Recognized as one of the ten most beautiful heritage buildings in Canada, the Bonsecours Market is a key part of the historical heart of Montreal. Since 1847, it has embodied and reflected the evolution of the metropolis. It has housed the city’s largest public market, a large concert hall, the Parliament of United Canada and the headquarters of the municipal government. As an extension of its former mercantile vocation, the market today accommodates the Conseil des métiers d’art du Québec, the Fashion Museum, shops of Quebec craftspeople and restaurants that showcase local products. With its unique architecture, this building is one of the most well-known and liveliest places in Quebec’s metropolis. More than eleven million people visit it each year.
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A prestigious contemporary market
In 1992, Montreal celebrated the 350th anniversary of its founding. The authorities took this opportunity to beautify Old Montreal. The restored Old Port provides renewed access to Bonsecours Market, a gem that had been neglected for many years. Temporary exhibit rooms were created, and then the market’s commercial function was revived when shops opened on the ground floor. Large multipurpose rooms were constructed on the upper floor. From 2001 to 2004, a second wave of work restored the building to its former glory: a new balcony, the reopening of the portals at each end of the building and architectural lighting, imparting undeniable prestige to the building.
In this renewed Bonsecours Market, Montrealers and tourists can discover the Fashion Museum, which exhibits Quebec’s textile history and fashion heritage by means of costumes and accessories, in a splendid 3,000 square foot room showcasing Quebec and international creations. Visitors can stroll through high-end shops displaying the work of artists and artisans of every discipline: ready-to-wear clothing, coats, decorative accessories, furs, jewels and fine leathercraft, Inuit sculptures, and other Indigenous and Quebec pieces of arts. The antique shops and impressive collection of reproductions of antique furniture from French Canada echo the architectural heritage of the building. Visitors can also sit down and enjoy many Quebec local products, such as ice cider, chocolate made by Trappiste Monks and various maple confections, unless they have come specifically to take in in the wine or chocolate festivals.
Reflecting the prosperity of the metropolis
Construction of Bonsecours Market started in 1844, on a lot that John Molson’s son, a businessman, sold to the City of Montreal. The designers wanted this majestic building to bear the “stamp of the country”, reflecting the good taste, liberal views and prosperity of Montrealers. With its imposing proportions, the market is visible from afar, to ships from Quebec City, the Atlantic and Europe as soon as they enter the port. The market was inaugurated in January 1847, when it was not yet quite completed. Five years would be needed to finish the work.
Bonsecours Market was to become not only the largest public market in Montreal for more than a century, but also a reflection of the social and economic development of the country. In fact, the businesses and organizations that set up shop in this building witnessed growth in agricultural and manufacturing production, and in the industrial and artistic activities of the Canadian colony, of which Montreal was the most important city. The very first exhibition of note in the country took place at the market in 1850.
A multipurpose building
At the time, booming Montreal needed large spaces capable of accommodating big crowds. Bonsecours Market contained a concert hall and an immense banquet hall in its eastern wing. The City Concert Hall, with its 900 or so square metres designed in the purest Victorian style, was able to accommodate up to 3,000 people. Administrative offices occupied the upper floors, where other rooms could receive smaller gatherings of people. The Canadian Institute, both a public library and a development agency, was the first tenant in 1846, before the construction was finished. The elected representatives of United Canada briefly held their sessions there in 1849. The building was subsequently used as City Hall for over 25 years, from 1852 to 1878.
Nonetheless, the main function of Bonsecours as a public market never changed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, until it was closed in 1963. Bonsecours Market remains graven in memory as a meeting place between Montreal’s consumers and producers from the surrounding countryside.