The Île Sainte-Hélène pavilion: A treasure from the past

11 September 2017

In your travels over the Jacques Cartier Bridge, you’ve probably noticed one of the four turrets on the roof of the Île Sainte-Hélène pavilion found half-way between Montreal and the South Shore. Built between 1927 and 1931, this Art Deco building, a rare style in Montreal, is, of course, located on Île Sainte-Hélène. With a total area of 7,145 square metres, the pavilion has two basements, a ground floor, an upper floor and a mezzanine. Its foundations were built into the side of the bedrock. The building is made of concrete slabs and walls and a system of steel beams and columns. Interestingly, the pavilion roof forms the Section 5 deck of the Jacques Cartier Bridge.

A pedestrian walkway was built into the pavilion to connect the east side (sidewalk) and west side (multipurpose path) of the Jacques Cartier Bridge. In this tunnel, two murals by Montreal artist Rafael Sottolichio take users on a journey back in time and show images of the city when it was humming to the sound of massive development projects. This tunnel is also a point of interest in the Stories and Bridges technical and historical tour.

Originally the pavilion was supposed to be a casino, but this project never got off the ground because the church vetoed the idea. The next plan was to create ballrooms and exhibit halls, but these were never completed either.

As time went on, the Second World War and the economic crisis of 1929 gave the pavilion an unexpected purpose, as the Canadian army took over the building to use as a warehouse, which it did until the start of the 1950s. On the initial engineering plans, the Jacques Cartier Bridge was to have three traffic lanes and a reserved streetcar lane on each side. The Île Sainte-Hélène pavilion was therefore going to be a streetcar station. But since no streetcar ever made it over over the Jacques Cartier Bridge, this was yet another plan that never came to pass !  

Giving the pavilion a new purpose

Today the pavilion primarily serves as a bridge pier, and The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated (JCCBI) has done multiple repairs to its infrastructure: painting the building, reinforcing the steel columns, cleaning and painting existing steel components, and reconstructing the girder-slab on the ground floor as well as the basement slab. All of this work has been an investment in the future to ensure, among other things, that the pavilion lasts as a support structure for the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Part of the Montreal landscape for over 85 years, the Île Sainte-Hélène pavilion has stood strong throughout the decades. The Corporation is proud to help preserve this heritage building and has started a process on how to redevelop and enhance this one-of-a-kind structure.