Going Out

Dinosaurs, butterflies, and more stuff to see (virtually) at city museums

With spring weather rolling in, but events and facilities still closed, people are starting to feel the effects of isolation. How can individuals keep busy while stuck inside? Fortunately, city museums are making the most of the situation to keep its visitors entertained and educated — virtually. From fun and educational exhibitions, tours, videos, and games, Ottawans have a variety of content at their fingertips, all accessible from home. Along the way, we can see curatorial innovation at work.

When the Canadian Museum of Nature closed its doors on March 14, it was nearing the end of its winter exhibition, “Me & My Microbes,” which explores the trillions of microorganisms that call our bodies home. Billboards for the event depicted a dirty hand; kind of a turn-off in a Covid-19 era. They were promptly updated into a reminder for the public to “Wash Your Hands”. 

The Museum of Nature quickly switched up its banners to help spread the #washyourhands message

“That was the first day of the Ontario March Break — which is traditionally our single busiest week,” says marketing director John Swettenham. “Luckily, the museum is deeply engaged in so many things that we can engage the public with, online from their homes.” 

The museum also donated 6,000 medical gloves (normally used to handle cryobank samples and extract fossils) to Ottawa and Gatineau hospitals, and recently lit its breathtaking glass space, the Queen’s Lantern, blue as a symbolic thank-you to the many healthcare personnel working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Queen’s Lantern, lit up in blue as a way to thank healthcare workers.

And the museum keeping active on social media, and encouraging its community to do the same. “We really wanted to keep people inspired. You need to be inspired by nature to love and protect it, and sustainable nature depends on caring for it,” Swettenham says, adding that focusing on nature can also calm people during these stressful times. He suggests nature lovers explore the interactive games and printable colouring pages, and to check out the hashtag #NatureSocial for photo challenges and projects.

John Swettenham, marketing director for the Canada Museum of Nature, offers an informational and entertaining tour for those missing the museum

The museum’s YouTube channel also contains nature talks, a how-to video for making origami butterflies, and virtual tours in English led by Swettenham (and in French by multimedia producer Pierre Poirier). The 30-minute tour sees Swettenham walk through the museum’s fossil gallery (Canada’s first ever, opened in 1913). He shares facts about the gallery, such as how the building became Parliament for a while after the Parliament Hill fire in 1916, and how the Senate once sat where the dinosaur forest section is now. He then brings the viewer through the mammal gallery, geography section, all the way to the bright butterfly solarium. 

There’s also a live livestream for all ages with Jordan Mallon, palaeontologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature; watch as he shows some favourites from his own fossil collection and  answer questions about dinosaurs and palaeontology.

“There are so many other institutions and organizations stepping up. There’s lots of nature content out there for the public,” says Swettenham. “We’re really proud of our staff and what we’ve done to respond to the situation.” 

Many other Ottawa museums are also offering online content to keep Ottawans engaged this spring. Here’s a quick roundup:

The Canadian Museum of History offers a virtual interactive tour through the Canadian History Hall, as well as a wide variety of online exhibitions. Click your way through the different galleries and gaze upon historical artifacts as if you were there yourself.

The Canadian War Museum offers many online exhibitions that provide education about Canada’s military history. The museum’s classic interactive adventure “Over The Top,” puts you into the trenches of the First World War and challenges you with life-or-death decisions.

You can view the National Art Gallery‘s Photostories Canada, a collection of over 800 photostories about Canada and its people.

Take a virtual tour of Ottawa Bytown Museum, located in the capital’s oldest stone building.

Ingenium, operator of Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation, has a list of fun science activities to do at home.

Check out the large collection of virtual exhibits at the Virtual Museum.