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History of the Biosphère

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Structure de la Biosphère en 1968
Photo: Archives de la Ville de Montréal, VM94-EX136-779
Structure of the Biosphere taken around 1967
  • Structure of the Biosphere taken around 1967
  • Exhibition halls of the Biosphère in May 1968
  • Aerial view of Île Sainte-Hélène and the Biosphere with downtown Montreal in the background.

The Biosphère is a unique and spectacular location. Its dome, symbolizing social innovation and human inventiveness, is well-known since 1967. In 1995, the structure began housing the first museum entirely dedicated to the connections between society and the environment in North America. It remains the only museum of its kind to this date.

Since its creation, the museum has collaborated on several multidisciplinary projects in environmental education and developed dozens of scientific animations. The Biosphère presented some thirty temporary installations or works of art and has more than 65 exhibitions to its credit.

Over the years, the museum’s exhibits and educational activities have evolved to reflect issues and trends in environmental education. The Biosphère continually reinvents itself in order to remain relevant to visitors.

1967-1995

1963 In 1963, St. Helen’s Island was enlarged using landfill, and Notre Dame Island was created on the St. Lawrence River as the site of the upcoming 1967 World’s Fair. In 1964, the United States Information Agency asked Richard Buckminster Fuller, the American architect and designer known for his geodesic domes, to submit an architectural plan for the country’s Expo 67 pavilion. His initial vision for the U.S. pavilion was as an observatory on the planet’s future.
1967 The U.S. pavilion is one of the biggest attractions at the 1967 World’s Fair. It hosts over 9 million visitors in 6 months.
On July 20, 1967, the U.S. government donated its pavilion to the Ville de Montréal.
1968 The Ville de Montréal transforms the dome’s interior into an enormous aviary and a series of hanging gardens envisioned by the Jardin botanique de Montreal.
The building takes its name: the Biosphère
1976 While the building’s structure is being repaired, an accidental fire destroys the Biosphère’s outer shell. This transparent acrylic “skin” has never be replaced.
Access to the site was prohibited for many years.
1990 The plan to develop Parc des Îles (known today as Parc Jean-Drapeau) is approved.
Environment Canada signs an agreement with the Ville de Montréal to turn the Biosphère into a water museum dedicated to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River ecosystem.
1992 The Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit marks the start of the Canadian and global fight against climate change and desertification, and to preserve biodiversity. The Biosphère’s existence is closely related to this commitment.
Following a competitive process, the Montreal architect Éric Gauthier is commissioned to redesign the Biosphère’s interior structure in keeping with the original design.
1994 Environment Canada assumes full responsibility for the project’s mission, museological direction and building operations for 25 years.

1995-2020

1995 On June 5, the Biosphère officially opened under the stewardship of Environment Canada.
The Biosphère’s Ecowatch Network launched its activities to collect water-quality data. This marks the beginning of many citizen science initiatives.
2000 To mark its 5-year anniversary, the Biosphère took its place as a pioneer in environmental education with its “Climate Warning!” exhibit.
2001 Canada’s first BioKit is designed. Today, a dozen BioKits are available across the country.
2007 The Biosphère adds “Environment Museum” to its name and its regional environmental-education mandate is extended to the rest of Canada.
Inauguration of the National Centre of Expertise on Education and Engagement to the Environment.
The institution consolidated its reputation in the field of education and distance learning by launching a new Canada-wide curriculum. Videoconferences were held in the Biosphère’s broadcast studios.
2010 Green roofs and the indoor garden are inaugurated to mark the International Year of Biodiversity.
2017 Four new permanent exhibits were created to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary of the Confederation, the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 and Montreal’s 375th anniversary.
Inauguration of architectural lighting on the dome, featuring different colours as the seasons change.
2020 The coronavirus pandemic forced the Biosphère to close its doors for a many months. Apart from a temporary closure during the ice storm of 2018, the museum had never closed.
The Biosphère celebrated its 25th anniversary and produced a video featuring Hubert Reeves highlighting the institution’s contribution. The famous astrophysicist and ecologist was one of the Biosphère’s first ambassadors in 1995.
2021 On 12 April 2021, the Government of Canada, the Government of Québec and the Ville de Montréal announced their collaboration for the transfer of the Biosphère’s operations to the Ville de Montréal, which owns the building, and to ensure continued funding. The operation of the museum is transferred to Space for Life.

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