The town of Fermont, situated near the Quebec-Labrador border, is a Canadian mining town. It was founded in the early 1970s by the Québec Cartier Mining Company to exploit the vast deposits of iron ore on Mont Wright, located about 25 kilometers to the west from the town site. It is the only mining town in the region.
Fermont is situated above the 52nd parallel which places it in the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia. Needless to say, Fermont has a harsh subarctic climate with long, severe winters and short, mild summers. The winters are dominated by strong northerly winds.
When the town was being planned in the late 1960s, the Montréal architects—Maurice Desnoyers and Norbert Schoenauer—hired for the job, realized that the town will require a wind break to protect the residents from the cold northerlies. But instead of building a dedicated wind barrier, Desnoyers and Schoenauer decided to marry the functionality of a wall and a residential complex into one. The result was an architecturally unique building, 1.3 km long and 5 stories tall that has become the icon of Fermont.
The inspiration for “The Wall” came from Swedish architect Ralph Erskine, who had designed a similar building in 1962 to provide housing for a mining community called Svappavaara north of the arctic circle in Sweden. In contrast to Erskine’s residential windscreen building, Fermont’s windscreen building has a multi-use character which includes residential, commercial, and educational facilities.
This huge self-contained structure is home to businesses such as hotels, bars, restaurants and supermarkets, schools, a health center, city hall, swimming pool, police station and even a three-cell prison. Over and above, it has 440 residences. As everything is located within “The Wall”, residents—other than mine workers—never have to leave the building during the long winter, which usually lasts about seven months.