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Montreal is at the centre of a metro area that is the economic and cultural heart of the French-speaking province of Québec. In the last decades, the city's economy has been strengthened by a radical shift to a knowledge-based economy attracting many telecommunications, multimedia, pharmaceuticals, biotech and aerospace companies.
While about 60% of the population is francophone, Metro Montreal also includes an important English-speaking community as well as dozens of multi-cultural communities. This multi-national fabric presents many facets. In a single day one can wander in Old Montreal's historic area; in the Rue St-Denis, Quartier Latin and Plateau Mont-Royal; through the financial and business district; and up to the residential Westmount neighbourhood with its profusion of Victorian, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Roman and other architectural styles.
A main tourist attraction in downtown, the underground city is a network totalling more than 30 kilometres (18 miles) of protected pedestrian walkways. It links 63 buildings, 2,000 boutiques, stores and restaurants and 10 subway stations. Half a million people a day use the network. Many public places and food courts located in the underground floors of skyscrapers harbouring shopping centres are also connected to the network.
The first tall building built in Montreal was an eight floor building completed in 1888 (still standing) for the New York Life Insurance Company. From then until 1930 more than seventy mid-rise buildings were built with a maximum of ten to eleven floors, due to municipal regulations. In the same period, the population increased from 200,000 to 800,000. When the ten-floor limit was lifted in the late twenties, a new wave of skyscrapers ranging up to 25 floors hit the city. The most celebrated of these were the Sun Life Building and the Royal Bank Tower, becoming respectively the largest and the highest skyscrapers in the British Empire.
Many skyscrapers of the international style were completed in the 1960s, most of them ranging between 30 and 45 floors. By then the population had climbed to 1,200,000 (2,500,000 in the Metro area). Since then, new developments have brought the city an array of modern and postmodern skyscrapers. The last decade has been characterized by a new frenzy in condominium buildings, some still under construction and reaching up as far as 50 floors in height.