Ottawa-Canadian Museum of Nature

Our whirlwind Ottawa spring break trip included playing at the hotel pool, a short (free!) visit to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, and a too-quick trip to the beautiful Canadian Museum of Nature.

We had limited time to tour the whole thing but managed to cram a whole lot into about 2.5 hours. We’d left the toddler snoozing at the hotel with his dad (who I suspect, also snoozed), so our group was three adults, a baby, and two 7-year olds. 

Housed in the Victoria Memorial Museum Building which was built between 1905 and 1910, the building and museum underwent a major renovation starting in 2004 and reopened on May 22, 2010. The building was the first in Canada created to house a national museum and is now a national historic site, and is jaw-dropping impressive. Canadian animal and plant designs adorn the exterior and interior walls, and you’ll feel as though you’re entering a castle.
A very large, ornate castle.
Overrun with dinosaurs.
Inside is a grand marble staircase with intricate wooden railings, and the glass-enclosed Queens’ Lantern with its giant inflatable jellyfish hanging from the ceiling, and which also houses a staircase that we climbed up and down as we visited the museum’s different floors.  

The museum is dedicated to Canada’s natural history and science, and besides its permanent galleries depicting Canada’s animals, insects, oceans and more; it hosts special exhibitions like the upcoming Ultimate Dinosaurs from June 11th to September 5th, 2016.
As it was Quebec spring break when we visited it was quite busy, but even though the on site parking was full we were able to snag a street spot just around the corner. 
Because of limited time (and money. Ha!) we stuck to the permanent displays and paid $13 for me and $9 for the 7-year old. Kids 2 and under are free, and you can also buy the Canada’s Capitol Museums Passport which gives you access to 7 museums over 7 days. If you’re a member at one of the region’s participating libraries you can borrow a Nature Card family pass, OR, visit on Thursday evenings between 5 and 8pm or all Canada Day and get access to the permanent galleries completely FREE! Find out all the admission rates HERE.
After checking our coats under the grand staircase (at no charge, or there are also coin-operated lockers available) we veered to our right and entered the Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery (also known as the dinosaur rooms, Rrrraw!)
The boys were thrilled with all the buttons they could touch and screens they could watch, I was (as usual) walking briskly to keep up with them as they breezed through the rooms, while at the same time trying to touch and read everything myself.
 We walked through the swamp forest with its life-sized dinosaurs and watched the 10-minute movie in the Extinction Theatre. The movie has a sound and light show explaining how the dinosaurs disappeared and “may not be suitable for very young children” but we found it quite tame. psst you can watch the movie in English downstairs and French upstairs. 
Note: All the rooms and floors are stroller and wheelchair accessible with elevators to each floor, and strollers and wheelchairs are available to borrow at no charge.
Up a floor we explored the Water gallery with the giant hanging blue whale skeleton, the interactive research submersible, fish tanks, and the fun-for-toddlers Arctic Research Vessel. TONS of things to touch, books to read, and even uniforms to wear. I’d say this area is the most toddler-friendly area and there are seats for (tired) adults!

We visited the rest of the floors where we poked our heads through an ice flow and tried to not get eaten by polar bears, stuck our hands in the mouths of prehistoric beasts, built bug models out of Crayola Model Magic, peered apprehensively at the black widow spiders (ok, only I did that, I spared you a picture of the spider in the photo gallery), ogled the minerals and rocks (“those CAN’T be real!”) in the Earth gallery and walked through the replica limestone cave. 
You can read about all the exhibitions HERE and find ways to explore the gallery play areas with your kids HERE. Next time we’ll try out the Nature Trek mobile app as we do the tour. 
There are all sorts of things going on throughout the year including programs for adults, Nature Trade on Wednesday and Thursday nights, Science by Night, Sunday Brunch and more so make sure to check out the Activities and Events pages before planning your visit. 

Some handy notes:
-There are water fountains outside the washrooms on each floor. You CANNOT buy bottled water at the museum
-You CAN bring your own snacks or lunch and eat in the Nature Café on the main floor
-strollers are available to borrow (first come, first served)
-Family washrooms are located on the basement level, and on the second, third and fourth floors
-All washrooms have a changing/diaper station
-A nursing room is on the ground floor near the Nature Café
-The outdoor Landscapes of Canada garden will be opening summer 2016 and will have benches, a picnic area and pathways

I’d say this is a GREAT fun AND educational excursion for both kids and adults. And while there are certainly activities for toddlers, I was happy to have just had the older one with me because he really appreciated the science, and I didn’t have to pull The Destroyer down off of a dinosaur. 

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