“The move of the NFB’s headquarters marks a new chapter in the organization’s history, after 63 years on Côte-de-Liesse Road. It represents a fantastic opportunity to reach out to our audiences and make ourselves fully accessible to the public, in an open and welcoming space in the heart of Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles—a creative hub for the audiovisual industry. Located in an iconic new building, our new headquarters will work closely with our seven production centres across the country and serve as a national and international showcase for Canadian expertise and talent, in a space that fosters innovation and the flow of ideas between creators, staff, experts, artisans, and members of the public.”
Government Film Commissioner
and NFB Chairperson
The building at 3155 Côte-de-Liesse Road is more than 60 years old, too big for the NFB’s present-day requirements, and no longer responds to the needs of contemporary media production. At its new location, the NFB is seeking to create a space where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together on a regular basis and take part in a dynamic and creative exchange of ideas.
The NFB’s new headquarters is located in Îlot Balmoral, a property of the Société d’habitation et de développement de Montréal (SHDM). This prestigious building, a candidate for 2009 LEED Gold NC certification, is in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles and looks onto Place des Festivals. The NFB will occupy six of the building’s 13 floors, which will house its creative, production and distribution activities and its wide-ranging expertise in film and the audiovisual arts.
Between September 9 and the end of October, NFB staff, experts, creative crews, and creators—some 400 people—will begin the process of moving, which will culminate in 2020 with the inauguration of the NFB’s new headquarters, including its public space and screening room.
As of September, the new building is home to the following:
- Production spaces for animation, documentary, interactive and immersive works;
- Post-production facilities for mixing and editing;
- A new lab for experimenting with new technologies;
- Photo library, library, and archives;
- Teams including festivals, national and international sales, marketing, and technical services, all working closely with the NFB’s 12 studios across the country.
Official inauguration in 2020: NFB public space, screening room, and headquarters
An opening event will be held in 2020. Members of the public will be invited to enjoy one of the building’s special features, the NFB public space, which is open to everyone.
This participatory space is designed to encourage meetings and the free flow of ideas, and to foster a sense of discovery. It also offers Canadians unique access to the NFB’s diverse collection of creative works, whether they live in Montreal or are visiting from elsewhere. The opening event will also include the inauguration of a 135-seat screening room, equipped with the latest technology, and the rest of the NFB’s headquarters.
As for the NFB’s conservation rooms (a.k.a. “the vaults”) and digitization facilities, they’ll be moving to a new building in the Saint-Laurent borough in the fall of 2019.
The bold and unique contemporary architecture of Îlot Balmoral adds to the striking look of Montreal’s Place des
The bold and unique contemporary architecture of Îlot Balmoral adds to the striking look of Montreal’s Place des Festivals. Designed by late architect Eugenio Carelli from Provencher_Roy, this 13-storey building contains 26,000 square metres of rental space; the NFB’s new headquarters comprise six out of its 13 floors, for a total of 9,800 square metres. The city block gets its name from Balmoral Street, which borders the eastern side of the building.
The NFB’s logo will be displayed on the building, which consists of two asymmetrical towers positioned on either side of a large, open, red space, a colour chosen by the architects because of its association with the Quartier des Spectacles and the City of Montreal. This space is an indoor glass atrium that allows natural light to penetrate right to the base of the building, lighting the walkways connecting the two towers.
The lobby, which has entrances on both the east and west sides and connects De Bleury Street with Place des Festivals, was designed as a space pedestrians could freely walk through, and inspired by the route they were taking from Place des Arts metro to Place des Festivals before construction of the building began. The NFB’s public space can also be accessed through the lobby. A staircase leads from the main floor to the mezzanine, where the screening room will be located. This screening room will be mainly dedicated to the NFB’s production needs but will also host special events that are open to the public.
Îlot Balmoral is already well on its way to becoming a landmark in the heart of Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles—a building designed to embody innovation, creativity, and the vitality of the city itself.
In fall 2019, the conservation and collection-digitization facilities will be moving to a new building, located at 4725 Cousens Street in the borough of Saint-Laurent. The granite “Man Seeing” sculpture will be displayed at the building’s entrance. Some 15 experts will continue the process of conserving, restoring, and digitizing the collection, which consists of more than 13,000 titles produced over the last eight decades. Much of this living collection—the audiovisual heritage of all Canadians—is available for free at NFB.ca. The building can house more than 2,950 cubic metres of material and will hold approximately 190,000 conserved items.
1956: A new home at 3155 Côte-de-Liesse Road. A unique filmmaking complex—the only one of its kind in Canada.
To better help the NFB fulfil its mission, and to attract new talent—notably more francophone directors from Quebec—the organization began to consider the option of relocating to a new space in Montreal. Moving headquarters from Ottawa to Montreal would also give the organization more creative freedom.
The new NFB would be housed in a setting unlike any other in Canada: a fully integrated world-class film studio—the only one of its kind north of Hollywood—built to the highest industry standards. A facility whose mission was:
… to render a complete motion picture service from the original concept of the film through script, music, animation, editing, photography, sound, laboratory reproductions (both black-and-white and colour), and film distribution through the world. Further, in view of the impact of television and the rapidly changing techniques of theatre exhibition and film production, the facilities had to be flexible.
The Montreal Move, 1955–1956 NFB Annual Report
The move in 1956
In 1956, the move from Ottawa to Montreal was a mammoth undertaking that involved the transfer of 3,000,000 lbs. of equipment and other material in 87 van loads. Transporting the equipment alone required more than 92,000 linear feet of lumber, 2,150 carboard boxes and 200 typewriter cases! In the span of a few weeks, more than 400 employees and their families moved to Montreal.
A Classified Heritage Building
The entire complex has been listed as a Classified Federal Heritage Building since 1998, in recognition of the role it played in developing Canadian cinema and bringing talented filmmakers together under one roof—and becoming, in the process, the heart of creative and technical innovation in Canadian film, serving as a driver for the industry as a whole, and developing an international reputation. The main building is named for animation master Norman McLaren. The heritage designation does not apply to Building F (the John Grierson Building, since closed). For more information, please see:
1939: Early days in Ottawa
The NFB was founded in Ottawa in 1939 by John Grierson, with a mandate to produce and distribute films designed to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations. The Film Board first occupied a converted lumber mill at 25 John Street in addition to nine other buildings.
Employees in these buildings had to deal with many technical and health-related challenges, including dust, dirt, and the absence of a proper heating and cooling system.
But none of that stood in the way of the NFB filmmakers as they crafted documentaries that sought to rally Canadians for the war effort, telling the stories of sacrifices made by soldiers on the front lines and civilians on the home front. The end of the Second World War marked the start of a new era for Canada—and a new set of needs and challenges for the NFB.
Images of 3155 Côte-de-Liesse Road are available upon request.