New York Life Insurance Building, Montreal

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New York Life Insurance Building
Edifice New York Life Montreal 06.jpg
General information
Type Office
Location Montreal, Quebec Canada
Completed 1887
Technical details
Floor count 8
Design and construction
Architect Babb, Cook and Willard

Montreal's New York Life Insurance Building (also known as the Quebec Bank Building) was erected in 1887-1889. Located at Place d'Armes in what is now known as Old Montreal, it was the tallest commercial building in Montreal at the time. The first eight floors were designed for retail office space, though were quickly rented by the city's best lawyers and financiers. As such, when the clock tower was completed, the 9th and 10th floors were occupied by the largest legal library in the entire country, a gift to the tenants from the owner.


New York Life Insurance Building in the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century.

The New York Life Insurance Building was built by architects Babb, Cook and Willard and contractor Peter Lyall for the New York Life Insurance Company as their offices in Canada. Sculptor Henry Beaumont enhanced the ornate exterior.[1]

It is accessed via the Place-d'Armes Metro and is adjacent to other prominent Montreal landmarks, such as the Aldred Building (1931), the Bank of Montreal Building (1859/1901), the Place d'Armes Hotel, Notre-Dame Basilica and 500 Place D'Armes.

The name of the Quebec Bank is carved over the entrance. The bank occupied the ground floor and purchased the building in 1909, before being absorbed into the Royal Bank of Canada in 1917.[2]

The Old Red Sandstone used in the construction was imported from Dumfriesshire, Scotland.[2]

View of the building from across Place d'Armes, taken in mid 1970s.

The building was constructed by New York Life in 1888 and was contracted to an American architecture firm Babb, Cook and Willard. The building was completed in 1889 with the total cost of $750,000. Another very important person in the making of the building is Henry Beaumont. He was the sculptor and he gave a Renaissance look to the building. New York Life Insurance Company decided to build the building on Place D’Armes because it was near the Montreal business center at that time. The lot before the construction was occupied by l’Hotel Compain and another 2 story buildings which were demolished in 1887 in order to construct this building. The building first appeared on 1890 insurance map. In 1952 reparation work was done on 3rd 4th and 5th floors and in 1970 more modification was done in the basement. Stairs between 5th floor and the roof were built in 1971. The building was renovated in 1980s and in 2006-2007 more restoration work was done. Also in 2007 the owner Bechara Helal added two residential penthouses on the roof and still lives in one them.


The New York life building was inspired by Italian Renaissance and buildings from New York. It was one of the first major Montreal buildings which did not use the local grey stone but instead used imported red sandstones from Scotland. The stones required cutting which was done in Lyall workshop located on Bishop Street. The building has a “hybrid structure combining a frame - iron beams, girders and two sets of columns per floor - and bearing walls brick.” Steel was used to construct the floors and the roof but masonry walls are used to support the structure. Significant external decorative elements, the arabesque in the doorway entrance sculpted by Henry Beaumont and the ornamental iron gate which was made in E. Chanteloup workshop in Montreal gives the building a prestige and distinguished look. The building has 8 floors and has a height of 152 foot including the clock tower. It has a quasi-rectangular shape and has a land area of 705 m2. Total floor area including all floors is 6,890 m2. Interior walls in the small vestibule and the hall are made up of marble and the celling has a decorative plaster which reminds us of Renaissance ornamentation. The staircase railing is made by ornamental iron and finished wood banister.

The office building is located on a corner lot and has façade on Place D’Armes as well as on rue Saint-Jacques. The original address was 13 Place d’Armes Hills but was later changed to its current address 511 Place D’Armes.


Name carved on the entrance. Note the reverse "Q" in "Quebec".

The building’s original name was New York Life building but in 1909 it was acquired by Quebec bank and their name was carved on the entrance. The building is also known as Bank of Quebec building and Montreal Trust building but still is famous for its original name. The building was occupied by many owners; some of the owners include the Montreal Real Trust Company, London and Lancashire Insurance Co., the National Bank of Canada and the Société de Fiducie du Quebec. The Société de Fiducie du Quebec occupied the building for six years and sold it to Les immeubles Bona Ltée who performed many modernizations to the building. Bechara Helal is the actual owner of the office.


  1. ^ "Place d'Armes". A View on Cities. Retrieved 2008-03-03. 
  2. ^ a b Gazette article, "The tallest of them all (in 1888)"

Further reading[edit]

  • Rémillard, François, Old Montreal — A Walking Tour, Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec, 1992
  • Demchinskey, Bryan. Montreal; Then and Now. Montreal: The Gazette, 1985.
  • Forget, Madeleine. Gratte-Ciel de Montreal. Montreal: Editions du Meridien, 1990.
  • Grande Bibliothèque "Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec.” Grande Bibliothèque
  • HUSTAK, ALAN. "Montreals First Skyscraper (46 Metres) is Still in use." The Gazette, Jan 02, 1992.
  • London, Mark. "Essence of City's Evolution is found in Place d'Armes." The Gazette, Jul 12, 1986.
  • Pinard, Guy. Montreal: Son Histoire Son Architecture tome1. Montreal: La Presse, 1987.
  • Répertoire d’architecture tradiotonnelle sur le territore de la Communaute urbaine de Montreal. Montreal : Communaute urbaine de Montreal, Service de la planification du territoire, 1983.
  • Scott, Marian. "The Tallest of them all (in 1888); Little Giant it had Electric Lights, an Elevator and Mail Chute Where You could Drop Letters from any Floor. More Impressive, the New York Life Insurance Building at 511 Place d'Armes was Montreal's First Skyscraper — at Eight Storeys High." The Gazette, Jul 26, 2008. (accessed Mar 13,2012).
  • Ville De Montreal. "La Place d’Armes.” Vieux Montreal. 31 May 2010. fiches/fiche_bat.php?sec=p&num=6#
  • Ville De Montreal. "Evaluation Foncière” Ville De Montreal. 02 Mar, 2012.
  • Ville De Montreal. "The rewards of a job well done Opération patrimoine architectural de Montréal.” Vieux Montreal.
  • Wolfe, Oshua and Cecile Grenier. Discover Montreal; An Architecture and Historical Guide. Montreal: Libre Expression, 1991.

External links[edit]