Dinosaurs, pirates, space ships, cowboys and baby belugas: We have them. Bored kids? Not a chance. Not, that is, if you follow this guide to entertaining the little ones in British Columbia this winter.
Oh, and if all this fun is actually educational, they don’t need to know that. Just call it edu-tainment and have a great time.
First up: dinosaurs. Not many people know this, but BC was once a dinosaur habitat and the museums here have the fossils and even whole skeletons to prove it.
At the Exploration Place Science Centre and Museum in Prince George, for example, children can learn how to dig for fossils and even pose for a photo with a replica T Rex skull. The museum’s Palaeontology Gallery has one of the best dinosaur exhibits in the province, with several full-size dinosaur models and some of the oldest dinosaur tracks and fossils in Western Canada. There’s also a Children's Gallery with a replica riverboat to play on and explore.
East of Prince George, the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge captivates. In 2000, 11-year-old Mark Turner and eight-year-old Daniel Helm unearthed a rather fortuitous find amid the bedrock next to Flatbed Creek, just below Tumbler Ridge: a series of depressions in the rock were later determined to be a dinosaur trackway. Today, visitors can take a peek at replicas of the creatures that roamed the area at the gallery and even take part in a trackway tour led by a guide.
More dinosaurs lurk on Vancouver Island where, at the Courtenay & District Museum and Palaeontology Centre, you can see a real Elasmosaur skeleton; the remains of this dinosaur-era sea creature were discovered near Courtenay in 1988. The lucky fossil hunter? Local student Heather Trask, who was just 12 years old at the time.
Further south in Victoria, situated within historic Bastion Square, is the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, where youngsters can learn about the explorers, seafarers, buccaneers and even pirates who once sailed local seas. A visiting Viking show runs until May 11 and, during Spring Break, aspiring Jack Sparrows can learn about ship building, knot tying, and piratical behaviour at the museum’s own Pirate School.
Of course, if you’re in the province’s capital, you’ll want to save a day for one of the country’s leading museums: The Royal British Columbia Museum. Between the First Nations Big House, the frontier town (complete with a train station and a movie theatre), the natural history displays -- including the museum’s iconic Ice Age mammoth -- and an IMAX theatre with a six-story-high screen, you’ll need at least a day. In the Ocean Station exhibit, young oceanographers can view BC’s coastal marine life from the bridge of a Jules Verne-style submarine, complete with a periscope. In 20th Century Hall, they can see the kind of retro technology -- including a turntable and a commodore computer -- that their parents may have used.
And be sure to look for the dinosaur footprints outside the main entrance. They’re not labelled, so you’ll need sharp eyes to find them. Also, if you can, plan a return visit this summer, when the museum hosts the North American premier of Treasures: The World’s Cultures from the British Museum.
Over on the mainland, Greater Vancouver has more than enough to keep kids occupied.
At the Vancouver Aquarium, Canada’s largest aquarium, families can get up close and personal with sea lions, dolphins, and sea otters as part of the Animal Encounters program, wander through a tropical rainforest, see a dolphin show, and meet the new baby beluga, Tiqa.
Across the Burrard Bridge is the H.R. Macmillan Space Centre, where kids can catch star shows in the Planetarium, take a simulated space trip on the virtual voyages motion simulator, and even see what they’d look like as an alien. On Friday and Saturday nights, young astronomers can investigate the real stars above the city through the telescope at the centre’s Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory.
Here’s a tip: the Space Centre shares the building with the Vancouver Museum where vibrant, contemporary displays recall the city’s history from 1910 through the seventies. Cool, man. Also in Vanier Park is the Vancouver Maritime Museum, home to RCMP St. Roch, the first ship to travel both directions through the Northwest Passage and circumnavigate North America. Here, you’ll also find a new exhibit on global warming from a maritime perspective and lots of hands-on displays in the Children's Maritime Discovery Centre.
More discovery awaits at the highly interactive Science World at TELUS World of Science. Older children can design geared contraptions, use the power of leverage to lift a 200-kilogram hippopotamus, or catch a film at the OMNIMAX® theatre -- all in the name of science -- while preschoolers can explore water, light, colour and movement in their own tot-friendly space.
A quick Skytrain ride away is BC Place Stadium. Soon to be famous as the venue for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games opening and closing ceremonies, it’s also home to a great attraction for young athletes: The BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. This 20,000-square-foot space honours BC’s sporting heroes, including such luminaries as Terry Fox and Rick Hansen, and gives kids plenty of ways to try their own skill at climbing, running and more. Beyond the city, there’s still plenty to do. The Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin in Williams Lake, for example, is home to the Cowboy Hall of Fame, which honors the folks who’ve been riding, roping and rodeoing since before BC was a province. Displays include photos, biographies, and memorabilia of the province’s outstanding working cowboys and rodeo stars.
Railway fans are also well-served this winter, with three of BC’s major train museums open year-round. At the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish, about an hour north of Vancouver, you can tour authentic railway equipment and, if the weather’s nice, take a mini-train ride around the site. In the Kootenay Rockies region, the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook displays some of the most luxurious cars ever to ride the rails, while the Revelstoke Railway Museum tells the dramatic story of building a railway through the mountains.
So get out, explore, and have some fun. And if your kids happen to learn all about dinosaurs, ships, stars, or cowboys while they’re at it? Well that’s just a bonus.
For more information on other British Columbia destinations and travel information, visit www.HelloBC.com.