The Montreal Planetarium — formerly known as the Dow Planetarium — was inaugurated on April 1, 1966 by Mr. Jean Drapeau, who was Montreal’s mayor at the time. This event marked the culmination of more than three years of planning and hard work by Dr. Pierre Gendron, who was past professor of chemistry and founding Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Ottawa, and an avid amateur astronomer.
At the time, Dr. Gendron was also president of the board of directors of Dow Breweries, which later became O’Keefe Breweries (since then absorbed by Molson Breweries). It was through his impetus that Dow Breweries decided to endow Montreal with a world class planetarium, add to the city’s touristic appeal, and to Expo 67.
Plans for the Planetarium were developed by the architectural firm of David-Barott-Boulva. The innovative design echoed an astronomical theme, evidenced by the exterior of the dome which resembles Saturn surrounded by its rings. The Planetarium was built at a cost of 1.2 million dollars and located on Chaboillez Square which once served as a parking area. In February 1966, the building and its projection equipment were ready as several lecturers busily prepared for the inaugural show, "New Skies for a New City," which premiered on April 4, 1966.
Since opening day, the Planetarium has produced more than 250 shows, attended by nearly six million spectators; and 50 lecturers have given more than 58,000 presentations in the Star-Theatre.
Today, as yesterday, the Planetarium continues to disseminate scientific and astronomical information to the public.
On December 10, 2007, Mayor of Montreal, Mr. Gérald Tremblay, officially announced that an agreement was reached between all three levels of government and a private partner, allowing the realization of the new Montreal Planetarium.
The new facilities will carry the name Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan de Montréal, underscoring the important contribution of the business group, which is investing four million dollars in private funds in this project.
The new Planetarium will be located on the Régie des installations olympiques site, next to the Montreal Biodome, making it possible to create tremendous synergy between the two institutions. The Biodome and Planetarium will share certain spaces and services, so that visitors can enjoy unforgettable experiences in the Biodome's ecosystems and the Planetarium's Star Theatre.
Locating the Planetarium in the east end of Montreal will connect it geographically with Montreal’s other Nature museums and strengthen Canada’s largest museum complex in natural sciences.
The Star Theatre is sure to be the heart of the new Planetarium. In addition to simulating the starry sky and all its movements, it will also be able to carry visitors off to the middle of a star cluster or to the surface of another planet. They will be immersed in an impressively realistic and detailed environment, thanks to the latest video and audio technology. New partnerships may be forged with the Montreal multimedia industry.
With the addition of laboratories and exhibition and activity rooms, the new Planetarium will be able to handle 800 visitors at a time.
Preliminary and construction phases will take about three years to complete. The new facilities are expected to open to the public in March 2012. In the meantime, the Montreal Planetarium will continue normal operations from its existing facilities in downtown Montreal, until further notice.