Last month, we were thrilled to host my sister and her young family over Thanksgiving weekend. Since they had travelled from Edmonton to Ottawa – a cross-Canada trip they haven’t had the chance to take for several years – we packed in a lot of fun activities as we reaquainted them with the nation’s capital.
One of the highlights for the kids – both our two girls and their two boys – was a visit to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. While it wasn’t a new destination for my own kids, this visit had a different flavour to it.
A large part of our fun happened before we even set foot in the museum – while we were enjoying the grounds. Autumn is such a glorious time to visit Ottawa, and this museum definitely boasts one of the best views of the city’s splendour on a crisp-but-sunny fall day. After enjoying a picnic lunch (leftover turkey sandwiches, of course!), the little cousins had a blast running around the spacious green space behind the museum. The large, graduated rocks lining the Ottawa River also made for a fun climbing area. I couldn’t resist staging a bit of an impromptu photo shoot – using Parliament Hill as the scenic backdrop.
After paying for our tickets, we started exploring inside the Children’s Museum. My girls simply can’t get enough of the place, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Designed to serve as a “trip around the world,” the Children’s Museum features tons of interactive areas that introduce kids to different cultures and countries.
Each child receives a paper “passport” that can be stamped at the various stations around the museum; the kids have a lot of fun finding the correct page for each ink stamp. Between exploring different modes of transportation, moving cargo on a full-sized ship and climbing on the back of a camel, this simulated adventure zone can keep most kids happy for close to two hours.
If jumping continents and criss-crossing oceans starts to lose its lustre, however, take the kids into the arts and crafts room inside the Children’s Museum. There is always at least one enthusiastic staff member ready and waiting to introduce newcomers to the featured craft, which fittingly tends to have a cultural spin to it. The day we were there, the artistic activities were centred around the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that focuses on praying for and remembering family members who have died. While it sounds creepy to the uninitiated, there is often a very festive and upbeat atmosphere to the holiday, so the kids were tasked with making colourful paper cut-outs that might be used as decoration. It was a fun activity for the older – and more dexterous – set of cousins, but a bit tedious for my kindergartener.
While the kids could have played on indefinitely in the Children’s Museum, my sister wanted to get a taste of the other exhibition galleries inside the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The museum’s Grand Hall – located on level one – is a must-see for first-time visitors. With its towering totem poles and Pacific Coast Indian house facades, it is equal parts impressive and informative. In fact, the museum is home to the world’s largest and finest collection of totem poles.
Soon after our visit, I learned that the Canadian Museum of Civilization is on the brink of some major changes. It was recently announced that the museum’s name will be changed to the Canadian Museum of History. Over the next five years, the institution will be transformed to reflect the national achievements and accomplishments that have shaped our country, including the “Last Spike” from the construction of the Canada Pacific Railway, Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s hockey jersey and items from Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. A massive renovation – scheduled to be completed before Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 – intends to provide the public with the opportunity to appreciate how Canada’s identity has been shaped over the course of our history.
Perhaps when my sister has collected enough Aeroplan miles for her family of four to fly out to Ottawa again, it will be time to check out the new collections at the soon-to-be Canadian Museum of History.