By MAGGIE M, Editor, Wedgee-in-Chief, the wedge.LIVE 🖤 TO SHARE click icons at story’s end
This writer was taken on a grand tour of Brockville’s, Aquatarium™, by its affable Host, Executive Director, Bill Rogerson. He was plucked from Gananoque over seven years ago, its former Asset and Infrastructure Manager, to bring Aquatarium’s 27,000 sq. ft. to life.
In the early days, Rogerson traveled to California to oversee the construction of the British warship, the “HMS Ontario” exhibit. The original sank in Lake Ontario on 31st October, 1780, during the American Revolution. It was a 22-gun snow, 80 feet (24 m) in length, the largest British warship on the Great Lakes at the time. Ontario was built in 1780 on Carleton Island, a major base in the St. Lawrence River for the British during the Revolutionary War.
We zipped from exhibit to exhibit over several floors. I was filled with awe. I lost my North in the process. Perhaps Rogerson was reminded of a first-time visitor’s visceral experience. It was cathartic.
I’ve been to Disneyworld (twice), Universal Studios and NASA. Aquatarium is in this league without exaggeration. The colors, the details, the sounds! My eyes were captive. My senses were awake.
Rogerson says people require 1 to 3 hours to navigate the museum, “depending on how much they wish to learn.” The scientific knowledge at our fingertips (literally) in this wonderland is astonishing. Learning is encouraged in kinetic, interactive exhibits. You can create currents over water, row a skiff or steer a boat on the St. Lawrence, virtually.
Our first stop was the otters exhibit, ‘Manitouana.’ They were out-of-sight at day’s end; but, I got a peek backstage at their resting place. I was also able to view them under their blankets from the Director of Operations and Animal Husbandry’s computer screens, namely Thomas Harder. Males, Brock and Oliver and female, Ivy, are the adult otters. Two new additions joined the family early March. Their sex remain a mystery; thus, they are still unnamed.
The Aquatarium features aquatic species exclusively from the St. Lawrence River. So when you poke your head up into a tank or talk to a diver through the glass it is all about life in the St. Lawrence.
Rogerson’s favorite is the rowing exhibit above, the “Skiff House”. You can row on the river physically and virtually with a simulator. One authentic St. Lawrence skiff is on loan from the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. It was built by Andress Boat Works, Rockport, in 1890.
My favorite is the virtual boating exhibit, the “Pilot House,” under the planetarium dome. Ed Huck Marine, Rockport, assisted in its technological development. You can drive a vessel on the St. Lawrence and steer it into shore, virtually with its simulator. When the blinds are lowered, visitors lie on the floor to view a night sky presentation on the domed ceiling. Back in the day, this was the lone navigation system. A planetarium inside the aquarium? Brilliant.
“The kids are lined-up through the door waiting their turn,” Rogerson says.
This room also offers the best views, a panorama of the St. Lawrence. You can linger here. A thunder storm would be perfect.
A favorite activity is repelling from a gangplank atop the museum down to the lower level–straight down. A training session precedes the experience. You line-up for tethering (green spool and line in image) and woot! into the depths below–so to speak. There is a net to collect you. You might feel like a flying fish for moment but they will catch and release you.
You might enjoy something less daunting like fiddling with tabletop wi-fi technology in the Captain’s quarters. A wood table oozes with water ripples when you engage the boat mouse and voila!, icons appear for navigation. It’s like Minority Report but on a wood surface. It is so counter-intuitive.
There are experiences every 10-20 feet in the Aquatarium–even in the lobby, before you enter.
I don’t wish to be a spoiler and show you everything. These images and information are mere droplets.
This extraordinary cornerstone project between partners, Tall Ships Landing and three levels of government, is a smart investment. It impacts Brockville’s economic activity and tourism considerably. It is also a key stop on the Thousand Islands.
Canada’s first underground railway tunnel opened last year, mere steps from the Aquatarium (see our story). I call that a “double whammy.” 2018 is expected to be an unprecedented year for this innovative, brave city.
I am planning my second trip to Aquatarium, hours with friends and family, showing off “our stuff.”
ENJOY OUR AQUATARIUM GALLERY :
Click here to visit Aquatarium’s website. Or roll up, float up to Talls Ships Landing, 6 Broad Street, Downtown Brockville. There is plenty of parking, land and water.