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Montreal's Biosphere: The Environmental Museum in a Geodesic Dome!

Updated on November 19, 2014

Confronting Issues Affecting the Earth in Montreal Expo 67's Dome!

The biosphere is a museum dedicated to increasing public awareness of the environmental issues facing the world today. It does this by mixing a lot of information about the environment with fun activities for children, and is well worth a visit if you are in Montreal.

We visited the biosphere while on vacation in Montreal recently, and our two children had a great time. The biosphere is a bit out of the way on Ile Sainte-Helene, a small island next to the main part of the city, and you should plan on spending a good half-day on the visit. Children 17 and younger are free.

Here are some highlights of our visit. All photos in this review are ours unless otherwise noted.

Biosphere at the Montreal Expo 1967
Biosphere at the Montreal Expo 1967

The 1967 Expo's Most-Iconic Image...

...Turned into a Teaching Museum About Environmental Issues!

The biosphere is a 20-story geodesic dome made of steel that was designed by architect Richard Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 world's expo in Montreal. It was the centerpiece of the U.S. pavilion and became one of the best-known images of the exposition.

After the fair ended, the building was donated to the city of Montreal, who used it for recreational activities and, for a while, to showcase plants and birds. In 1976, unfortunately, fire destroyed the outer fabric of the building, leaving just the steel structure we see today. The building was unused for years after that. Environment Canada, the government's environmental department, took over the site in the 1990s and opened the biosphere in 1995.

The public domain photo here is a night shot of the dome during the Montreal World Expo 67 from Library and Archives Canada.

Buckminster Fuller in his Own Words

Critical Path
Critical Path

This book was published just a few years before Fuller's death in the early 1980s and sums up many of his thoughts and philosophies.

 
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth

This is probably the most well-known of Fuller's books, and a great overview into the man's view of the world.

 
Montreal Biosphere Finding Balance
Montreal Biosphere Finding Balance

10 Environmental Crises Facing Mankind

Finding Balance in Today's World

The first place you visit at the biosphere is a walk-through exhibit on the first floor highlighting 10 major environment problems facing mankind. These include the loss of natural environments, overfishing and plastic trash.

The problems are highlighted on large columns in the room, and contain some very interesting facts for you to think about. For instance, in the area about the increasing amount of electronics waste the exhibit points out that cell phones today are made to last 2-3 years, while a decade ago they were made to last seven years. And, of course, the old-fashioned phones of our parents' youth were made to last decades!

Disposing of all these outmoded electronics is a big problem because so many of the devices contain toxic substances including lead, mercury and arsenic.

Also on the first floor is a small outside garden, which we didn't visit because it was March and the garden was pretty dormant.

What's The Most Pressing Problem Facing Our World Today?

Montreal biosphere
Montreal biosphere

The biosphere lists the following environmental issues that will get worse if we don't confront them. Although all need to be addressed at some point, it may be vital to confront some sooner than the others. I would think that deforestation and overfishing may have to be dealt with first, but maybe you have a different opinion?

(p.s. This is a view of the biosphere's viewing platform from below.)

Which Environmental Issue Should be Confronted First? Why?

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Montreal biosphere water room
Montreal biosphere water room

Water, Water Everywhere

Fun in the Water Activity Room

Moving on to the second floor you enter the activities room, with eight areas that address different aspects of mankind's relationship with water. The activities include harnessing water, steering a ship and transporting water.

Our children enjoyed playing on the equipment and running around with buckets of water.

One activity was a video that traces the path of water from the toilet bowl through the sewer to the ocean to the clouds and back to a house's teapot. The neat thing is that if you stand in a certain spot in front of the video, an image of your head floats along with the water's path. It actually looks very funny!

If you have been to a number of children's museums then the majority of the water activities will feel familiar, but so what? The kids had a blast and stayed in the room for almost an hour doing nothing but playing with the water. So plan accordingly.

Montreal biosphere lab room
Montreal biosphere lab room

The Biosphere's Laboratory

Experiments and Specimens

The next room is the Eco Lab, where adults and children have a chance to use lab equipment for a variety of experiments including testing water for acid rain and examining tiny bugs through microscopes.

There are also a number of fish samples, including the copper red horse found only in Canada.

One of the more interesting tables was a diagram of a typical home (see photo). You placed a meter over a particular part of the home and it would illustrate what harmful chemical compounds may exist in the household.

For instance, when I placed the meter above the bedroom closet I discovered clothes that are dry-cleaned bring a chemical called perchloroethylene into the home. The chemical may cause long-term health issues, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Putting the wand over the bathroom shower reveals mold, another problem. However, the meter shows having certain house plants is actually good for the home's environment!

Montreal biosphere pillbox dress
Montreal biosphere pillbox dress

Reusing Materials To Create Works of Art

Dresses Made of Pill Bottles and Fish Skins

The next room contains a very odd exhibit. Called ''Outfits From a New Era,'' artists created 16 outfits using materials that would normally be considered waste.

The white dress shown here, by the artist Marie Line, consists of 6,800 pill bottles that have been flattened and affixed to each other. Up close it looks like a plastic dress, which of course is exactly what it is.

Other outfits in the exhibit included one made of salmon skins and mussels shells, which was kept in refrigerated container, and one made of 75 cans and 1,114 stainless steel rings!

One of the nicer ones was a dress by Chloe B. Fortin that is adorned by 2,500 tiny light bulbs and 66 meters of copper wire stripped from speakers. Unfortunately, it didn't photograph well at all.

Each outfit was accompanied by a video and soundtrack, and the exhibit was kind of cool. But I'm not sure what the point of it really is.

The next room is dedicated to climate change, with videos and a huge globe explaining what might happen if the temperature were to rise. It contains a very basic overview and anybody that has been following the topic can safely pass through this area quickly.

A Close-Up of Marie Line's Pillbox Dress

A Close-Up of Marie Line's Pillbox Dress
A Close-Up of Marie Line's Pillbox Dress
Montreal biosphere view
Montreal biosphere view

Rooftop Views ...

And the Environmental Impact of Cars!

Unfortunately, the rest of the exhibit halls were a bit disappointing. The movie room's shows didn't seem interesting, and the exhibition about wind power was closed for winter.

We were most disappointed to find that the exhibit dedicated to Buckminster Fuller called ''Planet Bucky'' was closed for renovation! It seems very cool, exploring his three-wheeled car, his solar and row boats, and many other inventions. If nothing else it'll give us a reason to visit again.

So we headed up to the viewing platform upstairs, where there was an exhibit set up about the effects automobiles have had on the environment and how we may have to change the way we get around in the future. One nice thing about the exhibit was the recognition that the auto is an important part of life and not just some evil instrument that can be easily discarded. I found the exhibit pretty clear-eyed about the problems we face without offering any pie-in-the-sky solutions.

The view from the platform was pretty neat, though of course you are looking through the metal frame of the dome. Montreal can be seen in the distance but unless you are familiar with the skyline it's hard to tell one building from the next. If you look down you can see the biosphere also has rooftop gardens that are beneficial for the environment.

The 102 20-litre Cans of Gasoline Consumed by the Average Canadian Car Each Year

The 102 20-litre Cans of Gasoline Consumed by the Average Canadian Car Each Year
The 102 20-litre Cans of Gasoline Consumed by the Average Canadian Car Each Year

Montreal Expo 67

Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome has a starring role in this four-minute 1967 video about the expo. The video is by CBCRadioCanada.

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Are You Planning to Visit? Or Have You Already Been?

Montreal Biosphere Looking Out
Montreal Biosphere Looking Out

This is a shot from the biosphere's viewing platform.

Are You Planning to Visit Montreal's Biosphere?

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Reserve Your Hotel Room Today!

We used Hotels.com to book our hotel in Montreal, as well as for our other recent vacations, and haven't had a problem yet. You do have to spend a bit of time reading the reviews to make sure the hotel you select is exactly what you want, of course. Sometimes a good price just means that the hotel has had a lot of poor reviews and has dropped what it charges to attract customers!

One other bit of good news is that you get a free night's stay after booking 10 nights. The freebie has to be on a subsequent trip, but it has helped us save money. Check out Hotels.com today:

The Biosphere As Seen From Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel

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A markerMontreal Biosphere -
160 Chemin Tour-de-l'Isle, Montreal, QC H3C 4G8, Canada
get directions

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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!

Thanks for visiting!

Now It's Your Turn!

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    • BodyHairRemoval profile image

      BodyHairRemoval 3 years ago

      I love going to a good museum!

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      fabulous page! I've been there too !

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      Sounds like an interesting place to visit. I've been to other children's museums in the states, and found them quite interesting as well.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from London UK

      I voted not sure too - I'm in the UK - but I would if I could!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

      I voted not sure in the lat poll, I would love to visit Canada and the Museum sounds very interesting but it will not be soon.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      Very interesting project, but unfortunately too far for me at the moment. Thanks for detailed review!

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 3 years ago from Royalton

      I would love to visit the biodome the next time I visit Montreal.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 3 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Wrong continent for me, sadly.

    • profile image

      burntchestnut 3 years ago

      I would LOVE to visit Montreal and the biosphere. Unfortunately, I don't have the finances to do so. But who knows? Maybe in the future.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      I haven't been to the biosphere in ages, but always enjoy it. Hmm, it must be time for another roadtrip to Montreal. I need to top up my poutine levels anyway. :)

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Interesting place, but as it's such a long way from Australia, I doubt I'll ever get to see it!

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 4 years ago

      This was very interesting. I wish I COULD visit, but it won't happen right now. Thank you for the information. I like the evenhanded way you handled the question of what to do about cars.

    • Carol Houle profile image

      Carol Houle 4 years ago from Montreal

      Montreal is my city though I've only been in the geodesic dome once during Expo67. I may have ridden a train through it also. Somehow that rings a bell. I also remember the fire. Fuller's structure is indestructible. Nice lens.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Montreal has been on my bucket list for years! Can't wait for the day I finally get to go. Thanks for sharing this lens.

    • profile image

      ColettaTeske 4 years ago

      I was in Montreal in the late 1980s for a conference. I loved the city and have always wanted to go back for a visit. The Biosphere would be cool to visit. Thank you for the wonderful tour!

    • profile image

      tomoxby 4 years ago

      I love cycling in Montreal and have gone riding by the Biosphere but never dropped in to visit, maybe next time.

    • Raymond Eagar profile image

      Raymond Eagar 4 years ago

      Nice lens

    • aviwolfson profile image

      Avi Wolfson 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great lens, thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      It sounds like most of your visit was enlightening and enjoyable. I hope you get to return when the Buckminster Fuller exhibit is open.

    • dakadare profile image

      dakadare 4 years ago

      I will be going there soon!

    • profile image

      MiaMusement 4 years ago

      I've visited the biosphere in Arizona and will certainly visit the Montreal Biosphere if I'm ever in the area. Great info here! Thanks!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      This sounds like a fascinating place to visit.

    • adragast24 profile image

      adragast24 4 years ago

      Looks like a great museum, thanks for sharing it, and thanks also for raising interest about environmental issues.

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 4 years ago from France

      What a fascinating place. I'd love to come but can't really imagine that I'll be able to. Great lens.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 4 years ago

      I'd love to go there and I'm certain my little boy would absolutely love it. Sadly rather far!!! Love the awareness raising aspect with regards to environmental issues.

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      It looks like a very interesting place to visit.

    • profile image

      MaggiePowell 4 years ago

      Ohh... very cool... I'd love to visit the biosphere! (and should you ever get to California, you might enjoy the Exploratorium).

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I'm dating myself here but I remember when the biosphere was being constructed, it seemed other worldly to me then and I guess it is in a way. Water does seem to be a strong attraction for kids, so let them play! A fun family learning activity. :)