Montreal Biodome: Planning Your Visit

The Montreal Biodome Building

Perry Mastrovito / Design Pics/Getty Images

The Montreal Biodome is a series of indoor ecological systems which recreate environments found in the Americas—especially those found in nearby Quebec and Ontario. Each ecosystem showcases the indigenous animal species and plant life of the region, and the Biodome, itself, is one of the only places in the world that can replicate all four seasons indoors at the same time. Visitors to this famous Montreal attraction can not only see what life is like in each ecosystem, but they can also experience the climate in each biome, thanks to regulated temperatures and humidity. Situated in Montreal's Olympic Park, the Biodome, along with the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, the Montreal Botanical Garden, and the Montreal Insectarium, make up Montreal's Space for Life, which attracts roughly 800,000 visitors every year. In addition to its temporary exhibits that rotate throughout the year, the Montreal Biodome's five permanent ecosystems take about two hours to fully explore.

Olympic Stadium, Biodome, Saputo Stadium, and Olympic Park Montreal

Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images 

History and Architecture

The Montreal Biodome was originally designed by French architect Roger Taillibert as part of a larger plan for an Olympic Park. The facility, built for the 1976 Olympics, included an arena for track cycling as well as a judo facility, and was named the Vélodrome de Montréal. In 1988, the city conducted a feasibility study following a suggestion from Pierre Bourque, the director of the Botanical Garden, for a biodome marking Montreal's 350th anniversary. Construction started soon after in 1989, and the Montreal Biodome was open to the public in 1992. Several years later, an audio guide system was installed, allowing visitors to self-tour while receiving interesting information about the facility in French, Spanish, and English.

Ecosystems

Montreal's Biodome contains five ecosystems that replicate different habitats in nature. A step inside of each one will transport you to either a tropical rainforest, a huge estuary, a deciduous forest, sub-Antarctic islands, or the plant-less Arctic coast.

  • Tropical Rainforest of the Americas: Of the Montreal Biodome's five ecosystems, the Tropical Rainforest of the Americas is the largest, covering 2,600 square meters (27,986 square feet). It also contains the widest array of indigenous animal and plant species. With an average daily temperature of 28 degrees C (82 degrees F), and at 70 percent humidity, visitors get to experience a fairly accurate sense of the climate in the South American rainforest. Not only is this controlled ecosystem of interest to visitors, but scientists also use it to study important ecological processes that are difficult to isolate in natural environments.
  • Gulf of St. Lawrence: The Biodome's Gulf of St. Lawrence section is the nature museum's second-largest ecosystem, covering an area of 1,620 square meters (17,438 square feet). This habitat houses a basin filled with 2.5 million liters (660,430 gallons) of "seawater" produced by the Biodome, recreating life in the largest estuary in the world. In the wild, the Gulf of St. Lawrence extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the edge of the confluence of the Saguenay fjord and the St. Lawrence River. This region is known for attracting roughly a dozen different whale species, including endangered belugas, humpbacks, orcas, and blue whales. Though the Biodome does not contain any whales (the nature museum tried to sway public opinion in favor of keeping belugas captive onsite, to no avail), it does showcase several large fish, such as sharks, skates, rays, and sturgeons.
  • Laurentian Maple Forest Ecosystem: Found in Quebec, Northern regions of the United States, and in certain parts of Europe and Asia, the Laurentian maple forest is the Montreal Biodome's third-largest ecosystem, taking up 1,518 square meters (16,340 square feet) of the dome. This ecosystem is characterized by its mix of leafy, deciduous trees and coniferous evergreens, which adapt to the seasons and the corresponding light and temperature shifts within the ecosystem. To replicate the weather, this section is set at 24 degrees C (75 degrees F) in the summer, and is then lowered to 4 degrees C (39 degrees F) in the winter, with humidity levels fluctuating between 45 to 90 percent, depending on the season. The deciduous tree leaves here change color in the fall, and start budding come spring, provoked by lighting schedules that echo the habitat's shorter and longer days.
  • Sub-Antarctic Islands: The Sub-Antarctic Islands ecosystem doesn't showcase much in way of flora, but it does contain plenty of cute animals. The penguins are the stars of this cold ecosystem, since Antarctica and the surrounding southern islands are their native home. Temperatures are set at a steady 2 degrees C to 5 degrees C (36 degrees F to 41 degrees F) year-round to mimic the seasons. But since this habitat is located in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed from those experienced locally in North America.
  • Labrador Coast: Sitting adjacent to the Biodome's south polar Sub-Antarctic Islands ecosystem is the north polar sub-Arctic Labrador Coast ecosystem—one devoid of plant life, but teeming with auks (birds in the alcid family), such as puffins, murres, and guillemots. Penguins are not included in the Arctic mix, as—contrary to popular belief—they do not live up north. Rather, penguins reside in the south, in Antarctica, or in the case of the Biodome, just across the room.
Cotton-top Tamarin, in the Tropical Rainforest zone at Montreal's Biodôme

 Joanne Levesque / Getty Images

Animals

When it comes to exploring the Montreal Biome, there are some noteworthy creatures you don't want to miss on your journey through the ecosystems. All of them are native to each of their specific habitats, and some are considered endangered species.

  • Yellow anaconda: The non-venomous yellow anaconda, found in the Biodome's Tropical Rainforest, measures an average of 3 meters (or 9 feet) in length and eats birds, rodents, and fish. This snake first suffocates its prey, and then swallows it whole, head first. At the Biodome, feedings are held once every two weeks, and the meal consists of a large rat.
  • Red-bellied piranha: The red-bellied piranha, which also lives in the rainforest habitat, has a reputation of being a bloodthirsty flesh-craving maneater, popularized by Hollywood films. However, contemporary studies suggest that the piranha is more of an omnivorous scavenger than a ferocious carnivorous predator, relying on safety in numbers, as you can witness in this habitat.
  • Golden lion tamarin: The golden lion tamarin, named after the lion for its reminiscent mane, is a small monkey native to Brazil and can be seen in the Biodome's rainforest, as well. Slightly larger than a squirrel, with tree hollows for a home, this primate is an endangered species, with roughly only 1,000 left in the wild.
  • Canadian lynx: A medium-sized wildcat can be witnessed in the Biodome's Laurentian Maple Forest ecosystem. This mammal is at least twice the size of a regular house cat with large paws perfect for navigating snowy terrain. It's instantly recognizable by its frost-tipped silver fur (which turns reddish in the summer), a dark, stubby tail, a beard-like ruff, and black tufts of fur on each ear. A unique species to North America, hence the name, Canadian lynx populations have generally fared well in Canada.
  • American beaver: The Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystem houses the quintessential Canadian mascot, and largest rodent in North America, the American beaver. This is the only species of its kind on the continent—a monogamous, community-oriented, semi-aquatic mammal with teeth that never stop growing—and is simultaneously considered both a benefit and a nuisance. On the one hand, beaver dams—the rodent's home and a testament of its dietary penchant for tree bark and cambium—create erosion-preventing wetlands that offer a rich habitat to all sorts of species. On the other hand, beaver dams can interfere with human activity, flooding roads, surrounding properties and farmlands, and compromising stream flows.

Visiting the Biodome

  • Best Time to Visit: Arguably, the best time to visit the Montreal Biodome is during the fall when the Laurentian Maple Forest can be seen in its showy autumn splendor. Still, try to plan your visit for a weekday afternoon, as the weekends can become ridiculously busy.
  • Location: The Montreal Biodome is located in Olympic Park in the Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood of Montreal at 4777 Pierre-De Coubertin Avenue.
  • Hours: The Biodome is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but closes on most holidays.
  • Admission: It costs $21.50 Canadian dollars for adults to visit the Montreal Biodome. Student admission costs $15.50, and children under 17 cost $10.75. You can also buy a family pass for $59.00.

Getting There

The Montreal Biodome is easily accessed by public transportation. You can take the Viau Metro, or Bus 34 from Sainte-Catherine, Bus 125 from Ontario, or Bus 136 from Viau. You can also use the city's bike system and series of paths to ride from Old Montreal to Olympic Park on a 45-minute journey through beautiful neighborhoods. Lastly, you can drive to 4777 Pierre-De Coubertin Avenue and park on-site for a small fee.

Things to Do Nearby

Visitors heading to the Biodome might consider making the outing a full-day trip to the Olympic Village area and the Space for Life. The Biodome shares space with the Montreal Olympic Stadium and is located right next to Montreal's Winter Village, where you can ice skate in the winter and dine in the rink-side restaurant. The Biodome is also within walking distance of the other attractions that make up the Space for Life—the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, the Montreal Botanical Garden, and the Montreal Insectarium—and your entry fee can be used to access all four venues.

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