Thu 24 February 2022 | 20:29

Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium, The Big Owe

‘The Big O’ has been up and running since 1976 and for that reason, it has a story of its own. We will be covering that story along with facts and data we think you’d be interested to know about.

Olympic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Montreal, Canada, which is located in Olympic Park in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district. It is known as "The Big O," a reference to both its name and the doughnut-shaped permanent component of the stadium's roof, which was built in the mid-1970s as the primary venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics.

It is also known as "The Big Owe" in reference to the city's enormous building costs as well as the overall hosting of the 1976 Olympics. The Montreal Tower, which stands close to the stadium, is the world's tallest inclined tower, with a 45-degree angle elevation. The stadium is Canada's 2nd largest in terms of seating capacity. Artificial turf was laid after the Olympics, and it became the home of Montreal's professional baseball and football clubs.

The Montreal Alouettes of the CFL returned to Molson Stadium for regular-season games in 1998 but kept playing playoff and Grey Cup games at Olympic Stadium until 2014 when they returned to Molson Stadium for all of their games. Following the 2004 baseball season, the Expos were renamed the Washington Nationals and relocated to Washington, D.C. With a permanent seating capacity of 56,040, the stadium currently operates as a multifunctional facility for special events (e.g. concerts, trade shows).

Temporary seating can be added to increase capacity. The facility has been used by Major League Soccer (MLS) club Club de Foot Montreal (previously known as Montreal Impact) when ticket demand justifies the enormous capacity or when the weather prevents outdoor play at neighboring Saputo Stadium during the spring months.

Since the Expos left in 2004, the stadium has been without a main tenant. Despite decades of use, the stadium has been labeled a white elephant due to a history of structural and financial issues.

Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium, The 2nd Biggest Venue in Canada

We have much information to share with you about this extremely expensive stadium located in Montreal, the city of festivals.

Montreal Olympic Stadium History and Architecture

Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau wanted to build a covered stadium as early as 1963. Given the cold weather that could impact the city in April, October, and even September, a covered stadium was deemed to be almost crucial for Drapeau's other goal of bringing a Major League Baseball franchise to Montreal, one of the Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium.

Drapeau issued a letter in 1967, shortly after the National League granted Montreal an expansion club for 1969, pledging that any future Montreal team will play in a covered stadium by 1971.

Even though he was powerful, he lacked the authority to issue such a guarantee on his own behalf.

Drapeau had his team put together a stadium proposal right when Charles Bronfman, the franchise's founding owner, was about to walk away. It was sufficient to persuade Bronfman to continue the project.

The stadium was designed by French architect Roger Taillibert as an intricate structure with a retractable roof that would be raised and closed by cables suspended from a massive 175-meter (574-foot) tower, the world's tallest inclined structure and Montreal's sixth tallest structure, another one of the Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium. 

Although Taillibert had previously investigated the concept of an umbrella-style roof for a theatre in Cannes (1964) and Piscine Carnot in Paris, the stadium's design has been compared to that of the Australian Pavilion at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan (1967).

Drapeau signed a secret contract with Taillibert to build the stadium soon after Montreal was awarded the 1976 Games. It was only discovered in 1972.

Underneath this tower is the Olympic swimming pool. At the base of the tower, in a building identical in style to the swimming pool, an Olympic velodrome (now converted to the Montreal Biodome, an indoor nature museum) was located.

The structure was constructed for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games as the main stadium. The stadium hosted a variety of events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, football finals, and equestrian team jumping events.

One of the

Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium

is that the design of the building is considered a masterpiece of Organic Modern architecture.

Taillibert modeled the construction on plant and animal shapes, with the goal of including vertebral structures with sinews or tentacles while yet adhering to Modern architecture's essential ideas.

Montreal Olympic Stadium Construction and Observatory

The stadium was supposed to open in 1972, however, the grand opening was postponed due to a construction workers' strike.

The building site was kept in "anarchic disorder" by the Conseil des metiers de la construction union, led by Andre "Dede" Desjardins, until Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa bought him off in a private agreement, one of the Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium.

Taillibert said in his book Notre Cher Stade Olympique, published in 2000, "If the Olympic Games took place, it was thanks to Dede Desjardins. What irony!" More delays occurred as a result of the stadium's distinctive design and Taillibert's refusal to budge from his initial concept of the stadium, despite rising raw material costs.

The fact that the initial project manager, Trudeau et Associes, appeared incapable of handling even the most basic construction tasks didn't help things.

In 1974, the Quebec provincial government had had enough of the delays and expense overruns and removed Taillibert from the project.

In addition, the project was hampered by events beyond anyone's control. Due to Montreal's notoriously harsh winters, work came to a crawl for a third of the year.

As a result, when the 1976 Olympic Games began, the stadium and tower were still unfinished, another one of the Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium.

The roof materials sat in a Marseille warehouse until 1982, and the tower and roof were only finished in 1987. The 66-tonne, 5,500 m2 (59,000 sq ft) Kevlar roof (designed and built by Lavalin) would take another year to retract.

Even so, it couldn't be utilized in winds more than 40 km/h (25 mph). It was only opened and closed 88 times in total.

After the 1976 Olympics, work on the stadium's tower resumed, and a multi-story observatory was added to the plan, accessed via an inclined elevator that opened in 1987 and climbs 266 meters (873 feet) up the curved tower's spine.

The elevator cabin ascends from the base of the tower to the upper deck in less than two minutes at a speed of 2.8 m/s (6.3 mph), with a capacity of 500 people per hour with space for 76 people per trip, one of the

Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium.

The interior is designed to stay level throughout the trip while providing passengers with a panoramic view.

The elevator is oriented to the northeast, with views to the north, south, and east. The Olympic Village, the Biodome, the Botanical Gardens, and Saputo Stadium are all visible from here.

From the southwest facing Observatory at the top of the tower, you can see the Olympic Park, the stadium's suspended roof, and downtown Montreal.

Montreal Olympic Stadium Funding and Upgrades

Despite early estimates in 1970 that the stadium would cost C$134 million to build, strikes and construction delays pushed up the expenses.

The entire cost of the stadium had grown to C$1.1 billion by the time it opened (in an unfinished state).

In May 1976, the Quebec government enacted a special tobacco tax to help repay its investment. By 2006, the amount paid to the stadium's owner, the Olympic Installations Board (OIB), amounted for 8% of all cigarette-related tax revenue.

The 1976 special tobacco tax act provided that ownership of the stadium would be transferred to the City of Montreal after the debt was paid off.

After more than 30 years, the stadium's costs were eventually paid in full in mid-November 2006. One of the Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium is that the entire cost (including repairs, restorations, construction, interest, and inflation) was C$1.61 billion, making it the second most costly stadium ever built after all expenditures were paid off (after

Wembley Stadium

in London).

Despite early expectations to finish the payment in October 2006, the tobacco tax collection was reduced due to an indoor smoking ban enacted in May 2006.

With the development of more expensive stadiums like MetLife Stadium, AT&T Stadium, and the rebuilt Yankee Stadium, the stadium's cost position had declined to fifth by 2014. 

Many consider the stadium to be a white elephant, and it has been dubbed The Big Owe due to its obscene cost.

Since 1977, the stadium has brought in an average of $20 million in income each year. A large-scale event like the Grey Cup can produce up to $50 million in income, according to estimates.

The stadium was given permission to stay open over the winter in 2009, as long as the weather allowed.

The Olympic Installations Board, on the other hand, produced a study claiming that the roof was unstable during heavy rain or snowfall over 8 centimeters (3.1 in), and that it rips 50 to 60 times each year.

In August 2009, the local fire department issued a warning that unless corrective measures, such as a new roof, were taken, the stadium might be forced to close, another one of the Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium.

When more than 3 centimeters (1.2 in) of snow is forecast 24 hours in advance, events are canceled, as was the case when the Montreal Impact's home opener soccer match was postponed in March 2014.

 In 2004, a contract for a new permanent steel roof for an estimated $300 million was granted. The Olympic Installations Board requested approval from the provincial government for the contract in June 2010. 

A committee was formed in May 2011 to investigate the stadium's future and optimize usage of the stadium, pool, and sports center.

On March 4, 2012, a slab of concrete measuring 8 by 12 meters (26 by 39 feet) fell from the roof of the stadium's underground parking lot.

There were no fatalities or injuries. The roof continues to deteriorate, with 7,453 tears as of May 2017, limiting the use of the venue in the winter to when the snow on the roof is three centimeters or less.

A new high-definition scoreboard was built in 2015, replacing an outdated two-panel display from the stadium's 1992 renovations.

The Quebec government approved a new roof in November 2017 for a cost of $250 million. The cost of dismantling the stadium has been projected to be between $500 and $700 million by the Olympic Installations Board, albeit this number is based on a preliminary two-month assessment and hence has a large margin of error.

The new roof was then designed to be removable, allowing the stadium to be open-air or enclosed, as was the original roof's intent.

The possibility of removing a piece of the roof from the project's scope has now been dropped.

Montreal Olympic Stadium Games & Events (1)

From 1981 to 1983, the Olympic Stadium was the home of the NASL's Montreal Manic soccer team. Over 58,000 people attended a playoff game versus the Chicago Sting in 1981.

Several games at Olympic Stadium during the 2007 FIFA Under 20 World Cup received the greatest audiences of the tournament, including two sell-outs of 55,800.

On February 25, 2009, Olympic Stadium hosted a CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final match between the original

Montreal Impact

– who played their home games at Saputo Stadium – and Club Santos Laguna of the Liga MX (Mexico First Division).

This was the first time in Montreal that an international soccer match took place during the winter months. In front of a record crowd of 55,571, the Impact won 2–0.

On June 2, 2010, the stadium hosted a friendly match between the Impact and

A.C. Milan

of the Italian Serie A in front of 47,861 fans.

On March 17, 2012, a record crowd of 58,912 entered Olympic Stadium to watch the current Montreal Impact make their MLS debut on home turf, drawing 1–1 with the Chicago Fire, breaking the previous attendance record for professional soccer in Quebec.

One of the

Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium

is that


on May 12, 2012, that record was broken with a crowd of 60,860 for a match against the

LA Galaxy

, which also set a new attendance record for professional soccer in Canada.

Along with other venues across Canada, the Olympic Stadium staged tournament matches during the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. The semi-final matchup between the

United States



, which drew 51,176 spectators on June 30, 2015, was one of the most memorable games.

The Americans prevailed 2–0 in front of a mainly partisan audience, and the following Sunday in Vancouver, they won their record third FIFA Women's World Cup trophy.

This stadium was one of three candidates for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Canada, and it is expected to have a retractable roof. Montreal, however, withdrew from the World Cup host city selection process on July 6, 2021.

The 1978 World Junior Speed Skating Championships were held in Olympic Stadium, where American siblings Eric and Beth Heiden were declared junior world champions.

The Olympic Stadium hosted the 1979 IAAF World Cup in Athletics in August 1979. In 1979, Father Emiliano Tardif was present at the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Assembly.

At the Olympic Stadium on June 20, 1980, Roberto Duran defeated Sugar Ray Leonard to win the WBC welterweight championship.

In 1981 and 1982, this venue hosted the Drum Corps International World Championship finals. On September 11, 1984, Pope John Paul II spoke at a youth gathering attended by around 55,000 people.

On October 30, 2010, a special service was celebrated in the stadium to commemorate Brother Andre's ascension to sainthood. The event drew almost 30,000 people. The 2017 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships were held at the venue.

Montreal Olympic Stadium Games & Events (2)

The stadium took over as the home of the National League's Montreal Expos in 1977, replacing Jarry Park Stadium. For the 1972 baseball season, a domed stadium was scheduled to be built as part of the team's franchise grant.

However, until 1977, the Expos sought and received a waiver to continue at Jarry due to delays in the construction of the Olympic Stadium.

The Expos were expected to play at Jarry for at least part of the 1977 season as late as January 1977.

The Expos terminated lease negotiations after the Parti Quebecois gained a huge victory in the 1976 provincial elections. In February, however, a deal was struck, and an official announcement was made in March.

Until 2003, when the Expos played 22 home games in Puerto Rico at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, they had an average of 81 home games per season.

The Expos played 59 home games at Olympic Stadium in each of their final two seasons, 2003 and 2004, before relocating to Washington, D.C., and becoming the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season.

On March 28 and 29, 2014, 10 years after the last Expos game at Olympic Stadium, the Toronto Blue Jays hosted two spring training games against the New York Mets, drawing a total of 96,350 fans.

The Blue Jays have continued this practice in subsequent years, with a combined attendance of 96,545 against the Cincinnati Reds on April 3 and 4, 2015, 106,102 against the Boston Red Sox on April 1 and 2, 2016, and 106,102 against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 31 and April 1, 2017.

The New York Yankees were supposed to play there on March 23 and 24, 2020, however owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, the games were canceled.

Metallica and Guns N' Roses co-headlined a North American stadium tour called the Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour on August 8, 1992, which included a stop at Olympic Stadium.

Metallica's frontman and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield was burned by improper pyrotechnics several songs into their set, causing the band to halt their concert short while Hetfield was transported to the hospital.

To appease the 54,666-strong crowd, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Jason Newsted, and drummer Lars Ulrich promised a make-up show. In February 1993, the band would play two half-price performances at the Montreal Forum.

Guns N' Roses played a shortened set after a two-hour and fifteen-minute delay. Axl Rose, the singer, ultimately blamed the troubles on poor audio and vocal issues.

Following the performance, an estimated 2,000 individuals rioted in the stadium and nearby areas, overturning police cars and starting many bonfires, causing an estimated $600,000 in damage to the stadium and its surroundings, one of the Top facts about Montreal Olympic Stadium.

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source: SportMob

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