I had the chance to visit the Biosphere recently and it was an interesting, enriching, shocking, overwhelming and a discouraging experience.
We have several aspects to appreciate here : the museum, the observatory, the history of the transformation of this place and its architecture.
The architectural work was built as the United State pavilion, one of the 90 welcoming structures of the 1967 universal exhibition in Montreal, Expo 67, Man and His World.
At that time, the complete Ile de Sainte-Helene and Ile Notre-Dame were totally different from what we can see today. In 1966-67, the city was revitalized and innovated to welcome millions of visitors. Several structures and infrastructures were built from the 90 pavilions erected but only a few remain today. In 2022, the pavilion of France connected to the pavilion of Quebec form the Casino de Montréal. La Ronde is still an amusement park and the Habitat 67 which was an example of sustainable avant-garde multi-residences is now a praised private building and the structure of the Biosphere is still present in the Montreal decor. The Château Champlain and the Montreal Metro were also completed in time to welcome and transport visitors.
The United States pavilion was not quite like it is today. Unfortunately, on May 20, 1976, an incident occurred and the 1900 transparent acrylic panels disappeared in smoke in 30 minutes. Only the original solid steel structure remains, so the future of the premises is uncertain.
Environment Canada acquired the site and a museum on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River was created in 1990. In 2007, the approach of the museum was broadened to present the environment in general.
Undeniably, the rounded shape of this site on an island stands out. The museum is located in a surprising architectural structure of a revolutionary style visible for miles. Indeed, this geodesic dome, located on Ile Sainte-Hélène, is visible from the Old Port of Montreal.
The creation of Richard Buckminster Fuller is a reference and has been of international influence. In 2021, the New York Times named it one of the 25 Significant Postwar Architectures (“The 25 Most Significant Works of Postwar Architecture”).
If you don’t have time to go to the museum, simply appreciating the structure is in itself a work of art. In the evening, the lights create a cozy atmosphere.
The Biosphere is Montreal’s environmental museum and has been part of the Space for Life quartet since 2021.
The multi-museum Space for Life passport includes the Biodôme, the Biosphere, the Botanical Gardens (and Insectarium) and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium.
At the Biosphere, we are reminded, by navigating from one room and from one subject to another, that environmental issues are multiple and that they affect humans at several levels. The weight of these climatic changes is so heavy to bear on the individual that it is frankly saddening despite the colorful and very pleasant decor. It is almost insurmountable at this stage that a single individual can make a difference, but to achieve this the changes must certainly be made in synergy with other people and other countries.
It would be more encouraging to see the recovery plan planned collectively to improve the future, but here in this museum, I felt discouragement as if there was an elephant in each of the rooms. This space could be so much a platform for information on local recovery steps to counter these global challenges and see how our role in each of the phases can help reinforce the planned improvements.
We could even consider the possibility of joining organizations in need of help to the individual ready to make a difference. Whether it’s cleaning the banks of the river, recycling intelligently, encouraging local businesses, or public transit. This museum can be even more.
There are lots of informative signs to read and understand. The premises were immaculate, the information boards colorful and the staff present, dedicated and passionate.
You learn about air, water, weather, the scientific approach to analysis and more. We also realize that many beautiful memories are often in connection with nature: the soccer match during which it only rains on half the field, the sweet maple taffy at the maple grove, the carrots freshly picked from my uncle’s garden, the smell of the trees at the campsite after the morning drizzle or the apple tree at the back of the yard that bears so many red apples in the fall.
The environment is indeed important.
More than a museum
The grandiose structure offers more than information about our interactions necessary for our survival. The top floor, the belvedere, gives a breathtaking view of the city and the river. Obviously, the show changes according to the seasons. The outdoor terrace is only open in the summer season, but a loft with telescopes and sofas allows you time to appreciate the surroundings.
An indoor mini-garden and a wall of greenery brings some fresh air into this place.
How to get there
The 1967 monorail is no longer there, but you can get there by public transport. By metro take the Metro Jean Drapeau stop. By car, the island is accessible via the Jacques Cartier Bridge or the Concorde Bridge.
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