Located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, near the city’s Olympic Park, the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium is a museum and planetarium dedicated to offering an innovative approach to astronomy education. Along with the Montreal Biodome, Montreal Insectarium, and Montreal Botanical Garden, it is part of the Space for Life museum district, the largest consortium of natural sciences museums in Canada.
The planetarium is a successor to the Montréal Planetarium, which was commissioned in the 1960s as part of Mayor Jean Drapeau’s downtown cultural revitalization initiatives for the city. During its tenure at Chaboillez Square in downtown Montreal, the planetarium was host to over six million visitors and created more than 250 original productions, but by the early 2000s, updates to the facility became necessary to reflect advances in technology. Instead of revamping the existing facility, the decision was made to move the museum to the Olympic Park area as part of the Space for Life project, an effort to consolidate Montreal’s natural museums into one district. A new building, designed by Cardin + Ramirez et Associés, was commissioned to reflect Space for Life’s commitment to sustainable development. The new planetarium facility, a LEED Platinum certified building, officially opened in April 2013.
Facilities and Exhibits
Two dome theaters, the Milky Way Theatre and the Chaos Theatre, offer complementary presentations on themes of astronomy and the natural world. Visitors can choose between two double feature presentation sets, with one film in each lineup focusing on scientific aspects of space travel and research and the other immersing viewers in the artistry of the cosmos. All presentations are offered in both French and English.
Films rotate on an annual or biannual basis, with favorites such as National Geographic’s Asteroid: Mission Extreme and the American Museum of Natural History's Dark Universe on cycle. The facility also produces original films periodically, including 2015’s Aurorae, which set over 179,000 images of the Northern Lights collected by planetarium staff to music and educational commentary. In December 2015, Space for Life and the National Film Board of Canada signed an agreement to produce a series of original scientific films, and the 2017 season planetarium offering Kyma, Power of Waves is the first result of this collaboration.
In addition to its theaters, the planetarium is also home to a permanent exhibit, Exo: Our Search for Life in the Universe. Themed around the scientific curiosity and conversations about the origins of life on Earth, the large multimedia exhibit is entirely digital. Large touchscreens and interactive game tables offer opportunities for visitors to learn about the history of the universe, the evolution of Earth’s geology and biology, and the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. The exhibit also contains the largest collection of meteorites in Quebec, with over 300 pieces on display.
Several pieces of artwork from the original Montréal Planetarium were moved after its closing and are now on display at the Rio Tinto Alcan. A statue commemorating Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus is a replica of a work by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. Originally created for the Man the Explorer pavilion at Montreal’s Expo 67, it now stands on the grounds outside the planetarium, along with a large sundial created by Dutch artist Herman J. van der Heide, which was a gift to the city for its 325th anniversary by the citizens of Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Another work, The Ingot by Montreal sculptor Norman Slater, is currently on loan to the facility and is located inside. Created for the Exposition internationale de Bruxelles in 1958, the piece is made from an aluminum ingot, a material known for its highly recyclable versatility. A participatory digital artwork installation, Choreographies for Humans and Stars, adorns the facade of the building, encouraging visitors to interact with the museum with movement tracking software that affects the installation’s lighting.
Space for Life Complex
Established in 2011 as a successor to the Montreal Nature Museums organization, the Space for Life complex aims to bring together Montreal’s natural sciences museums in a sustainable, collaborative project celebrating biodiversity. Through its exhibits and its conservation, research, and education efforts, the museum complex strives to invite visitors to reimagine the connection between humans and nature. Expansions to the complex are planned through 2019, including a Grande Place common space linking the four institutions.
The complex offers a variety of educational programming, including school tours of all of the facilities and themed day camps for ages 7-14. All of the complex’s institutions are committed to ongoing biodiversity research, with an emphasis on conservation, bioengineering, sustainable development, and ecosystem management for populated areas.
4801 Pierre-de Coubertin Ave, Montreal, QC H1V 3N4, Canada