Museum. For many of us, that word still conjures up distant memories of dusty old buildings, housing dusty old objects in dusty glass cases. Hopefully interesting, but quite possibly not, depending on your interest in the subject. Fortunately, museums have come a long way in the last few decades and now, wherever you go in the world, you have a pretty good chance of finding at least one museum that is interesting, engaging and educational, all without being dry or dusty. Look a little harder, and you may find one that is a bit… odd, unusual, or intently focused on a seemingly obscure topic. Canada has her fair share of these ‘weird and wacky’ (and often fascinating) institutions. Here are a few of our favourites, from coast to coast.
Autopsy equipment, preserved human organs, details of unsolved crimes… all housed in a genuine morgue and autopsy suite. Sound like a Jack The Ripper tour of London? No need to travel so far, when all of them, plus lots more artefacts illustrating the age-old conflict of ‘good guys vs bad guys’ can be experienced at the Vancouver Police Museum. The museum is housed in a heritage building which, as the city’s former Coroner’s Court, morgue and autopsy facilities, and crime lab, makes the perfect setting for this intriguing – and at times, unsettling – institution. While the True Crime gallery may not be suitable for all members of your family, younger (and squeamish) visitors will enjoy the museum’s large collection of weapons and devices used by law enforcement officials and their criminal counterparts, plus an impressive collection of confiscated weapons, gambling devices, counterfeit money, and prohibited drugs. And it’s not all historical. Situation Critical: Vancouver’s ERT highlights Vancouver’s impressive ERT (aka SWAT) capabilities. The museum even offers special events like ‘Sins of the City’ Walking Tours and Movies in the Morgue. May we recommend a comedy?!?
If you’ve never visited Canada’s Prairies, you may not be familiar with our omnipresent rodent, the Pocket Gopher, also known simply as a Gopher. Gophers, as burrowing rodents, have a reputation for being a nuisance, due to their propensity for building tunnels under vegetable gardens, lawns and farms and leaving unsightly little piles of dirt everywhere. But did you know that gophers actually live fascinating lives that we humans rarely get to witness?? It’s true, but you need to visit the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, AB to see for yourself. There you will find a large population of gophers, living out gopher fantasy lives in a wide variety of settings. I use the word ‘living’ loosely… these are real gophers, post-taxidermy, in costume and in situ. Having a hard time picturing the many ways in which a stuffed gopher could be presented? Visit the website for a diorama slideshow, and then head to Torrington to see the little critters for yourself. Come on, just gopher it!
Perhaps it’s something in the air or water in this part of the country, but we can’t head east from Alberta without mentioning another fine destination for seekers of the unusual. Although this Southern Alberta town was not named after the famous planet from Star Trek, Trekkies from all over the world have nonetheless found a warm welcome at the Vulcan Trek Station in Vulcan, AB. The station is home to a large Star Trek memorabilia collection, plus a Green Screen photo room (remember to dress in costume for the best holiday photos ever!), and a scale model of the famed Vulcan Starship FX6-1995-A. This year, skip the Rocky Mountain souvenir trinkets; swing by the station gift shop (or shop online) and take home something you’ll treasure forever. Or at least until you emigrate to Mars; word on the street is that luggage allowances will be strict. The station periodically hosts free Star Gazing evenings and other special events. With the former Spock Days Festival being upgraded and rebranded as “Vul-Con” for summer 2015, it looks like Trekkies will continue to flock to Vulcan for an escape from their regular, terrestrial lives.
Got any exciting adventures planned this year? Like, say, sealing yourself into a wooden barrel or a bullet-shaped capsule and launching yourself over one of the world’s largest waterfalls? No?? Well, believe it or not, that’s exactly what a number of colourful characters have done over the years, and their stories and original gear are the stars of the Daredevil Exhibit at IMAX Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Since 1901, sixteen individuals have intentionally challenged the falls. They may have had a variety of motivations, but there were only two possible outcomes: some lived, some did not. When you view the actual ‘barrels’ in the gallery (and especially once you’ve experienced the Niagara IMAX movie), you may wonder why so many of these thrill seekers did survive. We love a good story at the bar as much as the next gal, but this is taking it a bit far.
Baked, mashed, french-fried… how do you like your potatoes? Lots of kids, mine included, don’t seem to fancy them (fries aside), but most people over the age of 12 include some form of potatoes in their culinary repertoire. Prince Edward Island has long prided itself as being the producer of some of the world’s best-tasting potatoes, so it’s a natural location for the Canadian Potato Museum to put down roots. Billing itself as “a living testament to the humble tuber and those who have tilled the soil in its evolution”, this is a must-see for spud lovers visiting the island. You can learn anything and everything you ever wanted to know about growing potatoes, sample potato fudge (who knew?) and other tasty morsels in the Tater Kitchen, pose for a pic with the world’s largest potato sculpture and even visit a working potato farm. Potatoes may seem old-fashioned, but they’re naturally cholesterol-, dairy- and gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan. Hmm… potatoes may actually be trendy!
There you have them: five weird, wacky and wonderful home-grown Canadian museums. If your summer travels take you within spitting distance of one of these unusual attractions, do go visit. You won’t find your great-grandma’s embroidery sampler or great-great-grandpa’s pocket watch, but you’re sure to find a few surprises and have a great “what I did on my summer vacation” story to tell when you get back home.