The Site of the Interim Organization (PICAO)


Montréal, Canada, is the seat of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It became the seat of the Headquarters owing to the special circumstances that existed at the time of the Chicago Conference in 1944.


Chicago Conference – Registration Desk

In the Executive Committee meeting of 20 November 1944 of the Chicago Conference, Canada was proposed as the location of the new Organization. The Delegation of France requested to consider Paris too. The other Delegations split largely along geographic lines. But at that time, one also saw a basic division between the states that supported an American location or a European location. Canada was a fairly neutral choice and had earned serious consideration through the tireless work during the Conference; should this state be selected for the headquarters, it could also be interpreted as a shift of the world political centre of gravity across the Atlantic. As the Executive Committee of the Conference could not come to a recommendation in November 1944, the final decision was postponed until 5 December 1944.


On 5 December, two votes were held, one for the site during the interim period of the Organization which was comfortably won by Canada and another one for the permanent headquarters, for which the votes were split. Out of the 52 Delegations, fifty votes were cast, as the Delegate for Paraguay had left the room and the Delegate for Luxembourg had left for Washington. Upon his return, the Delegate for Paraguay voted, thus tipping the scale 26-25 in favour of Canada. Due to the absence of Luxembourg, the Dutch Delegate requested that the final decision on the permanent headquarters be left over to be decided by the Interim Council of the new Organization. The Delegates discussed the matter and agreed.


Being Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city and an important air center, Montréal made sense at least for the interim headquarters given the difficulties that the war situation would create for a European location.


The above decision was reflected in Article I, Section 2 of the Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation: “The Organization shall consist of an Interim Assembly and an Interim Council, and shall have its seat in Canada.”


Additionally, Article 45 of the original (first) version of the Convention on International Civil Aviation signed at Chicago on 7 December 1944 reads as follows: “The permanent seat of the Organization shall be at such place as shall be determined at the final meeting of the Interim Assembly of the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization set up by the Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation signed at Chicago on December 7, 1944. The seat may be temporarily transferred elsewhere by decision of the Council.”


Temporary offices occupied by PICAO were located in the Windsor Hotel. However, the headquarters of the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO) were situated in the Dominion Square Building (Peel and St. Catherine streets, on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th floors), with some adjacent office space in the Sun Life Building (from June 1946). The first Assemblies were held at Montréal in the Ballroom of the Windsor Hotel. The offices of the President of the Interim Council and the PICAO Secretary General were located on the 10th floor of the Dominion Square Building until mid-1947; after that, they were relocated on the 12th floor of the Sun Life Building.


Arrangements for additional temporary space were occasionally made with the head office of the International Labour Office (ILO), transferred from Geneva to Montréal during war time until 1948 at the invitation of the Canadian Government and McGill University. Their offices were first located on 3480 University Street, and later on 3450 Drummond and 3540 Mountain (now de la Montagne). When ILO’s Head office moved back to Geneva in 1948 and was replaced by a Branch Office for Canada, the whole of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau occupied the empty space left on 3450 Drummond for one year until ICAO’s new premises on University Street were completed in 1949.


Thus, one of the legacies of the Chicago Conference was the selection of the permanent seat for ICAO. Since it seemed possible that the first Session of the Interim Assembly opened on 21 May 1946 might also be the last, the selection of the seat was placed upon the agenda of this Assembly. The basic division that existed during the Chicago Conference remained. Even some countries had suggested postponing the final decision for another three years; however, this proposal was largely defeated. Four competing candidacies for the permanent seat were proposed: Canada (Montréal), France (Paris), Switzerland (Geneva) and China. Canada was in good position, as being a bridge between Europe and the Western Hemisphere; however, some also argued that Europe was more central than Canada as regards to travel costs for the Members States. In a secret ballot held on 6 June 1946, Montréal obtained 27 votes, France 9, Switzerland 4, and China 1.


This brought a close (at least for a few years, until the fourth Session of the Assembly held in 1950) to the discussions on the headquarters location. More information on discussions related to the permanent site of the Organization can be obtained by clicking on the following link: The Permanent Site of the Organization.


As per above picture showing the Ballroom of the Windsor Hotel, Montréal, on 21 May 1946, the first day of the PICAO Assembly, the opening session was attended by some 400 people in all from every part of the world.



First Interim Assembly of PICAO.

Mr. L. De Brouckère (right), Belgium Minister of State and Chairman of the Belgian Delegation, is congratulated by Dr. Edward Warner following his election as President of the Assembly at the Windsor Hotel, Montréal.

Postcard showing the Dominion Square Building, Montréal.


Service cover sent from Uruguay to Edward Warner, President of the Interim Council.




Service covers sent from Argentina and Nicaragua to Albert Roper(t), PICAO’s Secretary General.

At the time of the marriage of Albert Roper’s parents, the scribe of the Town Hall of Dinan, France, had spelled ROPER, instead of ROPERT, the name of his father. As this marriage booklet was thereafter used for the establishment of Albert’s birth certificate, his name was written without final T on all his official papers; however, Albert Roper always signed with T, so that at the college and the regiment, everyone knew him under the name of ROPERT. It was only at the end of the 1914-18 war that he decided to give up any procedure to correct his official papers and birth certificate. Since then, he signed ROPER without T, surprising everyone.


Post card showing the Sun Life Building, Montréal.


Council Chamber in the Sun Life Building. Picture taken in early 1949.



Service cover sent by the French Delegation at PICAO to the United Nations at Lake Success.

The office of the Delegation was located in the Sun Life Building (initially in room 1143 and later in room 1257). Postmarked on 2 May 1947. Although ICAO came into being on 4 April 1947, the Delegation still used the stationery effective in PICAO’s time.


Service cover sent by the US Delegation at ICAO to Washington.

The office of the Delegation was located in the Sun Life Building (room 1259).

Postmarked on 20 June 1949, one month before the move to ICAO’s new premises (at 1080 University Street), which were ready for occupation by 15 July 1949.