Regular Spot Cool Stuff travel blog readers might remember our review of Beijing’s cool Happy Magic water park, which is housed inside a building originally constructed to host the swimming events at the 2008 Beijing Games.
But it isn’t the only structure that was originally built for an Olympics but that’s used today for a completely different purpose. Also in that category is the Montreal Biodome. It was originally built as a venue for the track cycling and judo events of the 1976 Olympic Games. Today, the dome is home to fascinating replicas of various ecosystems around the Americas.
Family travel in Montreal
This post is part of a series featuring cool Montreal family travel ideas. As with everything we write in the Spot Cool Stuff family travel section, all of the Montreal attractions and activities described in this series are as fun and interesting for adults as they are for kids. Merci to Tourisme Montreal for sponsoring their posts and providing expert advice. Check out their travel database to virtually explore Montreal’s multitude of other offerings.
Five ecosystems to be specific: a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian maple forest and ecosystems from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Labrador Coast and the sub-Antarctic islands off the tip of South America.
You’ll see live animals native to each ecosystem, though the Montreal Biodome is not really a zoo. There are no cages. Elevated walking paths and natural-looking barriers keep the humans separated from the animals. Or, they do mostly — when we went to the Biodome we saw a large exotic bird jump up into a group of surprised visitors and start wandering amongst the people! The point being: At the Biodome you feel like you are sharing a space with the animals.
Though there are plenty of fish, sting rays, penguins and other aquatic life that can be spotted behind glass, the Biodome isn’t an aquarium either. At a traditional aquarium the emphasis is on the underwater life. At the Biodome you get to see how a land-and-water ecosystem looks like above ground. Then you get to walk down and see how it looks below the water’s surface. Very cool.
[ ALSO ON SCS: The Cool Website Where Kids Design Their Own Stuffed Animals ]
The Montreal Biodome might be best describe as a sort of naturalists’ teleportation machine. In the tropical rainforest ecosystem, for instance, you really do feel like you are in a rainforest. The birds, fish, reptiles, mamals and even insects (minus mosquitoes, thankfully) are all ones you’d find in a rainforest. It’s hot and humid, like a rainforest. The artificial sunlight mimics what you’d experience in a rainforest. It even sounds like a rainforest.
And all of it is very family-friendly. Kids love it. Most parents do to.
A brief synopsis of the Biodome’s ecosystems:
The largest of the Biodome’s ecosystems, both in terms of the number of species and physical size. Animal highlights include the yellow anaconda, two-toed sloth, caiman and golden lion tamarin (a small monkey whose population has sadly dwindled down to about 1,000). The area, a mini replica of a valley in Costa Rica, features a cave on one end, a marsh on the other and a river that flows between them.
Laurentian Maple Forest
Laurentian forests are found in the United States, Europe and even parts of Asia. But the Montreal Biodome has, for obvious reasons, decided to model their habitat on a forest in Quebec. The temperature inside this part of the Biodome changes throughout the year, reaching a high of 24° C (75° F) in the summer and a low of 4°C (39° F) in the winter. Real Laurentian forests get much colder than that, of course. But the Biodome’s temperature and artificial sunlight changes are enough to convince the trees to shed their leafs in autumn and bloom in the spring. Among the animals you’ll spot here: lynx (below pic), beaver and porcupine.
Gulf of St. Lawrence
You’ll enter the Biodome’s Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystem “underground” and see cod, sharks, skate, salmon, starfish and the like. Then you’ll go up to the “land” (photo below) and take in a mostly ordinary coastal view. It makes you wonder how many times before you’ve looked out over an ocean clueless at all that was going on just below the water’s surface.
Atlantic puffins get most of the attention in the Biodome’s small replica of the northern Newfoundland coast. (The murres and guillemots, also on display, must get jealous.) This exhibit is kept quite dark during the winter time. That’s because all the Biodome’s ecosystems are given light conditions similar to the natural cycle in the place they are based on. The Labrador Coast ecosystem shares a space with . . .
. . . the ecosystem for the sub-Antarctic island (even though they are located on opposite poles of the planet). The unquestioned highlight here are the penguins. You’ll see three types: gentoo, king and macaroni penguins.
Cool tip: The penguins think that little toes are food. Unsock your baby, hold their bare feet up to the glass and you’ll soon get a penguin visitor.
Planning your trip to the Montreal Biodome:
Getting there: A parking pass, $12 per day, is valid for lots at the Insectarium, Botanical Gardens and planetarium too. Alternatively, take the subway to the Pie-IX station. Click here for more.
For families: Small shopping cart-like strollers are available for free — ask at the information desk across from the ticket counter.
If you go: Show up at 9am sharp, when the gardens open, to beat the crowds.
For your bookshelf: The Montreal Olympics: An Insider’s View of Organizing a Self-Financing Games
More Montreal travel from Spot Cool Stuff:
An Overview of Montreal Family Travel Ideas (That Are Fun For Adults Too!)
The Rowdy, Medieval fare at the L’Auberge du Dragon Rouge Restaurant
The Living Sculptures at the Montreal Botanical Gardens
A Review of the Marriott Chateau Champlain: The Best Hotel Room View in Montreal