September 29 - October 3, 1999
Maurice Richard Arena
Parc Olympique and Around It's best to take the Metro to Viau in order to view Montreal's most infamous architectural construction, the Parc Olympique. The main attraction, the Olympic Stadium, is known by Montrealers as The Big O for three reasons: its name, its circular shape and the fact that the city owes so much money for its construction - some call it the Money Pit. The main facilities for the 1976 Olympics were designed by Roger Taillibert, who was told that money was no object with Mayor Jean Drapeau declaring "It is as unlikely that Montreal will incur a debt as for a man to bear a child." The complex ended up costing $1.4 billion (of which $300 million are still outstanding), and was not even completed in time for the event. It's now the most heavily used stadium in the world, in a desperate attempt to pay the debts: the ceaseless schedule features everything from Pink Floyd concerts to regular baseball games played by the Expos, though they are now vying for a downtown ground. Daily guided tours are available (June to Aug 9am-5pm; Sept-May 12.40-3.40pm; $5.25) and you can opt for an extra multi-media, multiscreen show called Montreal...Voila! ($8)
The stadium's 168-metre tower is a major engineering feat: the highest inclining tower in the world, its main function was to hold a retractable 65-tonne roof. But the 45-minute process never really worked properly so in 1998 the stadium is having to fork out $50 million for a new immovable roof. The latest attraction here is a shuttle ride up the tower to an observation deck, with eighty-kilometre views and displays on the history of the complex (daily: May-Sept 10am-10pm; Oct-April 10am-5pm; $7.25). Close by is the Biodome (daily: May to mid-Sept 9am-8pm; mid-Sept to April 9am-6pm; $9.50, children $4.75), housed in a globe-shaped building that started life as a venue for cycling events during the Olympics. Now it's a stunning environmental museum comprising four ecosystems: tropical, Laurentian forest, maritime and polar. You can wander freely through the different zones, which are planted with appropriate flourishing vegetation and are inhabited by the relevant birds, animals and marine life. Watch out for the sloths in the tropical section; they move so slowly that their fur grows mould, unlike the lively monkeys that swing through the trees. You can look at a beaver dam and a take a televised peek inside its lodge, then move on to an impressive rock pool complete with foaming waves and a multicoloured population of anemones, crabs, lobsters and starfish. Gulls fly overhead and puffins bob and dive, while next door, in the Arctic zone, temperatures drop so low that penguins can slide down snow-covered slopes into the water. It's all highly educational and good fun; but try to avoid visiting on Sundays, when the entire population of Quebec and its children head there. Near the stadium and linked by a free shuttle bus from mid-May to mid-September is the Jardin Botanique de Montréal, 4101 Sherbrooke Est (daily: mid-June to early Sept 9am-8pm; early Sept to mid-June 9am-6pm; peak season $8.75, off season $6.75). Covering 73 hectares, they comprise some thirty different types of gardens from medicinal herbs to orchids. Highlights include a Japanese garden designed by the landscape architect Ken Nakajima, its ponds of water lilies bordered by greenish sculpted stone and crossed by delicate bridges. In 1991 the Japanese garden was joined by the Chinese garden, the largest of its kind outside China - over 1500 tonnes of materials from China were used to reproduce a replica of the Ming Gardens of fifteenth-century Shanghai. Other attractions in the gardens include the Insectarium (daily 9am-6pm; entry included in garden admission fee), a bug-shaped building containing insects of every shape and size. The museum is mainly geared towards children, but adults will learn a fascinating thing or two - like the fact that the housefly has more than five thousand muscles. The "Get an Eyeful" ticket ($20.75, children $11.75) is a one-day pass that allows entry to the Biodôme, Olympic tower, Jardin Botanique and Insectarium. Near the southwest corner of the gardens, on the junction of Pie-IX and Sherbrooke, is the stately mansion of the Château Dufresne (Wed-Sun 11am-5pm; $3), built in the 1910s for the Dufresne brothers - one an engineer, the other an industrialist - who were both instrumental in Montréal's expansion. Its impressive Edwardian interior houses post-1935 objets d'art, plus occasional special decorative-arts exhibitions.