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10 Things You 100% Didn't Know About Montreal's Île Sainte-Hélène

Montreal's baby sister is so much more.
10 Things You 100% Didn't Know About Montreal's Île Sainte-Hélène

Photo cred - collectionscanada

A major part of Montreal's historic and cultural heritage is that other island that shares this neck of the St-Laurence River, Île Sainte-Hélène. You no doubt know it today as Parc Jean-Drapeau and it's where you find yourself most summers riding roller coasters, dancing your Sundays away, and briefly escaping the hustle and bustle of the downtown core. Apart from knowing that Montreal's baby sister island once hosted Expo 67 back in the day, there's probably a few facts about Île Sainte-Hélène you were not aware of. Well here's your chance to absorb a little Montreal history.

Click here for 10 Things You 100% Didn't Know About Montreal's Île Sainte-Hélène>

Photo cred - DubyDub2009

It was named by Samuel de Champlain in 1611 in honour of his wife, Hélène Boullé.

From 1665 to 1818, the island was owned by the Le Moyne family of Longueuil until it was purchased by the British government. During the War of 1812, a fort, a powder-house and a blockade were built on the island as defence for the city.

In 1870, the newly-formed Canadian government acquired the island and converted into a public park in 1874. Up until the construction of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge in 1930, it was only accessible by ferry.

During World War II, along with various other regions in Canada, Saint Helen's Island held Prisoner-of-war camps. Between July 1940 and October 31st 1943, the fort was turned into internment camp #47 and confined up to 401 men, mainly of Italian, Japanese and German nationality.

The fort now houses the Stewart Musuem.

Little is known about the Jacques Cartier Bridge Building that supports the bridge. Constructed around the same time, the art deco-inspired structure features traditional rub el hizb, or Islamic eight-pointed stars, around circular windows at the top of the four corner towers. It was originally built as a casino but was deemed too immoral by the Catholic Church at the time and used instead as a reception hall. The building probably also served as part of the internment facilities during WWII. It now acts as a warehouse storing de-icing salt and sand.

The island was originally much smaller than it is today. In preparation for Expo 67, the City of Montreal actually consolidated several of the surrounding islands and enlarged it using some 25 million tons of earth excavated from the river bed as well as the construction of the Montreal Metro tunnels. The nearby Île Notre-Dame was entirely built from scratch.

Since the Russian Revolution was set to celebrate its 50th anniversary that year, Moscow was initially set to host Expo 67. However, due to the enormous costs of building the Expo, Moscow eventually backed out and opened the door for the then new Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, to re-submit Montreal's application on November 13, 1962, and subsequently winning as host city. Expo 67 was considered to be the most successful World's Fair of the 20th century and cost a cool $439 million at the time.

Expo 67 also saw the first-ever international congress on transportation research, and to a great extent, put Montreal on the map, leaving us today with some of our biggest tourist attractions including the Biosphere, the Montreal Casino and LaRonde.

The iconic sculpture "L'homme" by Alexander Calder was created in 1967 and was a gift from the International Nickel Company. Designed to reflect the theme of Expo 67, "Man and His World", the abstract sculpture took 5 months to realize and cost $135,000 at the time. Originally erected in the Scandanavian/URSS Pavillion of the Expo, it was later relocated in 1992 to the Île Sainte-Hélène belvedere lookout on the north shore for better visibility and is the principal site for Montreal's weekly electronic music gathering known as Piknic Electronik.

In 2013, L'homme was valuated between 50 and 200 million dollars.

Montreal's famous geodesic ball, the Biosphere, was desinged by Bucminster Fuller as the US Pavilion during Expo 67. At the time, instead of using bolts, the structure was welded together due to time constraints and covered with an acrylic shell. In 1976, when the structure was being repaired, welding torches set fire to the Biosphere, completely burning off the acrylic shell in under 30 minutes, leaving behind only the steel skeleton underneath. The Biosphere remained closed until 1990.

The Biosphere was later purchased for $17.5 million and restored to become Canada's first Ecowatch Centre on World Environment Day June 6, 1995.

In 1999, the two islands, Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame were collectively named Parc Jean-Drapeau in honour of the former Mayor of Montreal who helped bring Expo 67 to the island and was responsible for building the Montreal Metro system.

Thirsty for more Montreal history? Click here for 11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Montreal’s Chinatown>

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