© Jean-Francois-Seguin

Public Collaborative Creation


Building public engagement upstream of a project so as to establish better guidelines for execution and ensure an exemplary, credible process conducive to collective acceptance.

90 days

time given to the consulting body following the end of public hearings in which to issue its report


number of bilingual copies of the summary document distributed proactively to various Montreal groups to solicit their engagement in the consultation process on the future of the Old Port

We had to solicit the public, but not simply by opening the door and hoping people would come share their vision. We needed to be very proactive to reach a broad enough spectrum of people and points of view. Some would say: ‘I don’t have anything to say about the development of the Old Port.’ And our answer was always: "Of course you do, it's yours!"

Cameron Charlebois


Long the cradle of Montreal’s economy by virtue of its harbour, industrial and commercial activities, the Vieux-Port (Old Port) is an important witness to the history of the city, specifically its growth between the second half of the 19th century and the mid-20th. With the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and the evolution of maritime transport methods, however, the bulk of the Port of Montreal’s operations were moved farther downstream. Various development scenarios were proposed by the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs of the time and the Old Port of Montreal Corporation. Among other things, the federal government was favourable to real-estate development to generate income from the lands it owned, going as far as to propose construction of a new city between Old Montreal and the river. These plans sparked controversy and objections from the public as well as heritage groups.


In 1985, Cameron Charlebois was asked to be part of the Secretariat of the Consultative Committee on the Old Port of Montreal, tasked with organizing public hearings involving the greatest possible number of stakeholders from all milieux so as to reach consensus on the land-use designation and future of the federally owned lands. The public consultation process was divided into three phases. The first involved production of a briefing and summary document that invited the public’s input. Two thousand copies of the document, to which Heritage Montreal contributed, were distributed in both English and French. Phase two consisted of four public hearings in September 1985 that saw Montrealers testify to their attachment to the Old Port and voice their expectations and ideas for its future. An interim report based on the oral presentations and briefs filed was published in mid-November to serve as a discussion paper for the final phase: a second set of public hearings. Held in December, they provided the opportunity to debate the preferred land-use designations and make concrete proposals for development. Heritage Montreal was very active throughout the process, building public engagement as well as publishing proposals. The final report, issued in May 1986, identified the types of activities and facilities compatible with the vocations determined for the harbourfront site and led to the 1990 adoption of the formal management plan for the Old Port—the blueprint for the conversion of the Old Port of Montreal into the site we know today.

In 1978, the federal Ministry of State for Urban Affairs launched a public consultation process to study several redevelopment options for the Old Port of Montreal, ranging from minimal to intensive (involving a high-density complex of high-rise residential buildings). Through a group called the Association du Vieux-Port de Montréal, members of the public strongly criticized these proposals.

In 1982, the Old Port of Montreal Corporation commissioned a development study for the Jacques-Cartier Quay and Clock Tower sector. It called for intensive development of the site, to include hundreds of residential units, office buildings, a shopping centre and parking facilities. In the light of that study, the Corporation proceeded to map out a development plan for the Old Port. It proposed an esplanade and urbanization of the quays. In 1984, the Corporation produced a new development study for the Jacques-Cartier Quay and Clock Tower sector, calling for integration of a shopping centre, a market, museums and even a métro station. With a change of government, a new process of public consultation was initiated in 1985 with the creation of the Consultative Committee on the Old Port of Montreal. The process was conducted in several phases, with the Committee submitting its final report in May 1986. That report determined the overall development guidelines for the Old Port.


Public hearings on the Old Port’s future ensured that the idea of building a new city in front of the existing one, as initially planned, was supplanted by a strong, inclusive vision: a public area that could never be privatized, and was open onto the riverfront, connected to Montreal and the Lachine Canal, and conducive to hosting a wide variety of activities on the immense quays already in place.

Lessons Learned

  • Public engagement generates better directions for development if it is stimulated early, as part of a co-creation process, instead of occurring after the fact, as a reaction to or validation of regulatory or technical tools. When the time comes to bring a diversity of communities on board in a consultative process, a proactive approach is needed to gather a sufficiently broad spectrum of points of view.

Municipality or Borough



Public; governmental; federal


Canada Lands Company


  • Archeological zone

  • Landscape view

  • Public spaces / Parks / green space



Year built


Submitted by Heritage Montreal · Latest update: 2015/10/13



What is your view of this Montreal site? What heritage has it left for us?