My husband and I took a trip to Montreal this Spring and had a great time. There are many great things about the city, which is known among many other things, to be rather forward-thinking when it comes to environmental practices.
On our outings around town it was hard to miss the Biosphere on the city’s landscape, and we finally found our way to the island and through maze-like directions (that steer you towards a giant amusement park oddly enough) to the Biosphere, an environmental education museum.
Now, I’m a DC-area native, meaning it rubs me a bit when I have to pay to enter a museum. I know, I know, that’s a DC thing – the free museum, that is – but it just never seems right to me to have to pay for a museum and perhaps as a result, I’m usually disappointed by the experience. Pulling up to the building, the sphere is quite impressive and cool nonetheless.
So the parking was $16. And the admission for two adults was $24. That’s how my visit started. I was given a little clippy thing to put on my clothing as my ticket I guess. I was then directed to start in one room (Room 1) and to proceed into Room 2 when I was done, and so on.
The exhibits seemed to revolve around a central theme of fashion. While Montreal is known for being a city of fashion, I was immediately skeptical about whether they could maintain this theme and still be serious about environmental education. Fashion and environmental education seem, on a value level, to be miles apart in my mind.
The first room contained a lot of information about fabrics, the pesticides and chemicals used to make them, and the energy used to care for them, and the waste they create when they are discarded. I briefly noticed a fact about Texas being the largest producer of cotton. Surely, I thought, China or India is a larger producer of cotton, but it must’ve said largest in the Americas or something like that. Tires, and other popular non-fashion items were discussed at length also.
The next room was a pretty cool interactive room for kids to learn about water’s properties, man-made effects on waterways, surface tension and buoyancy. We were slightly unprepared to get wet but there were several splashy surprises amongst the gears, suctions, wheels and toys. One portion, where we were playing with toy dams and widening channels, I noticed the explanation of why digging out harbors was bad for the environment was described as “it perturbs peoples’ lives” or something very similar. I chalked it up to poor translation and hoped most kids were learning a better French version. At least the families seemed to have great fun getting wet.
We moved on to another room; this one a lab-type room set up with an experiment board. Visitors were directed to research towards an answer to this question: “What is worse: Air pollution or water pollution?” What a question I thought!
Well, part of the lab room was activity #4: “Smile! Put on a bio-hazard suit and take a photo in front of the environmental disaster.” Yep, that was an actual activity. Of course we complied. We’re still not sure if it was hilarious or horrifying (looking at the photo I think its probably hilarious).
The rest of the lab activities were fairly interesting and would certainly interest any science-minded child. The end result was that air pollution is worse for people and water pollution is worse for the earth. Ok, sure.
The ONE (Outfits for a New Era) exhibit is a black room with displays of dresses made from excess materials with a blurb, or a video about the material and its problems with environmental soundness. Batteries, roofing materials, styrofoam material, computer mice, dog waste bags, Arizona Tea cans, paper, hair, and about a dozen more. It was a bit overwhelming to try to look at all the dresses and their blurbs, but one stood out: it was a dress in a glass-door refrigerator like one you’d find in a gas station. The dress was made from salmon skin and mussel shells and the blurb was about sustainable seafood.
There was a live environment room, glassed in from all sides, but the door was locked. Upstairs there was a lengthy exhibit of different energy production methods. Outside on the terrace was a shell of an electric car, and a cut away of an old 70s sedan with a look at the progression of cars over the decades, complete with a photo of a young woman with a voluptuous figure and a tiny top posing in front of a hot rod.
Looking over the balcony, one could see a bit of a green roof below. The view, from most sides, was beautiful. Overall, not a lot was learned, but there was a take-away brochure that gave a list of many good things to do at home for the environment (they should have included don’t pick up unnecessary brochures that you’ll just have to recycle later!).
♦♦♦ I went by the lady’s room on the way out and thought how nice it would be if they showed some examples of cleaning products that would be safer for the environment. When the toilet flushed, it seemed like 500 gallons of water was used for a basic flush – certainly a more powerful flush than I’ve ever witnessed before. Sigh, I thought.
The grounds were nice, and they apparently filter their water in the plantings in the garden.
If you find yourself in Montreal and have a day to kill driving around a little island looking for the Biosphere, check it out. But if you’ve only got one day and a twenty dollar bill in your pocket, spend it on a Cirque-style show at TOHU instead (the university for acrobats) – it was phenomenal and only cost $18! Plus they compost and recycle there.
[Montreal is a beautiful city – not to be missed!]
Alyssa works at multiple MOMs locations.