I’ve lived in Montreal my whole life, and the giant geodesic dome on Île Sainte-Hélène has always been one of those things that was just there, but I had NO idea what was inside. But over the years I’d heard my mom talk about it and Expo 67, so my curiosity was piqued. “It was the American pavilion during the Expo 67, we spent a LOT of time there.”
So on a “date day” with my 8-year old, we drove out and spent the morning exploring the Biosphere, which is now an interactive eco-museum (and the only environment museum in North America) and which explores themes related to water, climate change, air, eco-technologies and sustainable development, with an emphasis on the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence River regions.
Designed by Richard Buckminster Fuller (which is THE best name ever), the structure was donated to the city of Montreal once the world fair was over. Before a fire in 1976 which destroyed the acrylic panels surrounding the structure, it housed various activities and events and was used as a set for movies and tv. Unused after the fire, it was bought by Environment Canada in 1990 and turned into a museum with a series of enclosed buildings inside the original steel dome.
Getting to the museum was fairly easy with the GPS doing most of the work and then easy-to-read signs pointing out the parking lots. Go up the hill slightly to where lots P9, P10 & P11 are located and pay the outrageous hourly fee. Good Lord. $6.25 for 1 hour, $12.50 for 2 hours or $16.50 for the day ($18.50 Friday to Sunday). Though once you’ve paid, your dashboard ticket is good for all the parking lots except P6 and P8.
Thankfully, the museum is FREE for kids 17 and under, so there was just my $15 entrance fee to pay. So the trick is, bring one adult and 37 kids with you. I’M JOKING!
There are also discounts for holders of various museum passes. You can find all the entrance fees, visiting hours, directions and other important info HERE.
After getting a map and details on the upcoming movie presentation and interactive activities, we started at the 4th floor outside level since the sky was black and rain threatened. The view of Montreal is phenomenal and there are chairs where you can sit a while.
8-year olds don’t sit, so we went off and explored the rest of the exhibits, and actually ended up seeing everything! You can read about the different exhibitions HERE. Our favourites were by far the Ecolab, which is a hands on lab with experiments and observations that’s great for older kids; and the award-winning 30 minute-long Design the Future 360° movie. Stay for the whole thing, there are surprises! Note that there are no seats, which confused everyone who walked in. Most people sat on the floor or stood.
We also saw the 1pm presentation of A Dose of Vitamin N, where we could touch and learn about different items found in nature like minerals, eggs, and furs to become more connected to the world around us.
If you’re interested in a self-guided tour, headsets are available at the museum entrance and you can explore outside the museum, or do the GeoTour 67 which leads you to 25 points of interest around the island. More information on those tours and the BioKits can be found HERE.
I always like when we find something that is better than I was expecting, and this is one of those places. Just to be able to go inside the dome is pretty much worth the entrance fee!
And while the museum and presentations were fun and informative for myself and my 8-year old, I would NOT bring my toddler here as he wouldn’t understand anything, and would be pretty unimpressed with the experiments and activities geared towards older kids.
Note that there is no restaurant inside, though there are some vending machines with the usual drinks and snacks, and you can eat in the lobby area. Bathrooms are clean and located on the first floor, and there are free coat hooks as well as lockers available for $1.
And for today’s inspirational quote, here’s one from the architect of the dome:
Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.
― R. Buckminster Fuller