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Ontario Science Centre — Still Just For Kids . . . And Nerds

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Anybody who grew up in Southern Ontario in the last 3o years or so will be familiar with the Science Centre. It’s an annual ritual for thousands of students in grades 1 – 8 — hopping on the chartered school bus in the morning, coasting down a traffic-free, post-rush hour DVP and descending on the scyphozoa-like, aging concrete building nestled deep into the Don Valley woodlands.

For those who’ve never been, the best way to describe it would be as an ‘Interactive Science Museum.’ Almost all of the exhibits are hands-on, meaning you’re not just wandering through rooms and hallways looking at stuff, reading little placards; you’re adjusting the modulation of radio waves and comparing the wavelengths of different frequencies, or lifting weights to learn about how pulley systems work, or seeing how fast you can throw a baseball. This is why it’s so good for school trips — it’s educational and the kids rarely get bored because in many ways it’s like an amusement park.

But once in high school the yearly trips stop, and I doubt whether most people ever find their way back there again. I had the opportunity to do so last week, however, and I was really interested to see how much it had changed, and how my memories of it would compare with what I saw. Turns out it’s hardly been touched in the thirteen years since I had last been there, which was fun from a nostalgia point-of-view, but it made me wonder just where the future of the place lies.

That’s not to say that nothing at all has been done — there have been some significant alterations and additions made since the early ’90s; the IMAX Dome opened in 1996; KidSpark in November 2003; and, just this year, two phases of the ambitious three-phase Agents of Change initiative opened: Teluscape, which is an interactive, outdoor ‘exploration plaza,’ and the Weston Family Innovation Centre, which is really just a sort of ‘science arts-and-crafts’ room. Project: Art, phase three of Agents of Change, opens later this year.

Man and Fish CAN live in harmony Scientific Art Arts & Crafts

But the majority of the exhibits — Human Body, Living Earth, A Question of Truth, MindWorks, the Sport hall and the Science Arcade — have not changed one iota in the last, I would wager, twenty-five years, except there’s less in them because some of the displays are so old they no longer work (there are signs everywhere: ‘This is so popular it broke and we have to fix it!’ Yeah, right). Everything’s still there: the ball roller-coaster thing, the fake cave, the Van de Graaff generator, the massive elephant heart in a vat of formaldehyde. These exhibits are all looking very dated, especially anything employing video or pictures of people — the fashions and hair are straight out of 1983.

Ball Roller-Coaster Thing I See You!

For a newbie, though, this would obviously not be an issue. The day I was there, there were school-kids everywhere, running around, wheelchair-racing each other, ogling the lizards and bugs in the rainforest exhibit, admiring the screw-pump. They were awash in discovery, their inquisitiveness satiated, just as I was for all those years. I think this is the Centre’s trick — they cater mostly to an audience they know is there for institutional reasons and is most likely never coming back anyway, ergo they don’t need to update all the time.

Lizard Face Snail Face Screw Pump

One of those times has definitely arrived, however, and it’s good to see them pumping money into the place and opening some new areas (although this is only a revamp of 30% of the building — 70% will remain the same old ’80s hairdos).

Overall, though, I can’t say much negative about it — too many memories (even the gaudy, orangey-gray threadbare carpet down the long linkage hallways is the same).

One last thing — I was actually able to buy a Science Centre shot-glass, which, I think, shows that while in the gift shop there’s something for everyone, overall this one’s mostly for the kids. 03971semaj
Shot Glass

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