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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.

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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)

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.

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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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June 17, 2016 at 10:38 pm Comments (0)
The Islands: le Sainte-Hlne 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.
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