By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
In May 1970 the City of Montreal was awarded the 1976 Summer Olympics. This led to the construction of a new stadium that would be used for the Olympics and eventually become the home of Montreal’s baseball team, the Expos and its professional football team, the Montreal Alouettes.
Nicknamed “The Big O”, in reference to its doughnut-shape, it is also known as “The Big Owe” in reference to the enormous cost of the stadium – 1.2 billion Canadian dollars.
Construction of the Olympic facilities, began in April 1973. Designed by French architect Roger Taillibert, the stadium features a retractable roof, which was to be opened and closed by cables suspended from a huge 175-metre (574 ft) tower – the tallest inclined tower in the world. The Olympic swimming pool is located under this tower. The elliptical shaped stadium is 490 metres (1607.6 ft) long by 180 metres (590.6 ft) wide, and includes a multi-level ring of stands with a seating capacity of 56,000, not including the 20,000 overflow seats added temporarily to accommodate the Olympic Games.
Several strikes caused by clashes in labour relations between November of 1974 and Octoberof 1975, would result in project setbacks and delays, to the point that, by the end of 1975, it became difficult to determine whether the site would be ready in time for the Games. Faced with this turn of events, the International Olympic Committee even began to plan on moving the Games to Mexico. Because of the delays the stadium opened unfinished for the Olympics. The retractable roof was unfinished because the hoisting tower next to the stadium was only a quarter of its planned height, and the Kevlar roof that was to be suspended from the tower by cables, was not in place. The field, working spaces and spectator areas were complete at the stadium, allowing the 21st Olympic Games to take place with the opening ceremony as planned on July 15, 1976, with a procession of athletes representing 94 countries as they filed before a crowd of 76,433 spectators. When construction on the stadium’s tower resumed after
the 1976 Olympics, a multi-story observatory was added, accessible via a funicular that travels 266 metres (873 ft) along the curved tower’s spine. The funicular cabin ascends from base of the tower to upper deck in less than two minutes, with space for 76 persons per trip. The cabin remains level throughout its trip, and provides a panoramic view to its passengers, overlooking the Olympic Village, the Biodome, the Botanical Gardens and Saputo Stadium.
Today the Olympic Stadium hosts many events, such as sports events, salons, fairs, shows,
exhibitions, and film shoots. Equipped with some 56,000 seats in the stands, it is the only covered
amphitheater in Quebec that can shelter large scale events. Since its inauguration in 1976, more
than 67 million visitors have visited the stadium.
Source: Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America / parcolympique.qc.ca