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Canada's Most Iconic Buildings

news article

Canadians may not realize it on a day-to-day basis, but Canada has designed, built and maintained some of the most stunning architecture in the world. 

From spaces where our government guides this great nation to skyscrapers that mark our major city’s skylines, Canada is home to some remarkable structures. We at Colliers decided to escort you through an architectural timeline of 150 years of Canada.

1860’s - Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings

Designed in a gothic revival style, the buildings officially opened on 6 June 1866, about a year before Confederation.

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1870’s – Montréal’s Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

After 6 years of construction, Montreal’s Hotel de Ville officially opened in 1878.  One of Montreal’s (and Canada’s) most spectacular buildings, it is the sight of French president Charles de Gaulle’s famous “Vive le Quebec Libre” (Long-live a Free Quebec) speech.

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1888’s – (Fairmont) Banff Springs Hotel

Built as one of Canada’s “Grand railway hotels” by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the original Banff Springs hotel (now Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel) cost $250,000 to construct in 1888.  For a brief time in 1914, the hotel became the tallest building in Canada after a $2 million, eleven-storey tower renovation.

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1894 – Toronto’s Massey Hall

Legendary personalities such as Bob Dylan, the Dalai Lama, Winston Churchill and Oscar Peterson have graced the stage of Massey Hall – one of Toronto’s most beloved theatre venues for over a century.  

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1900’s – Eaton’s Department Store, Winnipeg

Eaton's considered Winnipeg, Manitoba as the most logical location for a new mail order warehouse to better serve its western customers. Despite a reluctance to open and manage a store so far from the original Toronto department store, the landmark red brick store, known as "the Big Store" to Winnipeggers, was a success. The initial staff of 750 grew to 1200 within a few weeks of the opening. 

Eatons Department Store Winnipeg

1910’s – Pacific Central Station – Vancouver

Originally known as the “False Creek Station”, the Pacific Central Station was completed in 1919 for the Canadian Northern Railway. It was one of the first major structures completed while False Creek was being filled in.

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1920’s – Gooderham and Worts Distillery – Toronto

The Gooderham and Worts Distillery was founded in 1832 and by the late 1860s was the largest distillery in the world. Construction took place between 1859 and 1929 and is now known as the “Distillery District”. The 13 acres (5.3 ha) site comprises more than forty heritage buildings and ten streets, and is the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.

Gooderham and Worts Distillery

1930’s – Bessborough Hotel

After the Canadian Pacific Railway built a railway hotel in Regina in 1926, the Saskatoon business community lobbied Canadian National Railway to build one in Saskatoon.  The result was the historic “Bessborough Hotel”. Construction was completed in 1932 but the difficult financial times of the Great Depression prevented the hotel from opening until December of 1935.

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1940’s  - Université de Montréal

After a fire destroyed previous building in 1919, the university found its new home on Montreal’s prestigious Mont Royal area. The construction stretched from 1928 until 1943. It would result in a monumental building, considered one of the first buildings of the modern style in Canada.

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1950’s – BC Electric Building

The 1957 construction of the BC Electric Building in the West End of Vancouver opened the doors to a flurry of residential tower developments forever changing the face of the neighborhood. By the 1970s, Vancouver's West End would become the most densely populated area in Canada.

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1960’s – Habitat 67, Montreal

Designed as a pavilion for Expo 67 by architect Moshe Safdie, Habitat 67 comprises 354 identical prefabricated concrete forms arranged in various combinations, reaching up to 12 storeys in height. It was believed to illustrate the new lifestyle people would live in increasingly crowded cities around the world. (Editorial credit:

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1970’s – CN Tower

Completed in 1976, the CN Tower held the title of “World’s Tallest Free-Standing Building” for 34 years until the completion of Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower in 2010. A staple of the Toronto skyline, the CN Tower attracts more than 2 million international visitors annually.

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1980’s – Canada Place

Built on the original Canadian Pacific Railway’s Pier B-C, construction was completed in 1986, just in time for Expo 86. The building’s exterior is covered by fabric roofs resembling sails and is currently the main cruise ship terminal for the region.

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1990’s – Brookfield Place

Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place) comprises two towers – each more than 49 storeys high.  Best known is the Allen Lambert Galleria, also known as the “Crystal Cathedral of Commerce”. The six story high pedestrian thoroughfare is structured by eight freestanding supports on each side of the Galleria, which branch out into parabolic shapes evoking a forest canopy or a tree-lined avenue because of the presence of building facades along the sides of the structure. (Editorial

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2000 – ROM Michael Lee-Chin Crystal

In 2002, the museum underwent a major renovation and expansion project dubbed as Renaissance ROM. The centrepiece of the project, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, was a major addition to the building's original framework. The somewhat controversial structure was created by architect Daniel Libeskind, whose design was selected from among 50 finalists in an international competition.

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2010 – Fogo Island Inn

A great feat of contemporary architecture, the Fogo Island Inn is the creation of high-tech entrepreneur Zita Cobb who aimed to save the fledgling rural economy by creating a destination resort with a world-class reputation. Completed in 2012, the Inn has become an unlikely success story and is one of Canada’s architectural gems.

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2014 – BC Passive House Plant

Awe-inspiring architecture isn’t reserved for skyscrapers and public buildings. BC Passive House proves this with the recent construction of their all-wood factory in Pemberton, BC.  Is this the beginning of a new wave in industrial building design? (Photography: Ema Peter Photography)

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