Relive the ambitious construction of the Université Laval campus in 18 archival photos

Relive the ambitious construction of the Université Laval campus in 18 archive photos


Laval University was born in 1852. Its main mission is to provide quality education to French-speakers in Quebec. Theology, medicine, law and art are taught there. In the first half of the XXthcentury, Université Laval is diversifying its teaching offer and increasing its research activities. This is followed by an increase in the student population. The Seminary in Old Quebec is overcrowded and no longer sufficient. It is then necessary to leave the city.

Laval University, Old Quebec.

1) A modern campus

Monsignor Maurice Roy and other dignitaries on the site of the university residence.

In 1925, the University began to move out of Old Quebec, notably by building the science pavilion in Sainte-Foy. If, at the start, the Université Laval campus was divided between Old Quebec and Sainte-Foy, the university administration dreamed of building a vast campus in the suburbs of Quebec City, like American campuses.

Between 1942 and 1955, Université Laval bought several agricultural and forest lands in the towns of Sainte-Foy and Sillery. In particular, nearly $900,000 will be spent to purchase an area of ​​2.5 km2. It was Ernest Lemieux, a professor at the University, who proposed the project to build a modern university residence that was adopted. Anxious to learn from the good and bad deeds of other universities, several dignitaries from the university administration visit American and European campuses in order to draw inspiration from them. 

Architects Fiset and Royer working on the plans for the city university.

2) Édouard Fiset and his vision

Façade of the Faculty of Surveying and Forest Engineering.

The architect Édouard Fiset, who later became the chief architect of Expo 67, was chosen to draw up the master plan for the Sainte-Foy university campus. 

The project is ambitious. The construction of 41 buildings is therefore planned, located in four distinct sectors that recall the cross of the coat of arms of Université Laval. French gardens inspired by Versailles and the Champs-Élysées are planned. There are also plans to build underground galleries that will stretch over several kilometres. This vast campus is designed to accommodate nearly 15,000 students. In 1952, while it was still under construction, nearly 4,000 students were already attending the university. 

Monsignor Maurice Roy and other dignitaries on the construction site of the university residence, rue de la Terrasse.

The first works began in 1950. Very quickly, a first pavilion was built, that of the Faculty of Surveying and Forest Engineering. 

3) The avenues

View of the road from Valley bordering the site of the new university residence.

To access the new campus and to facilitate mobility, work is being carried out on four major roads. To the west, the construction of the two-lane Vallon road is planned. There are also plans to extend rue Saint-Cyrille to the north (now boulevard René-Lévesque). Avenue du Grand Séminaire and Avenue de la Terrasse will form the embryonic road layout of the campus. These four roads will be built for a total of 6.5 km. 

Extension of rue Saint-Cyrille.

Despite the extension of public roads, the administration of Université Laval wanted to keep its traffic lanes private. The plan thus provides for avenues lined with trees and well lit by means of the electricity carried in the tunnels running under the campus. The earth extracted during the construction of these avenues will be used to backfill the surrounding land.

View of a newly constructed sidewalk along rue de la Médecine.

4) Excavation and preparation

Part of the site of the university residence.

The project launched in 1950 employs nearly 325 workers. A materials camp is erected on the site of the future campus. The latter allows the storage of materials and their transformation on the construction site. 

Materials camp.

To prepare the ground for the construction site, we proceed with the clearing, leveling and blasting of the chosen land. Subsequently, the construction of the underground tunnels begins. Deep trenches are dug almost 3 m deep and 4.5 m wide. 

Excavation by tractors and mechanical shovel.

The underground galleries will allow water, electricity and telephone to be carried through the campus. The choice of the underground gallery is not insignificant. The latter avoid the visual pollution of the campus by hiding the poles and the electrical wires. What's more, it protects the various public services (electricity and telephone) from bad weather. 

Rock blasting.

5) Reinforced concrete and formwork

Concreting of the floor of the galleries.

While the trenches for the future underground galleries have already been dug, the workers are building the formwork to contain the concrete and the double steel mesh reinforcement of the tunnels. The concrete is prepared on the work site itself. 

Workers working on the reinforcement of an underground gallery.

During the summer of 1950, no less than 2000 m of galleries were built and concreted. To do this, the workers use 50,000 bags of cement, 8600 tons of stone, 5000 tons of sand, 40 tons of calcium chloride, 50,000 pounds of pozzolite and 1300 tons of reinforcing steel. 

Installation of cork.

When completed, these tunnels should be able to support up to 90,000 pounds of load. To insulate these tunnels under construction from the cold and to absorb condensation, one and a half inch thick cork panels are placed in the upper part of the tunnels. 

In 1950, the workers therefore install 150,000 square feet of cork in the tunnels of the new campus.

Machinery concreting an underground gallery.

6) Services

Electricians laying conduits for lighting galleries and streets.

The underground galleries are essential to bring the public services (telephone, water, electricity and sewers) to the new pavilions which will be built later. In addition, the distribution network offered by the tunnels makes it possible to centralize the management of public services. 

Workers installing water pipes.

The central lane of the tunnel allows quick access to wiring and piping in the event of a breakage. On the side walls of the tunnels, the engineers place the cables responsible for transmitting electricity and the telephone to the new buildings. 

On the wall of the ceiling, they install the electric cables responsible for supplying the lighting of the avenues of the campus. 

The new underground passages also allow the delivery of drinking water to the university city. The water pipes are located inside the tunnels. These water supply pipes are attached to the pipes of the municipality of Sillery. 

Workers working in an underground gallery.

By 1950, it was expected that these new pipes would be able to supply up to 1,800,000 liters of water to the campus daily. Sillery also allowed the connection of the campus sewers to its already existing system.

The summer of 1950 marked the beginning of the construction of the university residence. This titanic project has channeled a lot of resources and hundreds of employees. Thanks to these major works, the dream of the university city on the Sainte-Foy plateau has become a reality, paving the way for the construction of new pavilions and the training of thousands of students. 

A text by Marc-André Dénommée, archivist, National Library and Archives of Quebec


  • “Laval the city is being built”. [Online]. 
  • Leclerc, R. (2013). The campus of Laval University: place of modernization of a Catholic university institution and of Quebec. Studies in Religious History, 79(2), 41–54.