The athletic club may seem like a modern invention, built around 21st century cities and office jobs. But way back in 1881, Montrealers were already getting active in one dedicated place. That’s the year the Montreal Athletic Association (MAA) opened its doors.
The MAA is one of the oldest sports clubs in North America, and its earliest members quickly racked up a dizzying list of athletic feats, including winning the first ever Stanley Cup, Grey Cup and Olympic Gold for Canada.
Into the 21st century, Club Sportif MAA continued to be a hub for well-heeled wellness seekers in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile, close to iconic spots like McGill University, Ritz-Carlton, Holt Renfrew, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Then in 2019, it closed for extensive renovations, reopening last autumn after demolishing, reimagining, and rebuilding everything but the structure’s historic front and alleyway façades under Heritage Montreal’s strict guidelines.
“Everything is brand new. Every layout is different,” says Nathalie Lambert, director of sports programs and communications for the MAA (as well as a three-time Olympic medallist in short track speed skating). Overseen by Groupe Devimco, the extensive redo sought to carefully balance the club’s impressive legacy with the demands of modern members.
The reopened club’s offerings include Technogym equipment, spinning classes, aerial yoga, barre, Boxe Fit, squash, pickleball, and basketball. An MAA app tracks members’ progress and goals, and everything is all-inclusive rather than à la carte. Another big draw in the works is a lap pool with a terrace, set to open this spring.
Another benefit of membership is the comprehensive sports clinic, whose roster includes massage therapists, physiotherapists, nutritionists, and family doctors specializing in areas like fascia and hormone therapy.
Beyond the shiny and new, there are plenty of touches from the past, such as athletic memorabilia and murals of archival images (like the aforementioned sports trophy wins), plus a focus on community events and groups like running clubs and leagues.
“A lot of our former members have come back, and they’re happy to see each other, the staff,” Lambert says.
Another touch of old meets new is Restaurant Le 1881, where diners can eat communally around a club table that dates back to 1905. Helmed by executive chef Gary Rizk, the ground-floor space is intended for both members and the downtown crowd, with a menu focused on bistro classics like eggs benedict, burgers, and beef tartare. Certainly, there are smoothies and salads, but they are decidedly hearty, and the wine list has a generous champagne and prosecco section. After all, in Montreal, even the fittest citizens both work hard and play hard.