Square-Victoria–OACI (Hector Guimard)

Hector Guimard

Station entrance (1967)

Cast iron and Comblanchien stone
Gift of the Régie autonome des transports parisiens (RATP)
Location: Saint-Antoine entrance

This Art Nouveau-style architectural element, dating back to the beginning of the Paris métro in 1900, was installed in Square Victoria in 1967. It was completely restored in 2003 when the square was redesigned and integrated into the Quartier international de Montréal.

Did you know?

The RATP gave this Guimard entrance to the Montréal métro to commemorate the involvement of Parisian engineers in its construction.

About the artist

Born in Lyon, France, Hector Guimard (1867-1942) was one of the most important figures of Art Nouveau, an aesthetic movement inspired by the forms of nature. In 1899, he was mandated to create the entranceways for the brand-new Paris métro system.

Visitors and Montrealers alike are often surprised to see such a classically Parisian métro entrance at Square-Victoria–OACI station. Here’s the story behind the Guimard entourage.

It all began in Paris, circa 1965. Pierre Bourgeau, head architect of the Montréal métro, was visiting his French counterparts at the Régie autonome des transports parisiens (RATP), who were actively collaborating with him on the Montréal project.

Deux photos de Pierre Bourgeau à des époques différentes.

Architect Pierre Bourgeau in the 1960s and early 2000s. (City of Montréal archives and Michel E. Tremblay)

During his visit, Bourgeau noticed that the RATP had begun dismantling some of its Guimard entourages, the cast-iron balustrades that had adorned the entrances to certain Paris métro stations since the turn of the century. Designed by the Art Nouveau master Hector Guimard, the entourages had fallen out of fashion and were gradually being replaced by more contemporary and lower-maintenance entryways.

Un entourage Guimard à la station Simplon du métro de Paris.

Narrow Guimard entourage at Simplon station on the Paris métro, 1960s. (RATP archives)

This gave Bourgeau an idea. He asked his Parisian colleagues if the RATP would donate one of the entourages to the Montréal métro, symbolizing the cooperation between the two networks. He had nothing to lose—the worst they could say was no. But the RATP said yes! They made it official, and none other than celebrated writer and France’s Minister of Culture André Malraux confirmed the indefinite loan (declaring it would be “lost in the mists of time”) to Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau.

Jean Drapeau et André Malraux.

Jean Drapeau and André Malraux at Montréal City Hall, October 10, 1963. (City of Montréal archives)

With good locations becoming scarce, it was decided that the entourage would be installed at Square-Victoria station. It wasn’t perfect—the station’s name was ironically British-sounding, the architect did not approve of the addition, the entrance was too wide and some pieces of the entourage were missing—but they made it work! In 1967, the Guimard entrance began its second life at Square-Victoria station.

Photo en noir et blanc de la sortie de la station Square-Victoria en 1967.

The Guimard entourage at Square-Victoria station in 1979. The station name has been added on a signpost. (STM archives)

Some two decades later, the City of Montréal undertook a complete renovation of the surrounding area, which became the Quartier international de Montréal (QIM). At the same time, the STM and the RATP strengthened their relationship by signing a cooperation agreement. QIM leaders were keen to remodel the Square-Victoria station entrance and wanted to make it identical to its counterparts in Paris. The three organizations came to an agreement, and in 2001, the original entourage was removed. Throughout 2002 and part of 2003, the station entrance became one big worksite.

L'entourage Guimard de Montréal en rénovation.

The Guimard entourage at Square-Victoria station underwent a full renovation in 2002. (Quartier international de Montréal)

Sections of the entourage were carefully restored, including the two lily of the valley lights, while others had replacements imported from Paris, including the Comblanchien stone base, the “cornichon” bearing the station name, the “Métropolitain” sign, the map holder and the white beveled tiles so typical of the Paris métro. Finally, on September 4, 2003, the new Guimard entrance at Square-Victoria station was unveiled.

La sortie de la station Square-Victoria avec l'entourage Guimard.

The Guimard entourage now stands proud in rain, shine or Montréal winter!

Click on these pictures to enlarge them.

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