Photo du jour – Biosphere Burning


The biosphere’s outer covering burned on May 20th, 1976, during structural repairs. Today’s photo du jour is courtesy of an Archives Canada online homage to Expo 67. Thanks for the link Lee.


  1. It used to have an exterior covering? Must of looked like the Death Star…

  2. A metaphore to what Montreal would become in the following 25 years.

  3. Totally agree, it looks so much like an image taken out of a sci-fi film!!!

  4. The dome was supposed to be bolted together. This would make it removable at the end of Expo 67. But the Expo organizers said “no bolts, you must weld it.”

    Being welded, it couldn’t be disassembled at the end of Expo. But, this meant that repairs were not made with wrenches, but with more welding. Welding that had to occur when the Dome was wearing it’s final sheath: the flammable plastic covering.

    Hmmm, welding = sparks. Sparks = fire risk. Therefore repairs = conflagration.

  5. A couple of us went there one morning after an all nighter. It was just a few days later. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen. It wasn’t pitch black but did have what could only be scorchmarks all over it. And it was what it would be for another 15 years or so. Was a pretty cool abandonment as far as they go. Of course, there was no point in trying to hide if the cops came around. Lots of student films were shot in the shell. The “covering” was just glass.

  6. Yea, the metaphor, the Olympic bills were just starting to come in and this, probably the greatest symbol of Expo, goes up in smoke.

  7. No, it was not covered with glass, but with polymère (I don’t know the term in english), a plastic material that burned in an instant.

  8. sid, I’ve never heard such a succinct summary of the decision making process that went into the dome, and therefore, the fire.

    Ironically (if that is the right word) I read on an Expo 67 site that the theme pavilions were supposed to be welded, but that there weren’t enough welders to do the job in time. And so the massive steel structures were bolted together and apparently needed to be built thicker than originally planned, with more girders or something, causing the theme pavilion design to be compromised….

  9. Plastic it was. I had never heard that one before, Shawn. Considering how many people thought Expo would never happen, there is probably more interesting compromises.

  10. Expo 67 was wonderful! So much hope! the bright future still ahead! Left legacies, both good and bad.

    At one time Pont Jacques Cartier/the Harbour Bridge had the two outside lanes reserved for tramways to the South shore and were open lattice work.

    Thru the early Sixties a seemingly solid line of dump trucks were constantly employed to move fill to the then-future Expo site, ruining the bridge deck and causing all sorts of traffic delays.

    In the early sixties they converted the reduntant Tramways spaces for an additional traffic lane in both directions.

    A good thing that did come out of Expo 67 for the commuters.

    Expo 67, the last great World’s Fair, and it made Montreal look very good!

  11. Superb photo, thanks. It’s the first I have seen of this event.
    Can you tell where the original is in Archives Canada online homage to Expo 67? I couldn’t find it.

    Although this very page – in spacingmontreal – is already referenced in Wikipedia, wow:

    While searching, I also found interesting images about the original Pavilion, with its most thrilling view:
    found here:

    and also its most.. how can I say … zombiefied?
    found here:

    Hi Bruno- the photo can be found specifically at this page. Thanks for all the links!!


  12. I think it was August 31st, 1976, not May 20th.

    Hi all–

    I found this write-up on the Biosphere from its general website:

    “The Biosphère

    This way of thinking — global and ecological before those terms had coined — inspired Environment Canada and the City of Montreal to set up the Biosphère. Despite its undeniable advantages — its lightweight structure, strength and elegance — Buckminster Fuller’s dome was not suited to the Canadian climate. Inside, it was practically impossible to heat and the wide seasonal variations in temperature caused the metal tubes and acrylic outer panels to expand and contract quite considerably. Leaks were common. In fact, it was a welding operation during the maintenance of the outer covering, on May 20, 1976, that caused the spectacular fire which destroyed the entire acrylic shell in just half an hour, although the structure itself remained intact. After the fire, the dome was more or less abandoned for fifteen years, but was literally reborn from its ashes with the beginning of restoration work in 1992. The Canadian government, with the City of Montreal, invested $17.5 million to construct a unique museum and environmental observation centre dedicated to water, the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes ecosystem, and sustainable development.Quebec engineers and architects, Blouin, Faucher, Aubertin, Brodeur, Gauthier, with Desnoyer, Mercure et Associés, architects, completely redesigned the layout of the dome to suit its new vocation. For financial reasons, it was decided to restore Aerial view of the Biosphèrethe structure but not to replace the acrylic covering because of the cost of heating and air conditioning the vast inner space. The steel tubes were treated with anti-corrosive paint to protect them from the elements. A new building was erected inside the dome, incorporating three of the American pavilion’s four original platforms. The Biosphere opened on June 6, 1995, World Environment Day, and became Canada’s first Ecowatch Centre. The Biosphere’s mission, in keeping with its creator’s philosophy, is to instil in the public a responsible, action-oriented attitude towards water in general and the St. Lawrence–Great Lakes ecosystem in particular. The building was a hit with the critics right from the start. It received the 1995 Award for Excellence from the Ordre des architectes du Québec in the Architectural Conservation category.”


  13. Unfortunately, this is a great historical pic documenting a real tragedy. The giant Bucky ball is still a beautiful site and an international attraction, another beauty that makes Montreal so unique and perfect.

  14. Over the years, i often wondered if any photos of the fire existed. Since it took barely 20-30 minutes to burn, i am not surprised that so few were taken (considering this was a pre-digital era).

    Yes, when i finally did see this photo, i had to do a double take.

    I believe it is one of the largest “bucky balls” in existence. I had always thought that the framework was made of aluminum, and wondered why it hadn’t collapsed under the heat of the fire, but now that i see that it had a (welded) steel frame, i understand why it still stands,

    I was barely 16 when i visited this US pavilion. Truly remarkable, like the rest of Expo ’67. A summer to be remembered!

  15. It was definitely ’76 because I watched the fire from Champlain College across the river. Really the only time I used the library! It didn’t take long to burn so I’m surprised there were photos taken.

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