Visit different worlds at the Montréal Space for Life museums

This article was updated on November 15, 2018.

Human beings have always searched for, to quote the introduction to the Star Trek TV series, the “final frontier.” From exploring our natural world to outer space, children of all ages can discover new worlds at the Montréal Space for Life, the largest natural sciences museum complex in Canada, which comprises the Botanical Garden, Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, Insectarium and Biodôme.

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The Botanical Garden

The 75-hectare Botanical Garden is home to ten greenhouses and some 30 thematic gardens, including the Alpine Garden, the Chinese Garden and the First Nations Garden.  The Japanese, Chinese and First Nations garden pavillions are closed for the winter beginning on Nov. 1.

The greenhouses are open year-round. Take a colourful trip through the succulents, orchids, ferns, penjings, banana trees and more. Because of its variety of trees and shrubs, the Botanical Garden is also a prime location for bird-watching year-round.

Beginning in late February until the end of April, do not miss the annual Butterflies Go Free event in the main exhibition greenhouse. In what is called an “aerial ballet,” more than 1,500 butterflies from 50 different species fly about from one flower to the next.

Meanwhile, the Botanical Garden’s hugely popular annual Gardens of Light lantern festival features hundreds of colourful, meticulously-constructed lanterns centred around a massive dragon lantern in the Chinese Garden. The lantern festival returns in early September and runs up to October 31.

You can also check out the “Blooms of the week” before heading out to the Botanical Garden.

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

Montréal’s state-of-the-art Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium features modern facilities and equipment that allow it to incorporate the latest technological innovations.

Children and adults alike will love the permanent EXO: Our Search for Life in the Universe exhibition, which adds to the Planetarium’s wonderful old-school feel. The venue and its theatres are not just a fun destination for families but a great venue to bring a date (which this writer has done on numerous occasions).

Your ticket to the Planetarium includes access to the permanent EXO, Our Search for Life in the Universe exhibition, plus one of their double features:

Planet Nine / The Secrets of Gravity is the newest addition and a crowd-pleaser: Planet Nine searches for a new ninth planet hidden beyond the Kuiper belt, and the fun animation film Secrets of Gravity features a young magician and his robot friend travelling through space and time to explain the principles underlying gravitation, but also learn about friendship and imagination.

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The Continuum / Aurorae double feature has been a visitor favourite since it opened in 2013. The cosmic Continuum show designed by acclaimed Montréal artists Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon is set to the symphonic music of Philip Glass, while Aurorae explains and transcends the aurora borealis – a.k.a. the Northern Lights – preceded by a presentation on that night’s sky.

The The Blind Man with Starry Eyes / Aboard the SSE-4801 double feature begins with the animation film The Blind Man with Starry Eyes that will please kids aged 4 to 8, followed by the multimedia show Aboard the SSE-4801 in which young adventurers will soar in orbit on a starry journey somewhere between the Sun and Neptune.

Last but not least, the Cosmic Collisions / EXO double-bill will fascinate viewers as it educates. Cosmic Collisions explores the constructive and catastrophic forces that continue to shape our universe. EXO explores extraterrestrial life beyond Earth, and is preceded by a presentation on that night’s sky.

The Planetarium is closed on Mondays (except December 31) and Tuesday, December 25, for the holiday season. Be sure to check its online schedule to choose screenings in English or French. Double-feature screenings and a tour of the permanent exhibition will take you roughly two hours.

The Insectarium

The Insectarium is one of the largest insect museums in North America, where more than 4,800 animals from 230 different species and some 750 plant species await you under one roof. The Insectarium is home to some 250,000 specimens of living and naturalized insects, including an anthill and other exciting vivariums.

The permanent exhibitions Atta Ants and We Are the Insects (which features everything from jewel-like beetles to butterflies with multi-coloured wings) run until early February 2019 when the Insectarium will close for renovations.

You can also learn about the Insectarium’s collections online.

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The Biodôme

The hugely 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—whose name means “House of Life”—is home to more than 4,500 animals from 250 different species and 500 plant species. The Biodôme is currently undergoing a major revamp and will reopen in late summer of 2019.

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Schedules and directions

Tickets for each venue may be bought individually or as a multi-site package. There are also family rates. To avoid the lineups, tickets can be purchased online at https://billets.espacepourlavie.ca/en.

You can also download an app to navigate the Insectarium.

The Montréal Space for Life museums are easily accessible via public transportation.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

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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