News  Future of the Montreal Biosphere in doubt

Municipal party calls for action

After 25 years, the Montreal Biosphere is slated to close its doors because of a federal government budget decision.

The Biosphere is run by Environment Canada, and according to its website, is the only environmental museum in North America.

Featuring exhibits on climate change, ecosystems, and urban transportation, the Biosphere also presents a series of popular daily activities. Over 100,000 people visit the museum each year.

The Biosphere – a spectacular geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller – is housed in the former American Pavilion, built in 1967 for the Montreal Expo. It was repurposed in 1990 to become an environmental museum for the next twenty-five years.

Environment Canada signed a $17.5 million agreement with the City of Montreal to occupy the building and maintain it as a cultural facility. It is currently unclear whether the federal government will allow Environment Canada to fulfill its agreement with Montreal, which extends to 2015.

In June, all 25 Biosphere staff members were informed that their positions might be terminated in a round of federal layoffs that will affect some 5,000 public service jobs.

Quebec spokesperson for Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Patrick Leblanc told The Daily that it is Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s responsibility to keep the Biosphere open.

“Everything depends on the mayor,” Leblanc said, because “the biosphere is still the property of the city.”

Rather than maintaining the Biosphere as a public facility, Leblanc said that “[the federal government] wants to do something more private with the Biosphere,” and that it will likely end up as a private Environment Canada facility.

The West End Times has reported that it is to be transformed into a weather station.

Two months later, Vision Montréal – the official municipal opposition party – published a petition online that calls on Mayor Tremblay to protect the Biosphere from the budget cuts. The petition currently has 878 signatures.

The David Suzuki Foundation, PSAC, and l’Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Québec have also joined Vision Montréal in its quest to defend the Biosphere from closure.

Louise Harel, current leader of Vision Montréal and councilor for the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, said in a press release that Tremblay’s lack of action to protect the Biosphere is “unacceptable.”

The press release also called for Tremblay to pressure the federal government to respect the 25-year lease and argued that the dome should remain open to the public as part of Montreal’s cultural heritage.

Leblanc said that the PSAC has little idea of when the Biosphere will be closed, noting that “it could be years, or it could be months.”

Tremblay’s decision to allow the government to close the Biosphere, he said, “doesn’t respect the contract signed 20 years ago.”

Mayor Tremblay’s office could not be reached for comment at press time.