Exploring nature at the Biodôme

Richard Burnett

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

The Biodôme de Montréal is part of Montréal Space for Life, the largest natural sciences museum complex in Canada. After a two-year overhaul, the Biodôme reopened in 2020 with a revitalized, multisensory, and far more immersive experience taking visitors through the five ecosystems of the Americas.

The Biodôme is a comfortable family-oriented city escape for children of all ages.

The house of life

The popular Biodôme is housed in the former Velodrome built for the 1976 Montréal Summer Olympic Games. Its rounded shape is evocative of a fossilized shell called a trilobite.

The Biodôme is not really a zoo, but it’s not a botanical garden, either. The Biodôme — whose name means “house of life”— is home to 2,500 animals from some 200 different species and more than 800 plant species.

Among its most popular animals are the penguins and the golden lion tamarin monkeys, and new residents include a flock of parrots, a school of false piranhas and a pair of broad-snouted caimans. Animal welfare remains top priority at the Biodôme, from habitat size to stimulating activities that prompt animals to express their natural behaviours.

Since it first opened in 1992, the Biodôme has innovated by focusing on ecosystems and the interrelationships between animals, plants and their habitat, to raise public awareness about environmental issues.

To that end, the Biodôme offers an immersive visit through five ecosystems of the Americas: the Tropical Rainforest, lush and warm even during the Montréal winter; the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which showcases marine life; the Laurentian Maple Forest, which changes with the seasons; and the Labrador Coast and the Sub-Antarctic Islands.

What’s new

Right from the very start, you’ll be struck by the splendour of the original building. As you step into the brand-new reception hall – whose design was inspired by the concept of biophilia, to create a positive and soothing environment – gaze up at the vaulted ceiling, suffused with natural light. Then you’ll notice the graceful curves and elegant simplicity of the huge white wall that now envelops the ecosystems. Visitors will also enjoy dramatic vantage points on the ecosystems from the new light-filled mezzanine.

There’s something new in each of the five ecosystems. For instance, the treetop view of the Tropical Rainforest reveals some beautiful natural features that had been virtually invisible until now. The Gulf of St. Lawrence, with its salt sea air and swooping birds, can be discovered from the new walkways leading to the mezzanine. In the Laurentian Maple Forest, there’s now a new perspective on the lynx habitat. And the new tunnel and wall of ice of the Sub-Antarctic Islands ecosystem leads visitors into a cool polar world.

Located at the very top of the Biodôme, on the new mezzanine, the new Bio-machine exhibition area provides a behind-the-scenes view of the Biodôme. Near the ecosystems exit, the It’s Time to Act exhibition presents environmental initiatives from around the world.

A mobile app to make your visit more immersive

The Biodôme has replaced traditional interpretive signs with its brand new user-friendly mobile application that directs the visitors’ gaze so they can more easily spot plants and animals. Throughout the tour, visitors can also check out fact sheets containing interesting anecdotes, as well as take informative and entertaining quizzes.

Thanks to augmented reality, the app also lets visitors see some emblematic animals of ecosystems of the Americas not found at the Biodôme: a virtual polar bear in the sub-polar regions, two beluga whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a wolf in the Laurentian Maple Forest and a jaguar in the Tropical Rainforest.

Download the free mobile app for iOS and Android.

Boutique and restaurant

Designed by ADHOC Architectes, the Biodôme’s new boutique offers products with minimal packaging, reflecting the green mission of the Biodôme, as well as Montréal’s eco-friendly vision and commitment to educating about environmental issues.

The gourmet Espace Végo restaurant offers a wide range of vegan and vegetarian sandwiches, salads, sweet treats and coffees prepared on site.

COVID-19 precautions

Special measures have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of visitors and employees, in strict compliance with the protocol established by the Québec Directorate of Public Health. Wearing a face mask indoors is mandatory for anyone 12 years and older.

Schedules and directions

The number of visitors allowed in at the same time has been reduced because of COVID-19. It is best to book your timed tickets online early, so you’ll have a better chance of getting the day and time you want. Tickets can be purchased online at montrealspaceforlife.ca.

The Montréal Space for Life museums – the Biodôme, Planetarium, Botanical Garden and Insectarium (under renovation until 2021) – are easily accessible via public transportation.

Richard Burnett

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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