Visit different worlds at the Montréal Space for Life museums
NOTE: No opening date has been announced yet for the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. Given its status as a performance venue, directives are expected from the Québec Directorate of Public Health and the City of Montréal. The Biodôme and Insectarium construction sites are once again in operation. The opening date of the Biodôme will be announced by the end of the summer, while the Insectarium is still scheduled to reopen in 2021.
This article was updated on March 4, 2019.
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.
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.
Your general admission ticket to the Planetarium allows you to see every film featured on the day of your visit, as well as access to the exhibition.
The Planetarium premieres a new film, POLARIS, on March 1. The film is about James, a travelling penguin from the South Pole, and Vladimir, a funny bear from the North Pole, two amateur astronomers who meet on the Arctic sea ice and try to solve the mystery of why the night is so long at the Earth’s poles. POLARIS runs until December 31.
Planet Nine searches for a new ninth planet hidden beyond the Kuiper belt. The film runs until April 30.
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. The film runs until April 30.
Aurorae explains and transcends the aurora borealis – a.k.a. the Northern Lights – preceded by a presentation on that night’s sky. Aurorae runs until December 20.
Cosmic Collisions explores the constructive and catastrophic forces that continue to shape our universe. The film runs until April 7, but there are no screenings from March 1 to 24.
EXO explores extraterrestrial life beyond Earth and is preceded by a presentation on that night’s sky. EXO runs until November 3.
The multimedia show Aboard the SSE-4801 features young adventurers who soar in orbit on a starry journey somewhere between the Sun and Neptune. The show runs until June 2.
Night Sky is an immersive experience whisking you through time and space beneath the 360° dome at the Planetarium. Visitors will learn about stars, planets, the Moon, constellations, legends and the latest astronomy news. The show continues until May 9.
The general rule of thumb is to allow 45 minutes per performance. In addition, face-painting sessions will be offered every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The whole family can also enjoy different astronomy-related activities in the new workshop zone set up in the bistro area.
The Planetarium is closed on Mondays (except on 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 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.
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 2019.
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, 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.