What if the old NFB studio projection rooms became neighborhood cinemas? Parking lots, parks? What about the cafeteria, a restaurant? “What we want are ideas,” says Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern of the Canada Lands Company (CLS).

During the second weekend of December, the SIC held two open days at the former studios of the National Film Board (NFB), located in the borough of Saint-Laurent off Highway 40.

Six guided tours were offered to the public. The goal ? Ask the citizens concerned for their opinion… but also make them dream. What to do with the 50,000 square feet located behind 3155, chemin de la Côte-de-Liesse, located near a future REM station which will provide quick access to the city center?

“Everything is possible in a context of viability,” argues Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, vice-president of corporate communications and public affairs at CLC.

“We want to see what the social needs are with community groups. Also see what is missing in terms of shops: grocery stores, small cafes? », Adds Christopher Sweetnam Holmes, director of real estate at SIC.

The SIC wants to take the pulse of community organizations, the artistic community, promoters and elected officials for the first “public work workshop” which will take place on January 24.

The Canada Lands Company nevertheless has objectives, including offering affordable and social housing to counter the housing crisis and being a model of ecological development.

After the departure of the NFB in 2019, CLC took possession of the premises and maintained them well, assures its director of real estate, Christopher Sweetnam Holmes. “CLC is an independent federal Crown corporation that transforms former federal sites to reintegrate them into the community,” he explains. We are not a developer like the others. We can take more time to consult, gather ideas and do more innovative things. »

Time stands still when you visit the former NFB house: the decor is reminiscent of another era, but everything is still there and in good condition. The makeup room, the dressing rooms, the projection rooms, the names of the employees in front of their old desks, the refrigerated rooms where the reels were stored, the cafeteria, the huge studio where sets were reproduced… We even always find money -sand and gravel floors in the sound studio and a Norman McLaren neon sign where he wanted to reproduce like an x-ray the ideas that followed one another in his head. “We’re in the Norman McLaren Building. We will find a place for this exceptional work,” assures Christopher Sweetnam Holmes.

The largest 280-seat projection room benefits from “incredible acoustics,” he boasts. On the huge console, we could make final touch-ups.

Could it just remain a movie theater? ” It’s a possibility. Everything is on the table, insists Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, vice-president of corporate communications and public affairs at the SIC. If there is a viable future use, it is a possibility. »

Nearly 70 years ago, the NFB decided to establish itself in a field far from the city center to create a “campus” effect, recalls Christopher Sweetnam Holmes. Moving its headquarters from Ottawa to Montreal was also a way of promoting French-language production and breaking with the State and the period of the Second World War when the NFB participated in the propaganda effort.

Christopher Sweetnam Holmes recalls all the technological innovations born within the walls of 3155, chemin de la Côte-de-Liesse. He cites Into the Labyrinth, a film presented on several screens at Expo 67, which led to the birth of the IMAX format.

The six pavilions of the complex occupied by the NFB from 1956 to 2019 – and some 3,000 employees – are still occasionally rented for filming. It was “unique” for the SIC to offer guided tours to the public for one of its projects, underlines Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern. “These are buildings with such a rich past. People lived around them without visiting them. »

For the vice-president of communications at the CLC, these are memories, because he was in charge of production at the NFB at the start of his career. That’s not to mention that his father-in-law, Claude Chantelois, worked there for 20 years in the human resources department.

If the Canada Lands Company is committed to the “responsible and concerted redevelopment” of the premises, we will have to be patient before the first shovel of earth. The SIC hopes to obtain approval from municipal authorities for the master plan in 2025, which will result from public consultations. Then, there will be several phases of development carried out in collaboration with different promoters. The role of the SIC will then be to protect mixed uses, particularly with easements.

“One thing I can guarantee: It will be a new neighborhood,” promises Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern.