Since 2019, the NFB’s headquarters has been located at Îlot Balmoral in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, right next to the Place des Festivals. Working closely with the NFB’s eight production centres across the county, the head office houses creation, production and distribution activities, including audiovisual technical services. Now, in the heart of the downtown cultural hub, audiences and industry members also have privileged access to special screenings and events at the NFB Space and the Alanis Obomsawin Theatre. These spaces encourage creation and innovation as well as dialogue between artists, audiences and collaborators, while offering a true showcase of local expertise and talent.
All of the NFB’s expertise under one roof
You’ll find the following located on six of Îlot Balmoral’s 13 floors:
- Studios for animation, documentary, interactive and immersive works;
- Post-production rooms for mixing and editing;
- A lab for experimenting with new technologies;
- Photo library, library and archives;
- The festivals, national and international sales, marketing and technical services teams, among others, all working closely with the NFB’s 8 studios across the country;
- The 140-seat, state-of-the-art Alanis Obomsawin Theatre, which can accommodate screenings, master classes and other presentations in addition to serving the NFB’s production needs;
- The NFB Space, dedicated to showcasing projects and providing a space for creation, where people can meet and share ideas, and where a diverse array of festival-related activities and other events can be held. Audiences of all ages and backgrounds can rub shoulders with artists, craftspeople and others who work in cultural industries.
As for the NFB’s conservation rooms (a.k.a. “the vaults”) and digitization facilities, they were moved to a new building in the Saint-Laurent borough in the fall of 2019.
The building received 2009 LEED Gold NC certification and is a property of the Société d’habitation et de développement de Montréal (SHDM). 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 is 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 can freely walk through and was inspired by the route they were taking from Place des Arts Metro to Place des Festivals before construction of the building began. The NFB Space can also be accessed through the lobby. A staircase leads from the main floor to the mezzanine, where the Alanis Obomsawin Theatre is located.
Îlot Balmoral has become 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 were moved to a new building, located at 4725 Cousens Street in the borough of Saint-Laurent. 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 holds approximately 190,000 conserved items.
1956: A new home at 3155 Côte-de-Liesse Road
The NFB decided to move its Ottawa headquarters to a new space in Montreal to help the organization fulfil its mandate and attract new talent, in particular more francophone directors from Quebec. Moving the head office 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: https://www.pc.gc.ca/apps/dfhd/page_fhbro_eng.aspx?id=8439
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.