Where in Montreal can you find a chandelier imported from Monaco and a busted, faucet-less water fountain under the same roof? Here’s a hint: it’s the same place you can find crown moulding painted rich turquoise and violet overlooking a Thai Express. It's the only shopping centre in Montreal where an escalator has been paved over with slabs of marble, but the teeth of the original steps as well as the rubbery escalator railing remain intact.
At Les Cours Mont-Royal, of course; the weirdest mall in Montreal. It’s strange to even call this place a “mall”when its main purpose is to serve the city as a subterranean channel between the Eaton Centre and Peel metro. It has many shops and food courts, but the more time I spend in Les Cours, the more I am convinced that it is so much more than that.
Did you know Les Cours has multiple skylights? Did you know there used to be a real-life Egyptian-themed cinema that is now a very glamorous medical centre where you can get a facelift after eating a light lunch at Cultures? This place has it all! There is a literal runway in here and although I’ve never seen a model walk it, it’s there in a big way.
The identity of the mall is a charming oddity in 2016, but further historical investigation reveals the colourful history of a forgotten downtown landmark. Les Cours was originally an extremely upscale hotel called The Mount Royal Hotel. Upon opening its doors to the public in 1922, it boasted over 1000 rooms and was said to be the “largest of its kind in the British Empire”according to the Montreal archives. Back then you could see the actual Mount Royal from the windows, but they didn’t have a Tiki-Ming in the basement yet either.
From hotel to luxury resort, to condominiums, offices and an underground shopping centre, Les Cours Mont-Royal is that flighty twenty-something that can’t decide what it wants to do with its life. Multiple owners have turned it from one thing to another, always salvaging the best elements of design and architecture from the previous era. What is left today is a bizarre amalgamation of luxury and one-stop shopping from designer brands to five dollar bargain bins. As you sit in the Atrium Cafésipping a caféau lait you can see the former vision fully realized and almost forget about the teeming current of human activity shopping, eating and grumbling down below on the subterranean pathway. But it’s the latter hustle and bustle that seem to be the real heart of Les Cours nowadays. The marriage of these two identities under one roof is this mall’s renewed claim to fame, a trait which makes it hands-down the most charismatic shopping centre in Montreal.
Mario Robert. "Montreal Passéet Présent 5: Du Mount Royal Hotel aux Cours Mont-Royal". Archives Montreal. Pub Oct. 6 2010. Accessed December 2015. Web.