The first permanent accommodation (1949)


From July 1946, the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO) started negotiations with the host Government and the Canadian National Railways to establish a permanent accommodation to replace its temporary quarters consisting of parts of two adjoining buildings on the Dominion Square; by 1949, the Secretariat staff numbered 390.



Montréal - The International Aviation Building,

1080 University Street with the Black Horse Brewery in the background. Postcard edited in 1950 by Publishers, Benjamin News Company, 425 Guy St., Montreal, A Colorpicture Publication, McKinnon Bldg., Toronto, Ont., Canada,

The new commodious office accommodation would become the International Aviation Building (in French: la Maison de l’aviation internationale, for a total calculated space of 90,000 square feet reserved for ICAO, to be constructed at the corner of Dorchester Boulevard (now Boulevard René-Lévesque) and University Street (in 1080 University Street). It had the additional attraction of adjoining the city’s central railway station. ICAO would occupy the six upper floors (of the ten floors, the 5th to the 10th inclusive) of the new US$ 4 million 10-storey building. The premises were ready for occupation by 15 July 1949. The official opening ceremony of the International Aviation Building was scheduled during the Fourth Session of the Assembly on 1 June 1950 in the afternoon.


The ninth floor contained the offices of the permanent national delegations to the Council. The Conference quarters were located on the 10th floor, with the Council chamber and committee rooms equipped with modern simultaneous interpretation equipment.


The new building included excellent facilities for meetings. The Council Chamber was capable of accommodating up to 175 people, thus enabling the Organization to cater to a large-scale divisional meeting. A second chamber accommodated 85; there were also 5 committee rooms accommodating from 30 to 60 people. It was planned to immediately equip the Council Chamber and a second chamber with simultaneous interpretation and recording devices.


The space occupied by ICAO in the International Aviation Building was rented by the Department of Public Works from Canadian National Railways (CNR) who owned the building, and was re-let by Public Works to ICAO. Initially, Public Works paid CNR a rent amounting in all to about $3.44 per square foot of space, and relet to ICAO at a rent amounting $2.66 per square foot.  The Canadian Government was therefore subsidizing ICAO’s rent at a rate of 78 cents per square foot. This came to approximately $67,800.00 per annum. The rent paid by ICAO amounted to 231,473.00 per annum, which constituted a large item in the Organization’s annual budget of around $3 million. In 1952, ICAO requested to consider a reduction in rent, on the grounds that other International Organizations had rental arrangements far below the rate paid by ICAO, that a number of European Council Members found Montréal an expensive place in which to maintain their offices, and that a number of Latin American Members States felt that ICAO headquarters should be transferred from Montréal.


Air conditioning was not installed until 1964 and then only on the tenth floor, while ventilation on other floors came from the windows on the perimeter of the building, resulting in more lost space between perimeter offices and central corridors due to lack of heat, ventilation and natural light in these intermediate areas. Furthermore, open windows in the summer months meant lots of dust and dirt blowing around, making conditions even more uncomfortable. Elevators were close to one end of the building, causing excessive walking. The maintenance of security and privacy in the building was complicated due to three main entrances to the building in addition to many side accesses. No parking facilities for automobiles were available on the premises.


The remaining five floors of the building were occupied by various organizations connected with aviation, the headquarters of IATA the International Air Transport Association, on the 2nd floor), several of the larger international airlines, a cafeteria, cocktail bar and a bank.


It is to be noted that no provision was made in the new building for a dedicated conference room in which to hold the Assembly Sessions. They were therefore held either in Montreal (at the Windsor Hotel, ICAO Headquarters, or Laurentien Hotel for the third Assembly or outside Canada at the invitation of one of the Members States; during the first 20 years, ICAO Assemblies were convened at seven different locations. Due to the Organization’s expanding work, an increasing number of staff of the Secretariat (close to 500 in 1970) and an ever-growing number of Member States (119 in 1970), the accommodations built in the 40s had become too cramped and restrictive for efficient operations of ICAO. From an initial space occupied of 90,000 square feet in 1949, the Organization occupied in 1970 almost the whole of the International Aviation Building, for 160,000 square feet.


CN's chief architect George Drummond inherited the design and construction of the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal. CN President Donald Gordon approved the plans in 1953 and the work officially began on 23 June 1954. Built around the Central Station, the hotel complex had to hide the "holes" left by the construction of the railway tracks and be part of a very innovative urban project for the time, Place Ville-Marie, located on Dorchester Boulevard (now René-Lévesque Boulevard), which opened in 1962.The Queen Elizabeth Hotel opened on 15 March 1958.


The International Civil Aviation Building was a building truly representative of International Civil Aviation. The first Headquarters Agreement between the Government of Canada and the International Civil Aviation Organization was signed at Montreal on 14 April 1951. The agreement between the host State and ICAO concerning the headquarters of the Organization have a fundamental legal significance for the determination of the legal status, immunities, and privileges of the Organization in the territory of the host State, as well as of the status, immunities, and privileges of the representatives of Member States of the Organization and its officials (the Secretariat). There were indeed some misunderstandings at the beginning, important enough, however, for the Federal Government to feel the need to reaffirm on 18 November 1954, that the privileges and immunities granted to ICAO shall be deemed to be entered into force on 1 May 1951 with the entry into force of the Headquarters Agreement.



Pictures showing the Canadian National Railways Central Station in Montréal.


ICAO Future headquarters (1080 University) under construction.


Montréal’s Central Station in 1958 before the construction of Place Ville-Marie Building.

ICAO’s Headquarters in 1080 University Street are shown at the right side.




Postcards showing the Canadian National Railways Central Station in Montréal after the construction of the ICAO Building (see at the left side). Upper postcard edited by Benjamin News Co. publisher, Colorpicture publication, Toronto in 1950.

In the front is the Dorchester Boulevard (now Boulevard René-Lévesque).


View of Montreal and ICAO Building on University Street (1956).


Bronze plaque which indicated the entrance to ICAO building

in 1080 University Street. Note that this plaque is now exhibited at the Musée de l’aviation de Montréal located at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Québec.


Bronze plaque as displayed at the Musée de l’aviation de Montréal

located at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Québec.

Picture taken in June 2023; Albert Pelsser standing next to the plaque.


United Nations New York – 9 February 1955.

10th Anniversary of the Interim Agreement and the first PICAO meeting.

ICAO Council in Session, on the 10th floor of the International Aviation Building.

Note that the civic number 826 (on Dorchester), shown on this cover, comes from the location of the building at the corner of Dorchester Boulevard and University Street, whereas the ICAO official address was: 1080 University Street.


The International Civil Aviation Building. Situated only one block South of the main Montreal thoroughfare of St. Catherine, on the corner of Dorchester and University Street.


1949 – International Aviation Building. Picture taken from Dorchester Boulevard.


1 June 1950 – Inauguration of the first permanent headquarters

during the Fourth Session of the Assembly

(Raising of the United Nations flag on top of the building).


First Day Cover issued on 1 June 1955 for the 10th Anniversary of the Interim Agreement. Caneco Company cachet. Back view of the International Aviation Building, 1080 University Street, occupied by ICAO from 1949 to 1975.



Commercial covers sent to IATA at the International Aviation Building.


Service cover sent from the Director General of Civil Aviation of Mauritania to ICAO’s Secretary General at la Maison de l’aviation internationale.



Service covers sent by ICAO from the International Aviation Building.

It is interesting to note that, although these covers were mailed on 12 July 1961 and on 22 August 1963 respectively, the meter slogan still shows an emblem which was officially in use only between 1950 and 1954.


Commercial cover sent to ICAO at the International Aviation Building.







Back of service covers used by ICAO for outgoing mail.



Two types of letterhead papers in use in 1955; the airmail paper shows the watermark: “Sky Way Bond” and its logo.


Letterhead paper used by ICAO.