a peek inside the fishbowl

03 Mar, 2010

Ottawa families and museum memberships

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Easy ways to make kids happy

We just bought a family membership to the National Gallery here in Ottawa. I’ve written about our experiences at the Gallery here before. To summarize: it’s all good.

There is an excellent, you-don’t-want-to-miss exhibition at the Gallery on right now. It is immensely creative and will challenge your traditional ideas of art**. The artist is David Hoffos (official website here).

The girls were stunned (ok, we all were). Imagine walking into a dark room. It’s quiet. Your eyes take a moment to adjust. You follow along a wide corridor, peeking into small windows to see various scenes made up of reflected video loops and miniature replicas of homes/furniture/landscapes. Mind you, we needed to drag around a stepstool for Sarah (which was helpfully provided), but it was, in a word, brilliant.

** Sidebar: I’m sure the deeper artistic meaning behind this installation was explained in an paragraph or two. Can I tell you a secret? I rarely read artist statements. I skip over them because, honestly, it all just sounds like it’s made up. What’s important to me is this: is it different? Is it interesting? Is it memorable? Yes, yes, and yes.

Anyway, yes, the membership. I love having a membership. It gives me the freedom to waltz in and out of the Gallery at will. I never feel cranky or pressured to Make The Most of Our Visit Because We Shelled Out The Big Bucks. Memberships come in handy when you are towing small people around. As we all know, small people’s moods (ahem, as well as our own) can turn on a dime.

  • Meltdown? Leave.
  • Hungry? Leave.
  • [insert whatever emergency you want here] Leave.

I like having the freedom to focus on one section of the Gallery really well and skipping everything else.  It’s just much more manageable that way.

The family membership at the Gallery is $95/year. It has some cool benefits (at least to me):

  • We don’t pay admission to the permanent collection and to special exhibitions
  • Entrance for members is totally “fast track.” (We don’t pay, but do need to check in.) This has come in amazingly handy on the last day of a visiting exhibition. The last time this happened was during the Ron Mueck exhibit. (Remember the giant baby head?) The line up was out the door, past Maman and down the street.
  • 15% discount at the gift shop (the Gallery has an amazing gift shop)
  • $2 off parking
  • exclusive invitations to Members’ Evenings (although I have yet to go to one)

We haven’t bought memberships to any other places here in town. We just don’t go often enough to justify it, but this all got me thinking about the other kid-friendly galleries and museums in Ottawa and how they compared.

Did you realize that a $72 household/family membership gives you unlimited admission to the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Canada Aviation Museum and the Canada Agriculture Museum at the Central Experimental Farm? (!) More info on that can be found here.

The other biggies in town:

By way of FYI, museum memberships make great gifts. My mother bought our first membership to the National Gallery. (Thanks mom!) It is truly the gift that keeps giving.

I know there are families out there who would LIKE to buy a museum pass but just can’t afford it. Here in Ottawa, free museum passes are available from the public library but it is a bit of a good news/bad news kind of situation. Good news is that all you need is a library card. Bad news: the wait list is really long. So if you want to take advantage of this wonderful program at some point in the future, put your name down now.

What about you? Have you invested in a museum membership? Why or why not? Which museums are your favourite destinations?

12 Responses to "Ottawa families and museum memberships"

1 | Miss Vicky

March 3rd, 2010 at 11:15 am


We had the Sci Tech/Agriculture/Aviation museum pass last year and it was great. We’ll definitely be renewing. I think I’ll save the Gallery until they are a bit older – we don’t go enough to make it worthwhile. I’d definitely consider any of the others. And yes, they do make great gifts!

Also, the Sci Tech etc passes give you discounts and promotions at museums across the country – a huge list. Very handy if you travel with your kids (which reminds me, I should review the list for our upcoming BC trip!)

What I like about it is we can decide at the drop of a hat to go – and yes, if we only stay 1/2 hour for whatever reason, it’s no big deal. We can always go back

2 | Just An Ottawa Dad

March 3rd, 2010 at 11:31 am


We have the Sci Tech/Agriculture/Aviation membership. I love it. It’s a regular place to hit during the winter on a Sunday morning.

We did have the Civilization/Children’s Museum membership, but found it inconvenient to get to, and parking was rather expensive…

3 | Lynn

March 3rd, 2010 at 12:04 pm


We’ve had the science/agriculture/aviation pass for the past three years, I think. It’s been well worth while — we usually visit agriculture and aviation once each, but we go to the science museum all the time, at least four or five times a year. I love the pass for all the same reasons you suggested — the freedom to just go whenever you feel like it, and to stay as long as you want and not feel like you have to push it out to a full day if everyone is not in the mood.

We have also had an annual pass in the past to Ray’s Reptiles, which was quite worth it. I love their facility in that it’s so hands on and interactive. The year we had the pass we went out there at least four or five times and took everyone who came to visit us from out of town. I think a pass there also gives you a birthday party discount so that’s cool.

The price on the sci/agri pass is going up, by the way, at the end of March. I think it will be $95 after March 30 — we got a notice in the mail since we are current members.

This year we are trying to decide which passes to buy – we are in the mood for something new and different. We love the Museum of Nature but we usually take advantage of their “free on Saturday mornings” program. I assume that will be ending once it has its grand opening in May — so if the rest of the museum is worth it, we might make it our pass for the year.

4 | Brie

March 3rd, 2010 at 12:58 pm


We have a pass to the Museum of Nature and I love it. It is close to our house so I go at least once a week. My 3 year old loves it, but I also go a lot with my 18 month old while his sister is at school. There are still lots of things for a little one to do. Neither of them have gotten tired of it yet.

5 | Binky

March 3rd, 2010 at 1:18 pm


During our last visit, we came very close to checking out the show you recommend (Hoffos) but I had no idea what was in that dark room, so we skipped over it. There should be a “not kid friendly” notice at the entrance of any shock-art or sex-art show. If it’s shock-art for adults, the parents with kids should be advised. (imho). Like movie ratings.

6 | Stephanie

March 3rd, 2010 at 5:27 pm


We have the SciTech/Agr/Aviation pass, and use it a lot. In the winter we go to SciTech at least 6 times, and during the summer we go to the Agri museum almost weekly. Our son loves the animals and they have a decent park/play area (that they are apparently renovating and making even better this year).

We may get the Nature pass, but right now it’s FREE every Saturday morning until Apr 24, so we’ll wait until then.

7 | coffeewithjulie

March 4th, 2010 at 7:52 am


For the several years that my DD was obsessed with dinosaurs, we had a museum pass to the Museum of Nature. It was worth every penny because we went at least twice a month. I find visiting a museum to be such an awesome way to spend half a day. And the museum stores are always great, too!

8 | Erin

March 4th, 2010 at 9:51 am


We’ve got memberships for Agr/Av/Tech, National Gallery and Civilization. Our kids are still quite small ( 4.5 and 1.5) but I still think the memberships are well worth it. We often meet friends at the museums – like a playdate but without the house tidying!

9 | andrea

March 4th, 2010 at 9:54 am


You make an excellent point Erin, PLAYDATES. Museums are a great place to get together for a playdate!

10 | Kaitlin

March 4th, 2010 at 1:43 pm



I was so excited when you mentioned the David Hoffos’ show, but looking at his website and the NGC website, it seems to have ended on February 14th. Just thought you might want to add an addendum to the post, if that’s the case.

11 | Cath

March 4th, 2010 at 3:06 pm


we have a number of these passes, although not the gallery yet. we love them for all the reasons you mention (we’ve been to the farm 3 times this week because there’s been a new baby every time we’ve gone!), as well as because they’re pretty flexible about my parents using the pass as well if they have the kids.

As someone else mentioned, now’s a great time to renew the membership — if you buy one for 2 or three years, you only have to pay the current rate.

12 | suze

March 11th, 2010 at 8:40 am


just an fyi — if you can’t afford a membership, and want to get one from the library, you can sometimes stalk the passes that are on “Express Read”. Check on the computer to see if they’re in, and then hurry to that branch. Yesterday I saw the Gallery one and the “Museum Pass” (Bytown, Nepean, Pinhey, etc) on Express Read at Centennial.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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