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The Olympic Stadium ( ) is a multi-purpose stadium in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuvemarker district of Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker, Canadamarker built as the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics. It subsequently became the home of Montreal's professional baseball and Canadian football teams. Since 2004, when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington, D.C.marker, the stadium has no main tenant, and with a history of financial and structural problems, is largely seen as a white elephant. It currently serves as a 56,040-seat multipurpose facility for special events (e.g. concerts, trade shows) during non-winter months, and continues to serve as a 66,308-seat venue for late-season, playoff and Grey Cup games hosted by the Montreal Alouettes. La tour de Montréal, the tower incorporated into the base of the stadium, is the tallest inclined tower in the world at 175 metres, and is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers. The stadium's nickname The Big O is a reference to both its name and to the doughnut-shape of the permanent component of the stadium's roof, though The Big Owe has been used to reference the astronomical cost of the stadium and the 1976 Olympics as a whole.


Background and architecture

The stadium was designed by French architect Roger Taillibert to be a very elaborate facility featuring a retractable roof, which was to be opened and closed by a huge tower – the tallest inclined structure in the world, and the sixth tallest building in Montreal. The design of the stadium is remarkably similar to the Australia Pavilion at Expo '70marker in Osaka by Queensland University architect James MacCormick.

The Olympic swimming poolmarker is located under this tower. An Olympic velodrome (since converted to the Montreal Biodomemarker, an indoor nature museum) was situated at the base of the tower in a building similar in design to the swimming pool. The building was built as the main stadium for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium was host to various events including: the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, football finals, and some equestrian events.

The building's design is cited as a masterpiece of Organic Modern architecture. Taillibert based the building on plant and animal forms, aiming to include vertebral structures with sinewy or tentacles, while still following the basic plans of Modern architecture.


As construction was well underway, a labour strike caused a major delay to the building of the stadium and, in particular, the tower. The roof languished in a warehouse in France until 1982. It was not until 1987, 11 years later, that both the tower and roof were completed.


Back view at night
Problems plagued the stadium from the time it opened for the Olympic Games, when it was only half built.

Seating 58,500 at the time, the stadium was not fully completed in time for the Games due to problems with the unusual design and strikes by construction workers, leaving it without a tower or roof for the opening and several years following. Both the tower and the roof, made of over of Kevlar, were not completed for over a decade, and it was not until 1988 that it was possible to retract the roof. The roof then proved difficult to retract, and could not be used at all in winds greater than . This resulted in the unique phenomenon of a rain delay in a covered stadium during baseball season whenever rain was accompanied by high winds. It was also torn during particularly windy conditions.

Stadium financing

Despite initial projections in 1970 that the stadium would cost only C$134 million to construct, strikes and construction delays served to escalate these costs. By the time the stadium opened (in an unfinished form), the total costs had risen to C$264 million.

The Quebec government introduced a special tobacco tax in May 1976 to help recoup its investment. By 2006, the amount contributed to the Olympic Installations Board accounted for 8% of the tax revenue earned from cigarette sales. The 1976 special tobacco tax act stipulated that once the stadium was paid off, ownership of the facility would be returned to the City of Montreal.

In mid-November 2006 the stadium's costs were finally paid in full.The total expenditure (including repairs, renovations, construction, interest, and inflation) amounted to C$1.61 billion. Despite initial plans to complete payment in October 2006, an indoor smoking ban introduced in May 2006 curtailed the revenue gathered by the tobacco tax. Perceived by many to be a white elephant, the stadium has also been dubbed The Big Owe, Uh-O or The Big Mistake.

Continuing problems

Although not completed in time for the 1976 Olympics, construction on finishing the tower recommenced in the 1980s. During this period, however, a large fire set the tower ablaze, causing damage and forcing a scheduled Expos home game to be postponed. In 1986, a large chunk of the tower fell onto the playing field during another Expos game.

In 1987, an orange-coloured Kevlar retractable roof was installed, finally completing the stadium a decade late; however, soon after it was put into use it ripped on several occasions due to a design flaw. In the months that followed, it was plagued by further rips and leaks during rain storms, bringing water down into the stadium.

Due to claims of being a poor venue for baseball, the stadium was remodeled in 1991, with 12,000 seats being removed, including a large number of seats far removed from the playing field that were blocked off for Expos games.

Olympic Stadium's blue roof

On September 8 of that year, support beams snapped and caused a concrete slab to fall on to an exterior walkway. No one was injured, but the Expos had to move their final 13 home games of that season to the opponents' cities. For the 1992 season, it was decided to keep the roof closed at all times. The Kevlar roof was removed in May 1998, making the stadium open-air for the 1998 season. Later in 1998, a $26 million opaque blue roof was installed which does not open.

In January 1999, a portion of the roof collapsed, dumping ice and snow on workers that were setting up for the annual Montreal Auto Show. This led to the auto show leaving Olympic Stadium for good. Repaired once again, the roof has been modified to better react to the winter conditions. The OIB has installed a network of pipes to circulate heated water under the roof to allow for snow melting. Despite these corrective measures, the stadium floor had remained closed from December to March.Birdair, the fabric provider and installer of the roof, was later sued for the roof failure. The original installer of the roof, Danny's Construction, also sued Birdair. The company was ejected from the project by Birdair.

The stadium's condition suffered considerably in the early 21st century. During the Expos' final years in Montreal, it was coated with grime. Much of the concrete was chipped, stained, and soiled.In 2009, the stadium received approval to remain open in the winter, provided weather conditions are favourable.

Post-Olympic use

Olympic Stadium panoramic


The Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes became the stadium's first major post-Olympic tenant when it moved its home games there half-way through the 1976 season, remaining there through 1986, the franchise's final season of operations. A revived Alouettes franchise returned for the 1996 and 1997 seasons, but then moved to the Percival Molson Stadiummarker in 1998, only using the larger Olympic Stadium for select regular-season and home playoff games. As of 2008, the franchise uses Olympic Stadium for playoff games only. Due to the increased popularity of the Alouettes and the small capacity of Percival Molson Stadium, considerations had been made about returning to Olympic Stadium on a full-time basis, provided that changes were made to make it more fan-friendly (such as removing the roof and curtaining off the upper level for regular-season games). However, it is widely accepted that the team's success has in fact been due to its decision to return to Molson Stadium. The team will instead renovate Percival Molson Stadium to increase the capacity, which may cause them to abandon Olympic Stadium entirely.

Olympic Stadium has hosted the Grey Cup a total of six times, most recently in 2008 when the Calgary Stampeders defeated the hometown Alouettes. The stadium holds the record for the ten largest crowds in CFL history, which include six regular-season and four Grey Cup games. A single-game record crowd numbering 69,083 attended a game played on September 6, 1977 between the Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts.

In 1991 and 1992, the stadium played host to the Montreal Machine of the World League of American Football. This included hosting World Bowl II on June 6, 1992, in which the Sacramento Surge defeated the Orlando Thunder 21-17 before 43,789 fans.

In 1988 and 1990, NFL pre-season games were played at Olympic Stadium.


In 1977, the stadium replaced Jarry Park Stadiummarker as the home ballpark of the National League's Montreal Expos, who regularly played 81 home games every season until 2003, when the Expos played 22 home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadiummarker in San Juan, Puerto Ricomarker. The Expos played 59 home games at Olympic Stadium in 2003 and 2004, and then the franchise was moved to Washington, D.C.marker after the 2004 season. The stadium's first-ever baseball game was played on April 14, 1977. In front of 57,592 fans, the Expos lost 7–2 to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Expos played five home playoff games in 1981; two in the National League Division Series against the Phillies, and three in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On October 19, the Expos lost the decisive fifth game, 2–1, to the Dodgers on Rick Monday's ninth-inning home run. In 1982, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was played at Olympic Stadium in front of 59,057 fans--a stadium record for baseball. On September 29, 2004, the Expos played their last game in Montreal, losing 9–1 to the Florida Marlins before 31,395 fans.

Although the Expos were Olympic Stadium's primary tenants, it proved to be somewhat problematic as a baseball venue. It employed construction techniques similar to those used in other multipurpose stadiums of the time. As was the case elsewhere where this approach was tried, sight lines for baseball left much to be desired. The sight-line problems were magnified by the fact that Canadian football fields are 30 yards longer than American football fields. To accommodate the wider Canadian football field, the lower boxes were set further back than comparable seats in other stadiums built during this time. The upper deck was one of the highest in the majors. Still, the Expos were very successful in the stadium for a time, with above National League median attendance in 1977 and from 1979 to 1983. The Expos outdrew the New York Mets from 1977 to 1983, and 1994 to 1996, as well as the New York Yankees from 1982 to 1983.

Before the 1992 season, a major overhaul was done on the stadium's baseball configuration. Home plate was moved closer to the stands and new seats closer to the field were installed. As part of the renovation, several distant sections of permanent seating beyond the fence were closed, replaced with bleacher seats directly behind the outfield fence. The total seating capacity for baseball was reduced to 46,000.


The Olympic Stadium was the home of the NASL's Montreal Manic soccer team from 1981-1983. A 1981 playoff game against the Chicago Sting attracted a crowd of over 58,000. Several games of the 2007 FIFAmarker Under 20 World Cup were played at Olympic Stadium and drew the largest crowds of the tournament, including two sell-outs of 55,800.

Olympic Stadium hosted a CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final game pitting the Montreal Impact - who play primarily in the adjacent Stade Saputomarker - against Club Santos Laguna of the Mexican First Division on February 25, 2009. This was the first time an international soccer game took place in Montreal during the winter months.[60717] The Impact won 2-0 in front of a record crowd of 55,571.


The stadium also has various other multipurpose uses.

On September 11, 1984, Pope John Paul II participated in a youth rally with about 55,000 people in attendance.

The Jackson 5 led by Michael Jackson performed on September 17th and 18th, 1984. It was their final performance as a group in Montreal.

Many musical events have taken place at this location, including the famed riots after Axl Rose andMetallica frontman James Hetfield suffered second and third degree burns to his left arm after stepping too close to a pyrotechnics blast during the opening of "Fade to Black". Metallica was forced to cancel the second hour of the show, but promised to return to the city for another show See GNR-Metallica Stadium Tour.

Attendance record

Pink Floyd attracted the largest ever paid crowd to the Olympic Stadium. The July 6, 1977 event gathered 78,322 fans.Michael Jackson and the Jacksons attracted 58,270 fans during their North American Victory tour on September 17 and 18, 1984.


The stadium is directly connected to the Pie-IX metro stationmarker on the Green Line of the Montreal Metro.

Facts and figures

  • At , the Olympic Stadium is both the world's tallest slanted structure and stadium.
  • Well over its original budget, the stadium ended up costing $770 million to construct. By 2006, the final cost had risen to $1.47 billion when calculating in repairs, modifications and interest paid out. It took taxpayers 30 years to finally pay off the cost, leading to its nickname of "The Big Owe" (a play on "The Big O").
  • The roof is only above the field of play. As a result, a number of pop-ups and long home runs hit the roof over the years, necessitating the painting of orange lines on the roof to separate foul balls from fair balls.
  • The Olympic Stadium's foul poles were painted red, while every other baseball stadium uses yellow poles (except Shea Stadiummarker (1964–2008) and Citi Fieldmarker (2009–Present) home of the New York Mets which have orange foul poles.)
  • The Olympic Stadium holds the record for a soccer game attendance in Canada. At the 1976 Summer Olympics soccer final, 72,000 people witnessed East Germany's 3-1 win over Poland.
  • A yellow seat on the 300 level commemorates a 534-foot home run by Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • The Montreal games of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup were held at Olympic Stadium on a FieldTurf surface that was installed specifically for the tournament.

See also


  1. Official Government of Quebec page for the stadium, where it is referred to as "Olympic Stadium"
  2. Rémillard, 196.
  3. MLB - Merron: What a disaster!
  4. The Pope in Canada: A Journey Into the Heart
  5. MLB - Merron: The Disastrous 'Big Owe'


  • Rémillard, Francois. Montreal architecture: A Guide to Styles and Buildings. Montreal: Meridian Press, 1990.

External links


  • CBC Archives - Clip from 1975 – Stadium architect talks about his design
  • CBC Archives – A look back on the history of the stadium (1999)
  • CBC Archives - Discussion of building a tower for Montreal

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