Major facelift for St-Joseph’s Oratory will allow public access to previously forbidden areas

It is one of the most iconic symbols of Montreal — and now it’s getting a facelift.

St-Joseph’s Oratory attracts millions of people each year, but there are spectacular things hiding near the top of the historic structure that nearly no one gets to see.

“We want to give that space back to Montrealers,” said James Bridger, architect with Architecture49 and the director of the project.

For example, there is an observation deck way at the top of the building that’s currently only accessible to maintenance workers. Once construction is completed, everyone will be able to go.

“It’s the highest built point in Montreal that has a 360 degree view of the mountain and the city,” Bridger told Global News.

To get there, you need to pass through another forbidden area.

“There is a great deal of real estate up there,” Bridger said.

Did you know the Oratory has two domes? There is the exterior one you can see from far away, and the other one churchgoers can see from their pews.

A large space separates them, complete with already-existing stairs. While it’s not safe to access right now, it will be a new focal point for tourists once the work is done.

“People will get an appreciation for the space between the two domes through a multimedia presentation that will be projected on the inside face of the outer dome,” Bridger explained.

Architectural heritage will be maintained

A consortium of companies including his just won a competition for the right to do the delicate renovation, but the main architect says history buffs have nothing to fear.

“Our main goal is to make sure the architectural heritage of the space is maintained,” said Bridger.

As part of the plan, the museum will also be redone.

The entire project should be completed some time in 2020.

“It will be a comfortable circuit through the space to make sure every visitor has access,” said Bridger.

Quebec government minister Hélène David called the Oratory a key part of Quebec, Canada, and world history.  She said the upgrades will bring even more tourists.

“Spiritual tourism is very important,” she said.

There is $80 million set aside for the renovations — including about $30 million from Quebec, $20 million from Canada and about $10 million from Montreal. The rest will come from the Oratory’s foundation.

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