Big O appreciation
The first rule of visiting the Olympic Park is to not ask anyone about the Olympic Stadium. Just go see it for yourself and then read my articles for the Canadian Encyclopedia or Building Magazine afterwards. Everyone has an opinion about the Olympic Stadium, and, much like assholes, they all stink.
Olympic Stadium is the centrepiece of the much larger Olympic Park, and the park is conveniently served by two metro stations (Pie-IX and Viau), so it’s really easy to get there. If for whatever reason you prefer to walk or bike, just take Sherbrooke east until you see the giant UFO-looking thing that seems to be suspended by the “leaning tower of Pie-IX.” It’s really hard to miss.
Even if there’s nothing going on at the stadium (and chances are, this will be the case), it’s still a thing to behold. It is an absolutely immense structure — the biggest stadium in Canada, and the tallest inclined tower in the world— and it’s set on this massive site that dominates much of the East End of Montreal.
The stadium is also this peculiar blend of modern and postmodern architecture, concrete that’s been molded into seemingly organic forms. It’s a weird building for a number of reasons, not least because it’s so closely identified with the city of Montreal, and yet doesn’t look like what most people think about when they think about Montreal architecture. It’s a futuristic behemoth that looks like a giant white elephant from another dimension that came and plopped down right smack in the middle of endless rows of greystone triplexes. It doesn’t fit, and yet the city wouldn’t quite be the same without it.
Take a walk around the site to drink it all in. Just walking around the stadium may take you a while, but it’s worth your time. The building feels very different up close than from afar, and different from one side to another. Walk around the esplanade, which offers a good view of the site around the stadium as much of the stadium itself. On the other side, take note that this massive multi-sport complex has another stadium right next to it, and there are actually several attractions that have clustered around the stadium in recent years, including the city’s new Planetarium.
Once you’ve taken your fill of prestressed concrete and Olympic gigantism, cleanse your palette by going across Sherbrooke to the Botanical Gardens, and get lost in this absolute oasis. You’ll feel like you were magically transported out of Montreal. There are parts of the Botanical Gardens where you actually can’t hear the city anymore. At a certain point, you’ll get a spot where you’ve momentarily forgotten you’re more or less near the centre of a metropolitan region of over four million people. Then you’ll turn around and see the very top of the Montreal Tower poking out of the trees. This isn’t the only place in Montreal where futuristic architecture seems to be surrounded by dense forest.
Make it a point to see the Biodôme, either as part of this trip or a return visit. The Biodôme recently completed an extensive renovation and is well worth your time, even if most of the people who go there are kids on school trips or families with young children. The Biodôme isn’t like a zoo, it’s a lot more like several distinct ecosystems faithfully reconstructed inside the former Olympic Velodrome that happens to allow people inside to see the animals (and what city doesn’t have one of those, right?).
The Biodôme is the perfect complement to the Olympic Stadium, as both are radically over-engineered buildings given their functions. At some point in the late 1980s, as Montreal was gearing up for its 350th anniversary in 1992, someone came up with the idea of recreating ecosystems indoors and simultaneously recycling an old Olympic venue for that purpose, and in so doing came up with a zoo quite unlike any other. It’s impossible to walk through the Biodôme without being thoroughly impressed by the totality of the recreated ecosystems. You won’t see any large animals in cages here, which is without question a good thing.
There are other things to see and do at the Olympic Park that hopefully will become possible once the last antivaxx holdouts are rounded up and mass-inoculated against their will, and I’d recommend seeing those things, too (like the Planetarium, or the Chateau Dufresne design museum, or the Insectarium). If you’re a fan of soccer, I’ve been told Saputo Stadium is a good venue. Whether you like baseball or not, there have been pre-season exhibition games several years in a row recently at the Olympic Stadium, which I highly recommend seeing if for no other reason than you can appreciate this immense and absurd building from its interior, which is somehow even more baffling. The Montreal Tower will also reopen to the public one of these days, and that’s worth the trip, too.
If you’re looking for a more practical reason to go to Olympic Park, consider the massive Olympic pool and the equally large gym facilities. The last time I checked, prices were reasonable for students, and it’s unlikely the place will be packed. It’s a great place to go swimming and work out in the dead of winter.