Thoughts on the Biodome and Tour de Montréal

Montreal Olympic Park – photo credit to Jean-Pierre Bonin

I had the opportunity to pass by the Biodome and Tour de Montréal this past weekend, excellent activity for a rainy Saturday afternoon. Admittedly, I really just wanted to see the new baby lynxes, as did hundreds of other people. I was not disappointed, as I got to watch one of the cubs play with its lunch, an oversized rodent, for quite some time. Despite the gruesome undertones, it was a remarkably enjoyable sight to behold. You could say it was gruesomely cute.

Also gruesome are the many sturgeon floating around in the Great Lakes ecosystem fish tank, but I digress.

It had been twenty years since I had been to the Biodome and nothing had changed, it was remarkable – like stepping back in time to the early 1990s. The paint scheme was particularly glaring. The same can be said of the Olympic Tower, though it seemed to have not been aesthetically updated since 1987. Much of the Olympic complex had this vibe. Pie-IX station, for example, seems a bit of a relic to a bygone age. It’s massive size is overpowering given how few people actually use it, and the deep earth tones combined with the shape and size of the passageways and mezzanine make it seem more an ancient cave-temple than simple subway station. I find it to be a hauntingly beautiful station, topped off with a close access corridor used to stockpile old STM equipment. It was not so much like walking into the past, inasmuch as it felt like walking around something formerly significant.

The tower staff were few and far between, the funicular empty, the view incredible yet thoroughly unappreciated by three Japanese tourists in matching neon nylon coveralls. The uniforms of the girls manning the trinket and souvenir stand – seemingly the only thing to actually do once you’re up there – were old and ill-fitting. I was surprised there was no restaurant or café despite two additional off-limits floors intended for use as reception and conference space. I’ve never heard of anyone using the tower for such a purpose.

The interior of the observation deck was hopelessly out-dated and as mentioned prior, offered nothing to do nor really anything to learn, which I also found surprising. The Eiffel Tower has plaques and posters that will tell you much of the city’s history by pointing to various locations. We by contrast have old and yellowing photographs of the city that list out the names of buildings. There was no one to tell you about why the tower was built, what purpose it serves nor any technical information about the world’s tallest inclined tower. Again, I found all this to be very, very odd.

And yet, I’d still recommend it to just about anyone – the Olympic Tower is an exercise in time travel, and you’ll no doubt delight in the late-1980s interior design. Also – Montreal Pro Tip; if the line to get into the Biodome is too long (when we got there we were told we had a 45 minute wait), you can buy a combo ticket to the Tower and Biodome at the tower’s ticket kiosk for an additional seven bucks. There’s typically no line to go up the tower.

What would I do to improve this ‘espace pour vie’ you may be wondering? Well, for starters a new paint job, new signage, new uniforms, new decor and furniture. This can be applied to the Biodome inasmuch as the Tower and the grounds and buildings of the Olympic Park in general. Second, integrate the exhibit on the Montreal Olympics and the Olympic Stadium’s design into the space in a non-exclusive fashion (or at least use more of the available space to educate the public on these subjects). The tower’s observation deck could use a thorough remodelling to make it a more attractive attraction. Some additional services, like a modestly priced restaurant and/or café (or hell, even a night club) would likely generate some additional interest. Third, the cracks in the concrete have got to go. The exterior of the stadium, the walkways, the corridors – everywhere you look there are cracks, overgrown weeds, stains etc. Benches and railings are busted and twisted up, garbage cans deformed if present at all, and water fountains serve as makeshift garbage receptacles given that they haven’t been turned on in so long. Signage is outdated and all too foten the Olympic rings and our Olympic logo are faded and or scratched out. The whole place needs a facelift.

I’ll come back to this again tomorrow, there’s more to discuss.