Underground City has brought into reality a popular science fiction scenario. This network of tunnels under the streets of Montreal houses one of the most unusual shopping areas in the world. Still growing over 40 years later, it provides a haven for tourists and locals against the weather extremes common to Montreal, while giving them shopping heaven.
The first link came into being when the Place Ville-Marie, a Bauhaus skyscraper in downtown Montreal, incorporated an underground shopping mall. Built in 1962 to cover railway tracks near Central Station, it linked the train to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. With the opening of the Montreal Metro (the city’s subway system) in 1966, the web of passages began to blossom.
Today, with over 30 kilometers (18 miles) of tunnels, the world’s largest underground network provides shopping for half a million visitors every day. There are over 1,600 boutiques and an equal number of apartments.
Entertainment is provided by the 34 cinemas dotting the ‘landscape’. Meals are available at any of 200 different restaurants. One could live and shop in Montreal and never go outdoors. And with 120 access points to the surface, it isn’t difficult to find.
The section downtown, part of a complex called RÉSO (after the French, réseau or network) provides a nexus for anyone who wanted to catch the train to other parts. Spread over 60 residential and commercial venues, the buildings above ground contain 80% of all the office space in the city.
Shopping centers near the Peel and McGill metro stations will be of more interest to tourists, however. Wedged between Mont Royal in the north and the St. Lawrence river in the south, shoppers can find items from Hudson Bay Company or Simon’s. The clothing ranges from silly frocks to safari gear and everything in between.
Try a Quebec specialty – french fries, brown gravy, and cheese curd. Then dash off for some more shopping at Promenades Cathedrale. Beneath the tallest building in Montreal at 1000 de La Gauchetière, you can take a few turns at the indoor skating rink, open year-round.
Window shop in the natural light provided by the hundreds of skylights that line the ceiling of the underground complex. At the same time, the atriums give pedestrians a feeling of space that eliminates any gloom from being underground.
The weather in Montreal can be scorching hot in the summer, snowy cold in the winter. But in the Underground City, visitors can shop in comfort as they wend their way among the hundreds of different possibilities.
Several of Montreal’s major shopping plazas are easy to reach via Underground City. Visit the Complexe Les Ailes, the Centre Eaton, Les Cours Mont-Royal, or Place Montréal.
Then, just when you really feel the need to go above ground again, go way above. Visit the bar at Altitude 737, named for its elevation above street level, and take in the panoramic view of Montreal.
“Montreal Underground City” by Gim Allon