Arts

Visitors can still get acquainted with their favourite dinosaurs as they follow the arrows throughout the museum. Photo Aly Murphy/Fulcrum.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is ready to open its doors again, with new measures to mitigate the risks of COVID-19.

Looking for an off-campus activity to do with friends? Have family members in town? You’re in luck: the Canadian Museum of Nature reopens to the public Sept. 5, after spending the dormant months of the pandemic preparing for your safe return to one of Ottawa’s favourite cultural spaces.

Things obviously look a little different than they did in March. For one thing, the Canadian Museum of Nature is a Heritage Building with a lot of shared staircases, tight entryways, and tactile exhibits – theoretically, a perfect storm for germ-spreading. 

The museum’s re-opening team has done a great job of revamping its space for a COVID-aware audience: signage is precise, masked staff members are around to guide you safely through the space, and hand sanitizer stations are sprinkled throughout each room and hallway.

The Canadian Museum of Nature, a long-time favourite for kids and adults alike, usually attracts patrons with its touchable artifacts and activities. 

Some of these stations remain open and available to explore: you can still design your own volcano or match birds to their songs, provided you use the available hand sanitizer first. This freedom still allows visitors to kinesthetically learn about their changing world despite the new limits COVID-19 has imposed on our lives.

Unsurprisingly, some “interactables” have had to be temporarily shut down. 

“Safety has to be our highest priority,” said Dan Smythe, senior media relations officer at the museum. It’s clear that awareness is the backbone of the museum’s re-opening strategy. 

“People are probably used to what we’re asking for; they’re similar to the measures we’ve seen in grocery stores since March.” 

To that end, visitors must complete the City of Ottawa’s COVID-19 self-assessment questionnaire before entering the museum, and all visitors over the age of two must wear masks. Entry times to the museum are staggered, giving visitors a fifteen-minute window for entry into the main building. Before entering the museum, visitors must line up in a physically distant manner in an ancillary tent and wait for a staff member to scan a digital ticket.

These measures, accompanied by a myriad of social distancing arrows (that, truthfully, sort of make you feel like you’re in a dinosaur-infested IKEA) should give visitors confidence that they’re safe to explore one of Canada’s most treasured national museums.

The one downside of these new safety features is that a few of your favourite activities may have had to be taken out for now. 

Angeline Laffin, director of visitor experience at the museum, says that these choices were made purely due to logistics: the building’s layout means that quite a few exhibits have the potential to form “pinch points,” or places where families are likely to block the natural flow of traffic if they hover for too long. 

Rather than risk a cross-family contamination, the museum has made the smart move to simply close these tactile experiences for now. However, visitors can still enjoy much of what the museum has to offer (including the ability to take those classic selfies with moose and dinosaurs). 

Unfortunately, large in-person events like Nature Nocturne are unlikely to return to the museum any time soon, per Smythe. Again, it’s a necessary loss to the pandemic – safety has to come first.

Just because COVID-19 is still in flux doesn’t mean the museum doesn’t have new and exciting additions to their collection. 

Gaia, a new sculpture by British artist Luke Jerram, is a breathtaking scale model of planet Earth, suspended over visitors’ heads as they enter the museum. Gaia hangs slightly below the Canadian Museum of Nature’s suspended moon sculpture (Museum of the Moon, also by Jerram), mirroring our real-life lunar positioning. It’s a beautiful addition, and puts into perspective just how tiny our everyday lives are; COVID-19 is just a blip in the world’s history, and Gaia could not have reminded us of that at a better time.

The museum will also be launching a special new exhibition entitled Planet Ice: Mysteries of the Ice Age on Sept. 25, guiding visitors through humankind’s roles in global warming and cooling, spanning over 80,000 years. This exhibition does have an extra associated charge ($6 for students), but will feature over 120 new models, artifacts, and multimedia installations.

General student admission to the museum is $13 with your student card, or free for certain times if you book on Monday morning. The Canadian Museum of Nature is a super fun few hours of learning (with plenty of potential for silly photo ops).