Montreal Eco-tourism

by Gregg Bell

Editor's Note: Gregg Bell is a founder of Save the Pine Bush, who is now on the Planning Board of Ithaca, NY.

In addition to all of the great cultural, eating, shopping, architectural and general joie de vivre reasons to visit Montréal, there is another - the environment. That's right. Anyone interested in the environment of the Pine Bush would enjoy three environmental attractions in the center of the French metropolis to our north.

The Insectarium de Montréal, the Jardin Botanique, and the Biodome are distinct, educational, fascinatinating places to visit. All three are located adjacent to each other in the eastern part of the city on rue Sherbrooke Est (at the Pie-IX Metro stop).

Of most direct connection to the Pine Bush is the Insectarium. Actually a new addition to the Botanical Garden, it is housed in a building built to look like an insect. (Unfortunately, you have to be in a balloon to notice this fact). The Insectarium is full of displays of gigantic, colorful, weird, and sometimes creepy insects. Cases of enormous tropical blue butterflies and color adapted moths line the walls. Many of the display cases are at eye level for children. Some displays of live insects, like the giant munching stag beetles are positioned startlingly between displays of dead mounted insects.

Throughout the Insectarium are educational themes linking different species in ways other than the traditional biological classifications. For example, a number of insects are linked by the fact that they disguise themselves by looking like different parts of plants, from walking sticks which look like sticks to butterflies which look astonishingly like dry leaves hanging from branches. While open only seasonally, near the Insectarium is a Québec butterfly house, displaying living butterflies. The Insectarium itself is open every day.

Covering 180 acres surrounded by city blocks, the Botanical Garden is a sprawling, amazing place. After some splashy show gardens, a dozen linked greenhouses begin the experience. Each has a theme from desert plants to orchids. I found the greenhouse of tropical economic plants interesting, presenting plants like date palms, cocoa and vanilla bushes. A bilingual children's area gives a fun, close up look at how parts of plants work, with giant stems accompanied by a catchy tune and giant playground-sized leaf cells.

Outside the greenhouses, large sections of gardens also have themes, from ever popular rose gardens to ever unpopular poisonous plants, from alpine environments to historic crop plants. Currently there is a delicate exhibit of 1000 cloth Chinese lanterns illuminated at night surrounding a pagoda and landscape pond in the largest Chinese garden outside of Asia. The Jardin Botanique is open daily. Adult admission is 8.75 $ CDN and includes the Insectarium admission. The phone number is (514) 872-1400.

Across a major street is the third environmental attraction, the Biodome. The Biodome is housed in a futuristic structure originally built as the Velodome, the bicycle racing venue for the 1976 Olympics. It is next to the Olympic Stadium, now home to rock concerts and the Expos baseball team. A huge indoor space, the Biodome recreates three world environments. Rather than feeling like a zoo, it more feels like being in the actual environments. It ranges from the high humidity tropics to the cool Arctic, with a Canadian boreal forest between. It is cleverly designed to seperate the visitor from the environment only where absolutely necessary. Passing through a darkened glass tunnel covered with bats is one experience where most visitors probably agree with being seperated from the animals on display. However seeing ducks on a pond in the boreal forest requires little seperation. Decending alongside the pond's glass wall lets one see the ducks swim below the surface as well as on it. This experience certainly opens up a fuller view of how ducks actually live.

A final treat at the Biodome was puffins. My wife and I are big fans of these amazing coastal birds which spend two years at a time at sea without touching land. With no warning, as we passed through an opening into the Biodome's arctic zone, there they were - puffins. We had posters of them on our walls, but we had never seen live puffins. And there they were walking around!

So there is your brief environmental attraction tour of Montréal. If you would like to visit these places, I would certainly encourage you to do so.

Printed November, 1997


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