The largest natural history museum in the province has entertained and informed visitors for well over a century, offering among its seven million artifacts everything from its signature woolly mammoth to a well-trafficked gold-panning area.
The Royal B.C. Museum is of interest to visitors of all ages, as per its impressive audience totals: the Belleville Street destination attracts up to a half-million visitors a year, according to museum staff.
Everyone loves the museum, no doubt. But if there is one segment of the population best-suited to combing the back pages of history, it’s school-age children.
A highlight of my elementary school years in Victoria was our annual museum field trip. Those day trips instilled a sense of wonder that remains today. My wife and I are now longstanding members, motivated by our children — who are never happier than when they are roaming the museum’s ever-expanding halls and exhibits.
Staff at the museum are aware of the museum’s appeal, especially where kids are concerned. The building’s unofficial mascot for decades has been its spectacular woolly mammoth, a must-see landmark as visitors enter the natural history section of the second floor. But with ever-changing tastes and demographics, the museum is slowly shifting its direction.
Many of its programs are suited to young minds, and in recent years the museum has installed camps over spring break and summer vacation to help satisfy demand.
Wonder Sunday (free with admission or membership) provides eight opportunities from Oct. 27 until June 29 for kids to explore within themed events — words, sounds, towns and the like. The icing on the cake is the hugely popular Imax Victoria theatre, located inside the museum. Many of the films shown on what is the largest screen of its kind in the province are tie-ins to showcase exhibits.
“When you start to look at Victoria, families are growing here exponentially,” said Janet MacDonald, head of learning for the museum. “Because of that, we’ve gone a long way over the last three or four years to increase our family offerings.”
Among its kid-friendly incentives is Kids’ Club, which offers programs to its 2,400 members, from behind-the-scenes tours to after-school exhibitions. Those are in addition to field trips, which bring more than 20,000 students from across B.C. to the museum each year.
It is the museum’s job to ensure visitors find something new each time they arrive, MacDonald said.
A popular program since its introduction three years ago is “sleepover nights” at the museum. For between $75 and $80 a person, families can camp in the building overnight and partake in a range of events (movies, dance parties, games) that wind down with a pancake breakfast. In years previous, sleepover nights were staged in May. Due to overwhelming demand, a second Night at the Museum event is on for Nov. 15 in the museum’s Old Town section.
MacDonald expects this event to be sold out. “Who wouldn’t want to sleep over in Old Town?” she asked.
The Royal B.C. Museum is at 675 Belleville St. For more information, go to royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.