The circuit lies on Notre Dame Island and was originally (1978) named the Île Notre-Dame Circuit. In 1982, it was renamed in honour of Canadian Formula One driver Gilles Villeneuve, father of Jacques Villeneuve.
The circuit is located in a part of the city of Montreal known as Parc Jean-Drapeau. The park is named after the mayor of Montreal Jean Drapeau.
Almost half of the track – from the hairpin turn until after the pit area – runs alongside the Olympic Basin, a huge rectangular basin which was created for the rowing and canoeing events of Montreal's 1976 Summer Olympics. A particularly famous part of the circuit is the wall on the outside of the exit of the final chicane before the start/finish straight. In 1999 the wall, which bears the name Bienvenue au Québec ("Welcome to Quebec") giving it the nickname "Mur du Québec" (Quebec Wall), ended the race of three Formula One World Champions, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve. Since then the wall has been nicknamed "The Wall of Champions".