a peek inside the fishbowl

21 May, 2010

Welcome again

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Easy ways to make kids happy|Ottawa|Publishing/writing/career stuff

 Canadian Museum of Nature

The other day I got an advance sneak peek at the newly renovated/restored/rebuilt/re-engineered Canadian Museum of Nature. The whole place smells like a coat of paint.

I was there along with hordes of media, many of who seemed to be as excited as I was to be there.

It’s hilarious, really, to see a bunch of giddy grown ups ogling the frogs and taking in the scene as if they were five years old again.

I, for one, have always enjoyed looking down at this view:

Looking down - the Canadian Museum of Nature

For those of you who don’t know, the museum has been under construction for about five years. And if you’ve attempted to visit any time between then and now you would have only been able to see part of its former splendour while stepping between scaffolding and being routed through the building in odd ways.

Earlier this year I found myself doing some communications work for the museum. I’d be writing about frogs one day, gems and minerals the next. I was in writerly nirvana! I also spent a lot of time reading about the changes and new exhibitions as well as the rich history of this grand old lady. It sounds corny to say that this building is a jewel, or refer to it as a national treasure, but its importance to our national identity and our collective history cannot be denied. This is our built heritage, and it deserves to be preserved and enjoyed.

So. How do you take old skool collections and displays and turn them into something interesting for people in the 21st century? I don’t know how but they did it. They managed to preserve the historical integrity of the building and still make it accessible and highly-relevant to modern day visitors.

Here we are chatting with the architects:

Chatting with the architects - the Canadian Museum of Nature

I hope the museum will be hosting architecture tours. I’ll be the first one to sign up. Barry Padolsky (in the middle) and Bruce Kuwabara (right) eloquently described the transformation of this beautiful building and its place in the next 100 years in the unfolding history of Ottawa.

Bruce said something interesting about this building, that it stays with you long after you leave. And it’s true. It’s more than just a pile of bricks. I bet everyone who’s visited has a good memory or story to tell.

The building was essentially demolished on the inside and rebuilt. The numbers are staggering and hard to fathom: 21 million lbs of concrete, tons of steel and who knows what else. It was extensive. And I’m not even going to get into the fact that the whole thing was originally built on clay and suffered from shifting and sinking as a result.

The glass lantern which sits over the exterior of the main entrance was, I’m sure, controversial. But I like it. I think it’s the perfect bridge between past and present… an homage to one and a clever nod to the other. 

The building is a fitting showcase for so much knowledge. There are so many stories to be told here, and so much to see.

When you go (and you MUST) do not miss:

AQUA. It’s a powerful 360° multimedia show designed by one of the founders of Cirque de Soliel. They use some really cool technology you may have never seen before, so do check it out.

AQUA - at the Canadian Museum of Nature 

AQUA - at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Frogs: a Chorus of Colours is an exhibition of live frogs and toads, and lots of them. You’ll walk away wondering how nature can manage to crank out so many wild colours and funny faces. They are like visitors from another planet. 

Feeling grumpy at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Frog exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature

The reconstructed skeleton of Tallulah the whale, in the RBC Blue Water Gallery.  She’s 19-metres long, and she wasn’t even full-grown when she died! You can read more about her journey, including an Ottawa-area burial to speed up her decomposition over here.

This photo does not do Tallulah any justice. She is a wonder.

Whale skeleton at the Canadian Museum of Nature

The huge freshwater aquarium of Ottawa-area fish is really neat too. Find out what’s under our water! And I’m not talking about broken glass and e.coli. :(

Animalium. I actually missed this part – I ran out of time! – but I am looking forward to reconnecting with all the hairy tarantulas, dung beetles and other not-so-cuddly members of our natural world. :)

And lets not forget all of the old faves which reopened in recent years: the bird gallery, the mammal gallery, the dinosaurs and the gems and minerals. All are equally spectacular. I am seriously considering a family membership this year.

This coming weekend is the grand reopening of the museum and there are a ton of great activities planned. Check out the calendar. I promise you will not want to miss this amazing occasion.

If you want to read more about the museum and the restorations I recommend you check out:

8 Responses to "Welcome again"

1 | Tatiana

May 21st, 2010 at 10:28 am


Wow – that’s exciting!! Thanks for sharing this with us :)

2 | Capital Mom

May 21st, 2010 at 11:45 am


I can’t wait to go. We are big fans.

3 | andrea

May 21st, 2010 at 11:50 am


Us too. You know I was thinking, there’s really something for everyone there, young and old. Birds, dinos, frogs, rocks and gems, insects and animals … the list is long! I couldn’t imagine someone NOT finding something of interest there.

I also meant to mention that they now have a great little cafe on site, with a pretty little side yard and outdoor seating.

I think we’re going to have to make a day trip!

4 | Binki

May 21st, 2010 at 1:30 pm


This is a world-class Natural Science (Nature) Museum. Have you been to the Natural Science part of the ROM? Kinda sad.

The new Canadian Nature Museum is interesting, fun, spectacular! I remember the opening of the Bird wing. Oh man I was excited. I loved the old bird section but the new displays are really outstanding. We live in Ottawa, so we’ll pass on the grand opening weekend. But we’ll be there soon. Can’t wait.

The natural world is wondrous thing.

5 | Charles A-M

May 21st, 2010 at 1:31 pm


I’m going tomorrow with a friend; I’m so excited!

I’m also kicking myself for not trying to get inside during the renovations. That would have been so cool!

6 | Kaitlin

May 22nd, 2010 at 9:05 pm


The opening was soooo busy and so much fun. Your photos totally do it justice! And I second the architectural tour request.

7 | Erica at KitchissippiKids

May 23rd, 2010 at 12:17 pm


We are dying to go – even more so since reading your article. Your photos are fabulous!

8 | Welcome to a new patron: the Museum of Nature >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 12th, 2012 at 7:22 am


[…] Have you been to the Museum since the rebuild? I wrote about it in May 2010. […]

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