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Montreal Olympics: Roger Taillibert speaks

Montreal's unforgettable '76 Olympics had more ups and downs than a high jump competition. From out-of-control financial disasters and controversial political boycotts, to Nadia Comaneci's "perfect 10" and Canadian high jumper Greg Joy's exciting final jump — Montreal's Games had Canadians on the edge of their seats. CBC Archives looks back at the 1976 Olympics: their preparations, their competitions and their continued impact on Montreal.

"He's a mystery to most Canadians," says the CBC's Adrienne Clarkson. She's talking about the Parisian architect who is designing Montreal's Olympic Stadium - a controversial building that's gone way over budget, and might not even be finished in time for the Games in July. In this clip from The Fifth Estate, the enigmatic Taillibert discusses his architectural philosophies and smugly dismisses all critics with this blanket statement: "There are always critics; only those who do nothing have no critics."

Montreal City councillor (and Olympic critic) Nick Auf der Maur also speaks to Clarkson in this television clip. He derides Drapeau for demanding a grand "pyramid builder" like Taillibert, instead of hiring another architect who would do a simpler, less expensive job. 
• Parisian architect Roger Taillibert had previously designed high-profile European sports facilities such as the Parc des Princes in Paris, which had greatly impressed Drapeau.
• Drapeau saw Taillibert as a great artist, and gave him a huge amount of freedom when it came to the stadium. "Taillibert is the kind of architect who built the cathedrals of ancient times," said Drapeau. He also called Taillibert's designs "poems in concrete."

• Some of the more complex features of Taillibert's designs for Montreal included a stadium with a retractable roof and 175-metre inclined tower.
• Taillibert was also responsible for the designs of the Olympic velodrome (cycling venue) and swimming pools.

• A number of Canadian architects were quite upset by the fact that the Parisian Taillibert was chosen to design facilities for Canada's Olympics. There wasn't an open bidding process; Drapeau went ahead and decided he wanted Taillibert without allowing any Canadian architects to submit their ideas. Well-known Canadian architect Arthur Erickson spoke out publicly about Drapeau's decision, calling this "a national disgrace" on CBC Radio.

• Although a contract had been drawn up for Taillibert's work, Taillibert didn't actually sign it. He later admitted that no financial parameters had been agreed upon.
• Construction on the Olympic stadium was fraught with numerous labour strikes, walkouts and slowdowns. As plans became more complex and deadlines grew tighter, the unions began to make more monetary demands.

• Amid rumours that the Olympic venues might not be ready in time, there was talk early in 1976 that the Olympics might have to be moved to another city at the last minute. There were rumours that both Mexico City and Munich (past Olympic hosts) were getting ready to host the Games again if Montreal wasn't prepared. Lord Killanin, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), assured the world that he wasn't planning to move the Games.

• In his 1983 book My Olympic Years, Killanin later admitted that he was strongly considering moving the Games to Northern Germany if Montreal couldn't pull it together in time. In his book, Killanin also called the years leading up to the Montreal Games "agonizing," and added, "My wife believes the coronary I suffered in 1977 was due in part to the increasing burden of problems I had to face during 1975 and 1976."

• In April 1976, the news broke that a design error would result in 15,000 seats in the stadium having no view of the track and field events. They were able to correct this, but it was yet another added cost.

• As July approached, it became clear that plans would have to be modified because the stadium couldn't be ready in its entirety. By the time the Games began, the stadium was functional but the tower wasn't completed and the retractable roof wasn't installed.

• Nick Auf der Maur was the spokesperson for the Montreal Citizens' Movement, a group that opposed Drapeau's Olympic plans. In 1976, he released a book called The Billion-Dollar Game: Jean Drapeau and the 1976 Olympics. It detailed the story of how the Games went from being a "self-financing" proposition to a grandiose, financially out-of-control event.
Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Dec. 16, 1975
Guest(s): Nick Auf der Maur, Roger Taillibert
Reporter: Adrienne Clarkson
Duration: 7:21

Last updated: June 10, 2013

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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