The Montréal Biosphère is built underneath the geodesic dome built for the 1967 Montréal World Expo. After the non structural parts of the sphere burned spectacularly in 1976, the building was a shell for nearly twenty years until in 1995 it reopened as an environmental museum focused on water, particularly the nearby Great Lakes-Gulf of St Lawrence ecosystem. Since then it has gradually widened its remit to more general environmental issues.
It is small, and quite focused. We loved it, but you have to really enjoy a good science museum to get the most out of it.
1. The Museum must engage and excite – When we were there, on a quiet weekday, there was an interactive event every hour (each one alternating french and english). We all got a lot out of a lecture (using a massive model of the globe with moving water and cloud patterns) explaining how the weather depends on ocean currents. We got less out of a fairly elementary description of a bee’s rôle in flower pollination. And the boys had a fabulous time in the water section, where the ratio of play to learning was much better than in your average water section of a science museum 9/10
2. The exhibits must work and not baffle – The water play/learning area worked well. There wasn’t much else designed to work. Some of the more campaigning exhibits were fairly dry and boring to look at (notably one on sustainable transport). 8/10.
3. A play area should not substitute for teaching science in the museum. I was very impressed at how well the water area actually taught you things. THere was a simple exhibit where you had to fill a bathtup with water using a pitcher. A huge education in understanding how heavy water is. There were two different exhibits helping you to understand flood management with various different ways you could manage the landscape. Our boys were helped by their experience with these exhibits, but I think they learned, too. 9/10.
4. Televisions and computers are no longer, in themselves, cool, or more generally, everything should be up to date. Parts of the museum were a bit tired (although interesting) – the exhibit about Buckminster Fuller on the roof was probably an example. There was nothing much really out of date, though. 8/10.
5. Museums should tell a story. The museum’s strong environmental focus helped it to tell a story. But the expansion of its remit meant that it was a bit scattergun in the different exhibits (the one which I was least interested in was the fashion show made from recycled materials – too reminiscent of a design museum for me) 8/10.
Overall, 42/50, a good score for those interested in environmentalism and science.
Practicalities: There was no cafe, but there was a vending machine if you were desperate for something to eat or drink. Children are free (which I always like!) and adults are C$12 each. We managed to spend an enjoyable afternoon, but most people would probably only spend an hour. We walked there, which was a big mistake. There is a lovely bike path right to the door (as befits an environment museum) and Montréal’s metro stops very close by.