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The Montreal International Jazz Festival

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The Montreal International Jazz Festival invites over 3000 musicians together from dozens of countries, for well over a thousand performances, most of which are free. We wouldn’t have the chance to see much of the festival, as it began during our final night in Montreal. But we did get a taste.

Montreal Jass Festival

The Montreal Jazz Festival was first celebrated in 1980, and has since grown into the world’s largest, certified as such by the Guinness Book of World Records, in 2006. But looking at the lineup, you’ll notice right away that it’s not all jazz. In fact, the invited bands and musicians represent a wide range of genres, including rock, soul, hip-hop and folk.

My heart raced as I looked through the program, which featured acts like Brian Wilson, Danny Brown, Jamie Cullem, Lauryn Hill, Noel Gallagher, Peter Bjorn & John, Rufus Wainwright, The Tallest Man on Earth and Wynton Marsalis. I’d have liked to see all of these! But since we were leaving the city on the festival’s second day, the only act we were able to catch was Cat Power, who was playing a solo show at the Metropolis.

Out of all Montreal’s summertime festivals (and there are tons), the Jazz Festival is the undisputed king. It’s centered around the Place des Arts, where you can enter for free and check out performances by lesser-known artists throughout the day. This is in the heart of the city, and traffic is completely cut off for the duration of the festival, which draws millions of music-lovers.

Every single time we told a Montrealer that we’d be leaving at the end of June, we heard some variation on the same theme: “Are you stupid?!” We’d be missing July, widely agreed upon to be the best month in the city. And that meant we’d be missing the Jazz Festival. It was a little frustrating to be reminded of this fact over and over again, but we didn’t really have a choice. I’m happy that we experienced a bit of the festivities… and we can always return. I have a feeling the Jazz Festival will be around for a long time to come.

Location on our Map: Metropolis | Place des Arts
Montreal International Jazz Festival: Website

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July 19, 2016 at 2:08 pm Comments (0)

The Maison Saint-Gabriel

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One of finest colonial-era houses in Montreal is the Maison Saint-Gabriel, found in the neighborhood of Pointe Saint-Charles. Purchased in 1662 by Marguerite Bourgeoys for her congregation of nuns, this farmhouse allowed the sisters to be self-sufficient, and provided a place where they could educate community children. In 1966, the house opened its doors as a historic site.

When it was acquired by the Congregation of Notre Dame, the Maison Saint-Gabriel was on the outskirts of the colonial town, then still known as Ville-Marie. Over the centuries, Montreal has grown exponentially, and swallowed up the farmland which once surrounded the house, turning Pointe Saint-Charles into another of its many densely-packed neighborhoods. But, when you step onto the property of the Maison Saint-Gabriel, it feels as though you’re stepping back into the past.

This illusion is encouraged by the maidens who are waiting to greet you at the gates. All of the employees of the Maison are dressed in colonial-era garb. During the summer, they’ll occasionally put on skits, or demonstrate some craft or aspect of life in the olden days.

Although the original farmhouse burnt down in 1693, the reconstruction dates from 1699, making it over three hundred years old. Seemingly little has changed throughout the years. The tour takes you into the kitchen of the house, the basement, the common room, the attic, and the men’s dormitory — although this was a congregation of nuns, some men lived on the farm to assist with the farming. We got to see some of the tools used by the nuns to harvest wheat and grains, and hear the 17th-century “telephone” they used to communicate with sisters on the island across the Saint Lawrence River: a long, trumpet-like megaphone.

We were fascinated by the story of the “Filles du Roi,” or, the “King’s Daughters.” In the earliest days of the colony, there were a disproportionate number of men, which was making it difficult for New France to populate its new territory. To alleviate this problem, King Louis XIV conscripted young peasant girls to cross the ocean and serve as marriage fodder for his struggling colony. Many of these girls provisionally moved into the Maison Saint-Gabriel, under the auspices of the nuns, until they were paired off with a man.

We really enjoyed our tour of the Maison Saint-Gabriel. It’s not just another history museum, but a living window into the past. The girl who gave our tour was as friendly as you’d expect a 17th-century maiden to be, and the condition of the house is stunning, considering its age. It’s definitely worth a trip to Pointe Saint-Charles to check it out.

Location on our Map
Maison Saint-Gabriel – Website

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Rights Reserved by Maison Saint-Gabriel, Museum and Historic Site / Photographed by: For 91 Days

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July 5, 2016 at 2:31 pm Comments (0)

The Islands: Île Sainte-Hélène

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Visible across from the Old Port of Montreal, Île Sainte-Hélène is home to the Jean-Drapeau Park, and many of Montreal’s favorite summertime activities. With nature trails, weekend festivals, an amusement park and a pool, not to mention the Biosphère, there’s plenty to on the island. We spent the day there, and made sure to swing by the Stewart Museum, located in an old British fort and dedicated to the history of Montreal.

Ile Sainte-Helene

Although its sister island, the Île Notre-Dame, was artificially created in the 1960s, Île Sainte-Hélène has been a part of Montreal’s history since the very beginning. It was named after the wife of Samuel de Champlain, who “discovered” it in 1611. Sainte-Hélène was private property until 1818, when it was purchased by the British government for defensive purposes. After the War of 1812, the Brits had feared an American invasion and wanted a fort to protect Montreal. The invasion never came, and today the Fort de l’Île Sainte-Hélène is the site of the Stewart Museum.

We’ve talked before about the ridiculous number of museums which Montreal has dedicated to its own history… and the Stewart Museum is yet another. We breezed through it, as the exhibits were largely similar to those we’d seen in the city’s other history museums. But it’s not a bad museum, by any means, and if you’re new to Montreal’s history, you should enjoy it.

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The Stewart Museum is just one of many things to see and do on the Île Sainte-Hélène. This is also where you’ll find the Biosphère, the popular municipal pool and Alexander Kalder’s 1967 giant metal sculpture entitled “Man.” Visible from Montreal, this sculpture is the scene of the Piknic Festival, which is a weekly electronic music event held every Sunday of the summer.

There’s also a network of trails which snake through some attractive woods. We followed one at random, and ended up at the Tour de Lévis, built in 1930 as a water tower. Normally, you can climb to the top of the tower for a view over the park, but it was closed during our visit.

From the tower, it was just a few more minutes to walk to the gates of La Ronde, Montreal’s Six Flags amusement park. But it had already been a long day, and we weren’t about to drop $64 apiece on tickets, so we took a rain check on the roller coasters, and headed down to the ferry station. Île Sainte-Hélène is also served by the metro, but during the summer, it’s more enjoyable to take the express ferry that runs between the island and the Old Port.

Locations on our Map: Jean-Drapeau Metro Station | Stewart Museum | Tour de Lévis | Man Statue / Piknic Festival | Ferry Station
Stewart Museum – Website

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June 26, 2016 at 10:37 pm Comments (0)

McGill University and the Redpath Museum

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Founded in 1821 on a royal charter from King George IV, McGill is today considered to be Canada’s leading university. Its original, downtown campus located at the foot of Mont Royal is a thing of beauty, and among its Victorian-era buildings, you’ll find the Redpath Museum of Natural History.

McGill Redpath Museum

McGill University has an enrollment of nearly 40,000 students, roughly half of whom are from Quebec. Twelve Nobel laureates studied here, as well as three of Canada’s prime ministers, including Justin Trudeau. Oh, and William Shatner. McGill is Canada’s most prestigious place of higher learning, and its incoming students have the highest average test scores of any school in the country. The school is primarily English-speaking, although students are expected to have a working knowledge of French.

Living in Montreal, it’s impossible to escape the shadow of McGill University. Its facilities are spread throughout the city, and its alumni seem to have their hands in everything. In most museums we visit, we read about discoveries made by McGill researchers, studies initiated by McGill teams, theories offered by McGill professors, etc. Habitat 67 was the master’s thesis of McGill student Moshe Safdie. Arcade Fire met while studying at McGill. And the drunk kids shouting and laughing outside our apartment every Thursday night at 3am are almost certainly McGill undergrads — in addition to its sterling academic reputation, McGill is known as a party school.

Since we’d heard so much about it, we figured we should at least see the campus. Located between Sherbrooke Ave and Mont Royal, and bounded on the east and west by Rue University and Peel, McGill’s main campus is gorgeous, with old limestone school buildings and small grassy parks where you’ll almost always see students studying or taking naps. The Royal Victorian Hospital has recently moved to a more modern facility, but its former home, a Gothic building on the foot of Mont Royal, is now part of McGill.

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It’d be fun to explore all these old buildings, but we limited ourselves to one: the Redpath Museum of Natural History. This museum dates from 1882, and features exhibits that range from fossils and minerals to anthropological items from around the world. The centerpiece of the collection of the full skeleton of a Gorgosaurus. But the best part of the Redpath Museum is the atmosphere of the building in which it’s housed. It looks exactly how you’d expect an “ancient university library” to look, with the scintillating layers of dust and mystery that go along with it. While examining the exhibits, I kept expecting some old professor to suddenly appear and slam shut one of the cabinets, admonishing me not to look inside. “You may examine any of the cabinets, but not this one!”

The Redpath Museum is free to visit, although they do suggest a small donation to keep the museum going. And obviously, the campus is free to visit as well. Both are well worth seeing during your time in Montreal.

Locations on our Map: McGill Campus Main Entrance | Redpath Museum

Montreal Hotels

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June 25, 2016 at 10:25 pm Comments (0)

The Exporail Train Museum

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Found in an old maintenance yard near Canada’s first railway line, the Exporail Museum introduces visitors to some of the country’s earliest trains. With dozens of refurbished models, many of which you can enter and explore, exhibitions and movies about the railway culture, and even a miniature train which you can ride, this is a much more impressive museum than we had been expecting.

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Our low expectations were due to the museum’s promotional materials, which feature grinning toddlers and slogans like “Awaken Your Inner Child!” We had the distinct impression that the Exporail was primarily a museum for kids, but that’s not really the case. Kids are going to love it, of course, but the exhibits are equally geared to adults, with in-depth descriptions on each of the trains and overviews on technical topics such as how steam engines work.

In the main exhibition hall, the Angus Pavilion, there are twelve maintenance tracks that hold around forty refurbished trains, each one representing a different era or function. Starting at the far end of the shed, you see some of the trams that crisscrossed the city between 1892 and 1959, including “the Rocket”, which was Montreal’s first electric car, as well as an open-roofed “observation car” designed for sight-seeing trips.

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As you weave around the tracks, the exhibition moves into the golden age of rail, during Canada’s push to the Pacific, when lines like Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific were offering luxury trips across the country. We loved the giant rotary snowplow car, which could handle even the deepest snows with its spinning blade, as well as the “School Car,” which brought its ambulatory classroom to remote communities in northern Ontario. All of the trains have been freshly painted, and are in wonderful condition.

The Angus Pavilion is the biggest section in the museum, but there’s a lot more to see on the rest of the grounds. Montreal’s last tram is still in service at the Exporail, and runs a loop around the premises. The first stop is at a miniature model train — this attraction is designed for children, but that didn’t stop Jürgen and me from hopping aboard and enjoying a five-minute ride through the woods. Other areas in the Exporail include an old ticket booth, and another large maintenance shed filled with refurbished railway cars.

We had planned for our visit to the Exporail to be a quick one, but ended up spending hours here; there was simply too much to see. If you don’t have a car, you can easily reach the museum with the commuter rail: it’s nearby station Saint-Constant, on the Candiac line which starts at Gare Lucien-L’Allier. And really, arriving at this museum by way of train is probably the correct way to do it.

Location on our Map
Exporail – Website

Check Out The Train Cemetery

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June 24, 2016 at 9:58 pm Comments (0)

The Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes

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Located in the old RCA factory in Saint-Henri, the Emile Berline Musée des Ondes is a small museum dedicated to the world of sound, and Montreal’s place in the history of the audio and aerospace sectors. Only open a few days each week, this museum doesn’t take long to visit, and allows you an inside look at the swiftly-disappearing industrial past of Montreal.

Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes

Emile Berliner was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1851, but he emigrated to the United States at the age of nineteen to avoid fighting in the Franco-Prussian War. An electrical genius, Berliner invented the world’s first radial engine for aircrafts, an industrial-scale loom, as well as an early prototype for a helicopter. But his contributions to audio have left the most lasting impression upon the world.

In 1887, Berliner patented the Gramophone, which used a stylus to produce sound waves by following a horizontally-modulating line on a disc. Thomas Edison might have invented the phonograph, but it was Berliner who first put recordings on a flat disc. After losing the American sales rights to his invention, he moved to Montreal in 1904, and established the Berliner Gramophone Company in the neighborhood of Saint-Henri.

Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes

The old factory has undergone a lot of changes during the past century. Berliner Gramophone eventually would become RCA-Victrola, memorable for its logo of the little dog “Nipper” transfixed by the sound of his master’s voice emanating from a gramophone. Eventually, RCA would be drafted into the space race, and Montreal saw the dawning of its involvement in the aerospace industry.

We learned all about Canada’s involvement in space during our visit to the Musée des Ondes. The museum always has some new temporary exhibit, and the one we happened to see was a concise presentation about RCA’s contributions to space exploration.

During our visit, the Musée des Ondes was in a state of flux, having recently been forced to vacate its long-time exhibition space. Most of its regular pieces were in storage, and the small volunteer team behind the museum were in the process of re-organizing. We asked to see the storage area, and after being led on a bewildering mini-tour through the labyrinthine old factory, entered a room where hundreds of antique TVs, radios, record players and electronics were slowly gathering dust.

Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes

Our unofficial tour of the factory continued into the legendary Victor Studio, which opened in 1942. With its bowed wooden walls providing excellent acoustics, this studio welcomed some famous artists to record, including Quebec’s Les Cowboys Fringant and Jean Leloup, as well as international stars like Sinead O’Connor and Alan Parsons. Sadly, the studio has recently shut its doors, due to the rising costs of rent in gentrifying Saint-Henri, and its future is in doubt.

Keep in mind that we visited the Musée des Ondes during a turbulent period in its history, and some of the rooms we saw, such as the Studio Victor and the storage room, are not officially part of the program. But regardless, the opportunity to see inside a historic factory such as the RCA building is one you should take advantage of. This small, volunteer-run museum deserves all the attention and support it can get. A real hidden gem in Saint-Henri.

Location on our Map
Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes – Website

Buy And Old Gramophone Here

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June 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm Comments (0)

The McCord Museum of Canadian History

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Established in 1921 on the grounds of McGill University, the McCord Museum of Canadian History boasts a collection of over a million historical documents, photographs and archaeological finds. The permanent exhibition is dedicated to Montreal’s history, but what makes the McCord Museum worthwhile is its examination of the clothing and customs of Canada’s native people.

McCord Museum

If there’s one thing Montreal has plenty of, it’s museums dedicated to the city’s history. There’s the Pointe-à-Calliére, the Centre d’Historie de Montréal, the Chateau Dufresne, and the Stewart Museum, just to name the ones we’ve already visited. Another thing Montreal has in abundance, is rainy days. And when it’s storming out, visiting yet another museum doesn’t sound too bad.

“Anyway,” we reasoned, “this is the McCord Museum of Canadian History, so it will be more than just another museum about Montreal.” But, basically it was just another museum about Montreal. The permanent collection is called “Montreal – Points of View,” and took us on the same tour we had seen countless times before: native life, colonization, French vs. English rule, independence, the roaring twenties, the World Expo and Olympics. And unfortunately, it’s not well-presented… the lighting is poor, the exhibits seem slapped together without much care, and we found the whole thing both confusing and boring.

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Luckily, the museum’s other permanent exhibit is much better. “Wearing Our Identity: The First Peoples Collection” concerns the clothing, style and self-expression of Canada’s native people. I spent nearly as much time examining a single amauti, or seal-skin parka, as I had visiting the entire “Montreal – Points of View” exhibition. These garments are individually-designed, and reveal much about the women wearing them, including their social status and whether they were (or had been) pregnant. And they’re decorated with a fascinating blend of traditional elements and those borrowed from Western culture, such as coins and spoons.

This exhibition also includes the feathered shaman headdresses, jewelry, beaded friendship sashes, and old photographs of Inuits involved in body modification, as well as a large totem pole. One of my favorite exhibits was a timeworn picture of walrus hunters, who wore large white studs on either side of their bottom lips, in order to better resemble their prey.

The McCord Museum isn’t cheap, and its modest size in no way justifies the price. In fact, were it not for the presence of the “Wearing Our Identity” exhibit, we’d recommend skipping it entirely. But here’s a tip: after 5pm on Wednesday afternoons, the museum is free. It will be more crowded, but this is almost certainly the best time to check it out.

Location on our Map
McCord Museum of Canadian History – Website

Our Framed Montreal Photos

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June 21, 2016 at 12:59 pm Comments (0)

Mont Royal’s Lac aux Castors and Maison Smith

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After visiting the Kondiaronk Belvedere and taking in the view of downtown Montreal, you can continue your exploration of the mountain by heading west toward the Lac aux Castors. On the way, you’ll pass a sculpture park and the Maison Smith, which was built in 1858 and today is home to a small exhibition about the park.

Lac du Castors and Maison Smith

Because it’s spread across the dips and ascents of a mountain, it’s easy to forget that Mont Royal is also a carefully considered park. The design is the work of Connecticut-born Frederick Law Olmsted, who’s most famous as the landscape architect of NYC’s Central Park. He was brought to Montreal in 1874 to create plans for what would become this city’s defining park.

Without changing the essential character of the hill, Olmsted created an intricate network of trails that would take visitors to all its corners. The Chemin Olmsted is the most significant of these paths, and leads from the monument of Sir George Etienne Cartier to Mont Royal’s various summits, as well as the Kondiaronk Belvedere and the Maison Smith.

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The Maison Smith is next to Mont Royal’s largest parking lot, and serves as the unofficial entrance to the park. Inside, you’ll find a cafe and an exhibition about the flora and fauna of the park, as well as some archaeological artifacts which have been unearthed here. The exhibition is small and free, so even if you just have a couple minutes, it’s worth popping in.

From here, it’s a short walk along the Chemin Olmsted to the Lac aux Castors. On the way, you’ll find a sloping field studded with strange gray monuments. These are the remains of the International Sculpture Symposium, which in 1964 invited twelve artists from around the world. Over fifty years later, most of the works are still visible… how impressive you find them depends on how generous you’re feeling.

Past the sculptures, you’ll see the Lac aux Castors, or “Beaver Lake.” This is as good a place as any to finish a day on Mont Royal. In the summer, you can rent paddle boats to take out onto the lake, which was created in 1938. And in the winter, you can ice skate. There’s a simple cafe here, where you can stretch out your legs, and appreciate a final view of one of Montreal’s most relaxing spots.

Locations on our Map: Maison Smith | Lac aux Castors

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June 20, 2016 at 8:46 pm Comments (0)

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

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Since arriving in Montreal, we had been planning to check out the Museum of Fine Arts, but kept finding reasons to postpone our visit. “It’s too sunny out for a museum,” or “it’s Sunday, and will be too crowded,” or “it’s already too late, and we won’t be able to see everything.” But if we’re being honest, the museum simply intimidated us. With over 40,000 pieces in its permanent collection, this the largest and most important museum in Montreal, and one that requires a lot of time to see properly.

Montreal Fine Arts Museum

Finally, on a rainy Thursday morning with nothing else to do, we ran out of excuses. And I’m glad we waited for the right moment… this museum really is a place you’ll want to visit when you don’t have any other plans. It’s spread across four buildings (or “pavilions”), each of which could easily be a museum of its own. You could spend the entire day here, and still not see everything.

The museum is audacious in its scope, attempting to cover the entire gamut of humanity’s dabblings in art, from ancient archaeological finds in Mesopotamia to modern Inuit sculptures from northern Canada, and everything in between. You’ll find rooms dedicated to Contemporary Design, Decorative Arts, Graphic Arts, Medieval Religious Iconography, Napoleonic Art, and much more.

Montreal Fine Arts Museum

Not only is the museum massive, it’s also wonderfully presented. The pieces of art are perfectly illuminated, and each comes with detailed information of its creator and the work itself. And all of the museum’s various sections are quite different from one another, each as compelling as the last. As the day wore on, Jürgen and I would repeatedly say to each other, “Alright, let’s do the next room quickly.” And inevitably, we found ourselves stuck. There’s almost nothing that you’ll want to skip over.

The museum has paintings from European greats, such as Picasso, El Greco, Monet and Rembrandt, as well as contemporary works from artists around the world. There’s a wonderful section in the Stewart Pavilion dedicated to early North American design, featuring everyday items like chairs, lamps, ceramics and vases. And we loved the exhibition on African Art, with its masks, tools and sculptures.

Montreal Fine Arts Museum

And all of this is just from the museum’s permanent collections. There are also first-class temporary exhibits which stay for months at a time. We were able to see one dedicated to the lost city of Pompeii, with artwork and sculptures recovered from the site (including some that were surprisingly erotic), as well as plaster molds made from the bodies covered in ash.

By the time we finished with the museum, we were exhausted. It didn’t seem like it, but our visit had lasted nearly four hours, and still we felt like we had rushed through. If you’re into art, and have a lot of time to kill, you’re going to love this place. Even if you can’t stomach the idea of such a long day, you should still consider a visit. The price is reasonable, so you’ll get your money’s worth even if you see just a fraction of the exhibits.

Location on our Map
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – Website

Our Framed Montreal Photos

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Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
Montreal Fine Arts Museum
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June 19, 2016 at 3:23 pm Comments (0)

Montreal’s Biosphère

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Built as the American Pavilion for the 1967 World Expo, the Biosphère on Île Sainte-Hélène has become one of the defining landmarks of Montreal. Today, this geodesic dome is home to a museum about the state of our planet’s environment.

Biosphere Montreal

The Biosphère is one of the most recognizable buildings in Montreal, and is at its most impressive when you’re standing inside it. The geometric pattern used to create the dome (a Class 1, Frequency 16 icosahedron, since you asked) is mesmerizing, and it’s easy to become dizzy while staring up and around at the intricate system of interlocked metal bars. This is the work of the famous American architect and theorist Buckminster Fuller, who helped to popularize geodesic domes in the 1950s.

When it was built for the Expo, the Biosphère had been covered with a plastic shell. But in 1976, the shell caught fire in spectacular fashion. The metal girder remained unscathed, but the sphere was closed to the public for nineteen years, before reopening in 1995 as a museum dedicated to water. In 2007, it was re-branded as the Biosphère.

Biosphere Montreal

The exhibitions inside the Biosphère are what you might expect from an environmental museum, though they’ve done a good job of balancing the doom and gloom with optimism for the future. The best exhibit is a 360° cinema experience that recreates wind, rain and snow, and provides concrete examples of how humans are applying lessons from nature within our newest technology. For example, we’re learning how to make LEDs more efficient by studying fireflies, and designing optimal mass transport systems by looking at the veins of a leaf.

Other exhibits allowed us to re-enact a scientific study into water and air pollution, and take a walk through a tribute to the forests. On the top floor of the museum, there’s a viewpoint which offers a view of Montreal’s skyline through the bars of the dome.

Location on our Map
Montreal Biosphère – Website

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Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
Biosphere Montreal
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June 17, 2016 at 10:38 pm Comments (0)

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