is started throughout the Parc. It includes riprapping the banks and creating a natural amphitheatre, along with a park-beach. Inspired by a concept from the American west coast, it is the first such project in Canada to combine the park and beach in an urban setting.

The Beach opens in 1990, providing visitors, both local and from outside the area, with a summer oasis nestled in the heart of the river. Since 2015, the beach bears the name of mayor Jean Doré, the project initiator.

Jean-Doré Beach is built in less than a year and more than 30,000 tons of sand are required to build it.


Games' fever

In February 1993, work begins on Canada's largest casino. The gaming house opens on October 9 of the same year, quickly attracting a crowd that surpasses expectations. An expansion is done in 2013 by adding the former Québec Pavilion so that the Cabaret du Casino can be built there.

Since then, this prestigious place stands as a master of entertainment and continues to be one of the City of Montréal's biggest attractions.

Set up in the former France Pavilion from the Expo 67 days, the Casino has been so successful that it has been expanded and renovated several times.


Honouring Jean Drapeau

The Parc is renamed Parc Jean-Drapeau as a tribute to former Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau, who was at the origin of Expo 67. In 2000, the Île Sainte-Hélène subway station is renamed Station Jean-Drapeau.

Jean-Drapeau holds the record for the longest serving mayor of Montréal, with 29 years at the helm of the city.

In 2022, Station Jean-Drapeau had more than 1.2 million people stream through its turnstiles.

2003 to today

The epicentre of major music festivals

Starting in 2003, the Parc increasingly develops its vocation as an events-site with the organizing of Piknic Électronik shows. In 2006, the Parc hosts the first-ever Osheaga Festival and organizes Week-ends du monde events on the Île Sainte-Hélène parterre.

Since then, the Parc continues to host big musical events such as Osheaga, Piknic Électronik, Lasso and ÎleSoniq, consolidating its reputation as a leading venue for staging international-scale events.


Ready for FINA

The Aquatic Complex and its pools get a makeover to play host to the 11th edition of the Fédération Internationale de natation (Fina), world swimming championships, thereby becoming one of the finest and largest outdoor Aquatic Complexes in Canada.

The calibre of its facilities makes it a favourite destination for families and recreational as well as major sports event swimmers.


Elegance and prestige

2018 marks the start of new adventures on Île Notre-Dame with the building of the Espace Paddock. Located at trackside of Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, the paddock building stands out for the profile it projects, which evokes the innovative spirit of Expo 67.

In addition to offering an outstanding view of the Grand Prix races and an unmatched experience for the athletes, it also serves as a rental space for major events.

The Man and His World Y symbol is reiterated into the structure of Espace Paddock, and the ceiling frame is reminiscent of the Biosphere.


An outdoor amphtheatre

Espace 67 is inaugurated, unveiling a unique, open-air amphitheatre extending between the Biosphere and Calder's emblematic sculpture, Trois disques, offering an awesome view of the skyscrapers of downtown Montréal and the river in the background. This charming, multi-purpose place can accommodate up to 65,000 people, making it Montréal's biggest stage for outdoor gatherings.


A Parc bigger
than nature

The result of in-depth work that enabled a rethinking of the Parc's overall offering and guided by the most extensive public consultation ever conducted in Montréal, embracing all its assets, the 2020-2030 Conservation, Design and Development Management Plan is tabled and adopted in April 2021.

The vision: In 2030, Parc Jean-Drapeau is reinvented to become one of the most emblematic parks worldwide. It is heralded for the diversity of individual and collective experiences it offers in conjunction with nature, landscapes, history, culture and sports.


On your mark,
get set, go!

In 2021, the Montréal Marathon starts at Espace 67 for the first time. The new course for Québec's biggest footrace enables the runners to discover the symbolic charms of the city from their very first steps of the marathon.


150 candles

This year, Parc Jean-Drapeau is celebrating its 150th anniversary by paying a proud tribute to its heritage. The festivities being planned for the occasion promise to proudly be in keeping with the Parc’s history, while continuing to put the human and the spectacular in the forefront.

Join us in these joyous celebrations!

Photo credits

Here is information regarding the photos displayed on this page for which the copyright does not belong to the Société du parc Jean-Drapeau.

Archives de la Ville de Montréal 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec 1 2 3 4 5 6
Gary Yee 1 2 3
McCord Stewart Museum 1