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Everything You Never Knew About Montreal's Biosphere

Like how that fire started.
Everything You Never Knew About Montreal's Biosphere

All too often we hear people use the term "Biodome" and "Biosphere" interchangeably, unaware that the two are entirely different buildings. But they are, and the latter has actually played a pretty large part of Montreal's more recent history, even if most people don't realize it.

With a story rooted in Expo 67, and intrinsically tied to America (of all things), the Biosphere has a history that's more dynamic than most people think. Having survived major fires, ice storms, and several closures and re-openings, the Biosphere has seen its fair share of hardships.

See what I mean in the brief rundown of Biosphere below.

Originally, It Was The United States Pavilion At Expo 67

Hoping to wow the world with their pavilion at the 1967 World Fair, otherwise known as Montreal's Expo 67, the United States employed the brilliant mind of Buckminster Fuller to design their national construct at the event. Fuller's creation stood two hundred feet high; an enclosed dome of steel covered by 1,900 acrylic panels. Heralded as an architectural wonder, the American Pavilion turned out to be the most popular of all pavilions at Expo 67, attracting more than five million visitors. An eclectic collection of American culture and exhibits were housed within the steel dome, and the video above can offer you a peek inside.

And It Housed The World's Longest Escalator

One rather exciting/interesting aspect of the U.S. pavilion at Expo 67 was its incredibly long escalator, measuring out to be a full thirty-seven metres. At the time, it was the longest escalator ever built. Adding to the cool-but-mildly-over-the-top features of the pavilion was a miniature monorail that traveled through the complex.

The Biosphere Was A Gift From America

Kind of funny to think of the nation that is the United States giving a gift to Montreal, but that's exactly what happened on July 20th of 1967, when the good ol' US of A announced it would be donating its pavilion to our city. The building now known as the Biosphere then became the official property of Montreal on January 31, 1968, at precisely 11:59pm.

It Used To Be A Giant Flower Display

For a while, the Biosphere was left untouched, as the original American pavilion displays and exhibits were still housed within the metallic dome. During that rather long stretch of years, the building would serve as an annual "multi-storied display of flora and fauna by the Botanical Garden,” as noted by the Lewiston Journal in 1980.

The Biosphere's Burnt To A Crisp

You may have seen the pictures before, but what caused the Biosphere to catch aflame on May 20th of 1976? Well, it wasn't anything all that interesting, as the fire was started by welding work being performed on the acrylic covering of the dome. Within half an hour, the entire acrylic exterior of the Biosphere caught fire, a feature that was never fully repaired. And for years afterwards, the Biosphere remained unused, a mere relic of times passed.

Then Got Frozen Over

Because Mother Nature likes to keep things balanced, almost twenty years after the fire the Biosphere was torn about by an opposing element, namely ice. If you were in Montreal in the late 90s, then you could probably guess what caused the damage (answer: the Ice Storm of 98) that led to the complex being shut down (this was after it reopened, but more on that in a sec) for five whole months.

The Biosphere Nearly Became A Giant Playground

Back in 1977, only a year after the aforementioned fire that destroyed the building, the City of Montreal proposed the plan to make the giant steel framed structure a children’s playground, or if not that, then a terraced garden or an open-air theatre. Unfortunately, such projects were priced at around $2 million dollars, too much for the city to spend in that year, and apparently every year after that as well.

The Biosphere Used To Be A "Water Musuem"

It wasn't until 1990 did the Biosphere finally return to some semblance of its former glory, with Environment Canada buying the building for the price of $17.5 million. Reopened in 1995, Environment Canada turned the Biosphere into a "water musuem," an interactive learning space that focused on the ecosystems of the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence River regions.

It Is Now The Only Environment Musuem In North America

Then, in 2007, the Biosphere went under another rebranding, with Environment Canada recreating the building as an "environment musuem." Advertised as the only one of its kind on the Environment Canada website (if there are other environment museums on the continent, take it up with them) the modern Biosphere is devoted to educating visitors on major environmental issues relating to water and air quality, sustainable development, and ecotechnologies.

And Was A Big Star On Battlestar Galactica

All the sci-fi lovers will be happy to hear that the Biosphere is something of a minor celebrity, at least to fans of the old school Battlestar Galactica; the building appeared a lot during the episode titled "Greetings from Earth." Other on-screen sighting of the Biosphere include the 1979 film Quintet and an episode of Jacob-Two Two titled "Jacob Two Two and the Notorious Knit Knapper" (though the building was animated for the latter).

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