- October 29, 2019 - Space for Life
I make my way quickly along the damp pathways of the Jardin botanique de Montréal, as though I wish I could get ahead of the leaves swirling down from the exposed branches to the dull grey gravel. It’s a wasted effort, and I have the impression I’m breaking an unwritten rule. There are invisible signs where I read: “Hurrying prohibited. Here, only children have the right to run.” In any case, I won’t recapture summer. The last petals are uncaringly letting themselves be pelted by the cold rain.
I want to be clear: this place is always wonderful, even under the snow. But I’m here to indulge my passion: photographing insects up close. But all that’s left are some bumblebees numb from the cold. Oh, and one poor ladybug, not moving, probably dead, maybe zombified by a parasitoid wasp the same type as the one described a few years ago by students of the entomologist Jacques Brodeur – who was based at the Jardin botanique himself.
Looking for bugs
Because the Jardin botanique and the Space for Life museums are not just a delightful setting for naturalists at heart. Research also gets done there, the real thing, led by scientists in the flesh, though not always wearing lab coats. I’m bound to have more luck with those particular bugs!
When they’re no longer on the ground during the summer, they can be found in certain hiding places emulating their natural environment: the Insectarium, the Biodôme.* I hear there are also a few that have settled in the Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan ! Or else the Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV), which the Biodiversity Center belongs to. That institution’s roots are in a collaboration between Université de Montréal and the Jardin botanique that was started in 1931 by Brother Marie-Victorin.
“I’d like to know why all these things are beautiful”
That was the motto of the school for kids founded at the Jardin botanique by Marcelle Gauvreau, a very close friend of Brother Marie-Victorin. This spirit of discovery, this eagerness to convey knowledge to a broad public, is still what drives Space for Life. Michel Labrecque told me as much. Not Mr. Olympic Stadium, but the curator of the Jardin botanique, who’s also a researcher at the IRBV.
I had a chance to ask him some questions about his work, his past, about what shaped his outlook as a scientist. I also had privileged access to entomologist Maxime Larrivée, director of the Insectarium, who confided that he’d had to make a wrenching decision: a career as a professional athlete, or one in science. He chose butterflies.
The oceanographer Nathalie Rose Le François, researcher at the Biodôme, demonstrated for me beyond all doubt that originality and opportunism are great qualities, evolutionary advantages for female researchers. Olivier Hernandez, director of the Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan, told me he left France to settle in Québec in the hope of working alongside Hubert Reeves. As Mr. Reeves spends a lot of his time in France, their eyes mostly meet when they look up at the sky!
At night, all our bugs get the green light!
I’m joking when I affectionately call them my bugs, but I hesitate to perpetuate the myth about UFO researchers who stray from the norm. Would I be disappointing you if I stated that scientists are human beings like anyone else, with their obsessions and mannerisms that irritate those close to them, and everything that makes them tritely extraordinary? I invite you to find out for yourselves, on November 15, at the first edition of Researchers’ Night. At 7 p.m., the doors of the Planétarium are opening so that you can enjoy 1,001 encounters with scientists who’ll share their stories with humor and emotion, and in a festive atmosphere. Bring your curiosity!
*The Insectarium and the Biodôme are closed for work. Reopening is scheduled for spring 2020 for the Biodôme and summer 2021 for the Insectarium.
Rendezvous November 15 at 7 p.m.!
A one-of-a-kind and unprecedented opportunity to rub shoulders with a range of researchers, who’ll be lifting the curtain on the worlds they work in day after day!