After nearly eight years of renovations, Canada's so-called "third hall of Parliament" was opened to the public Friday — just in time for people to gather there and watch the speech from the throne.
Thirty-two companies and hundreds of specialists worked to conserve the historic parts of the Bank of Montreal building, constructed between 1930 and 1932, during the lengthy renovations.
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"We like to think of it as a stone box that's got a lot of life," said Mark Thompson Brandt, one of the architects involved in the project.
Brandt called the building the "third hall of Parliament," along with the House of Commons and the Senate Chamber across Wellington Street on Parliament Hill.
The bank's former safety deposit vault has been converted into a meeting space for MPs. What used to be a quiet, concrete room is now decked out with huge projectors, speakers and acoustic panels so that people can gather there for speeches, conference and ceremonies — or watch the throne speech, as was the case on Friday.
A new atrium made of structural glass allows the building's visitors to stare up at the sky. The atrium also features a staircase made with red stone shipped in from Cape Breton.
A cheque signing table was restored and remains in place. The renovators even had to import a special rice paper from Japan to restore the hall's ceiling and make its gold and silver leaf shine.
"[There was] 80 years' worth of nicotine stains on the walls and the ceiling, from all that time that smoking was allowed in public spaces," said Thompson Brandt.
Bank remained tenant until 2005
The federal government bought the building in the 1970s but the Bank of Montreal remained operational there as a tenant until 2005.
Renovations began in 2008 and included a team of architects, engineers and specialists in acoustics, plaster and stone.
Carleton University architecture professor Mariana Esponda was the first person to show up to see the space on Friday.
For years, Esponda had dreamed of seeing the former bank from the inside.
"The story that the building is telling us — it's great, it's great. I'm so pleased that I am here," she said.