Museum of Nature

Ottawa’s Museum of Nature, also known as the Canadian Museum of Nature and as the Victoria Memorial Museum – named for Queen Victoria – asks the visitor to “Discover Nature”, and then ably follows through by helping visitors achieve that goal when they tour the museum.

This delightful castle-like building houses displays featuring Canadian fauna from the dinosaur age up to the present.

 remember – while growing up in Ottawa – visiting this museum on a school trip. Images that rush to my mind include a broad marble staircase with intricately carved wood railings. Suspended far overhead were feasts for my eyes, as prehistoric animals seemed to float through the air.

Museum of Nature Sinking?

Then came the rumours that this museum was sinking! Quicksand (or some such) was allowing one side of the museum to descend into the earth, and there were concerns, wildly exaggerated by my also-young peers, that the entire building was in danger of collapsing. My recollection (all this was happening back in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s I believe) is that the building actually was closed for a time, and that the exhibits had been moved to a safer location. And now, almost half a century later, this “castle” in downtown Ottawa, originally built in 1912, has undergone a six-year-long restoration, with an exciting amalgamation of the best of the past and the glimpses of the future.

Museum of Nature in downtown OttawaThe Queen’s Lantern

As part of the recent restoration, a glass “lantern” called The Queen’s Lantern, was added to this 100+ year old building, an outside view being visible in the photo above. It provides much needed access between the floors of the museum, and since it is garbed in glass allows natural light into the building. Visitors using this engineering marvel get both a view of the interior of the museum, and of downtown Ottawa, including the Parliament Buildings.

The Queen’s Lantern replaces the original stone tower that had to be removed due to the excessive weight bearing down the museum. “The original tower was intended to be the focal point of the building. Regrettably, the tower had to be removed by 1916 because unstable soil conditions would not support its massive weight. Nearly 100 years later, the architects created the new lantern that not only evokes the spirit of Ewart’s early tower, but also encloses a new butterfly staircase and heralds the 21st century transformation of the museum.”

As you walk the Queen’s Lantern to move between floors of the Museum of Nature, you may not realize that you are walking in a structure that “does not impose any weight on the existing masonry walls. The Queen’s Lantern actually hangs from a specially constructed roof that is cantilevered from concrete walls for the new elevator shafts inside the building. Four large steel columns (136,000 kg (300,000 lb.) of steel) provide the structural support for the roof, from which hang the ‘90,700 kg (200,000 lb.’ of exterior glass that form a transparent box.”

What’s Inside the Museum of Nature?

Here’s a brief video to give you a glimpse.

Inside are 4 1/2 floors of exhibits.

Walk down the stairs at the rear of the atrium and you will find men’s, women’s and family restroom facilities, along with elevators to whisk you between floors. A high definition theatre showing recent, 3D movies is on the east side, and a neat exhibit called the Animalium is taking up the west side of the lower level.

The Animalium

What the heck is an animalium?

It is somehow fitting the the Animalium is effectively below ground, as the focus of this exhibit are the billions of creatures that inhabit our planet with us, many of which exist on or underground.

Here you will see a wide assortment of live insects, spiders and other ground-dwelling creatures in mini-enviroments that suit that creature’s needs. Hiss back at a cockroach, wander with a walking stick, marvel at the size of the hairy tarantuas, and more.

See behind the scenes as the museum staff care for these wondrous creatures.

The stroller-bound and toddlers I saw when I last visited the Animalium were absolutely loving it! If you hae young children, you do not want to miss this exhibit. And yes, I suspect teens will likely find it “yucky” and adults will find the displays fascinating as well.

To continue our tour of the Museum of Nature, we either take the convenient elevators (two accesses per floor), walk up the main, very grand, staircase, or climb up inside the Queen’s Lantern, where we will come to floors 2 – 4. Except for level 1, each floor has exhibits on the east and west side of the atrium. Some of these are deemed permanent exhibits which are updated periodically but the themes of which do not change, and others are special exhibitions, and these change regularly.

The east wing of level one contains a special entrance to the museum for group tours, the Nature Cafe for food and drink, as well as the Nature Boutique where eager visitors can acquire mementos of their visit.

The permanent exhibits are:

  • Talsiman Energy Fossil Gallery – level 1 west
  • RBC Blue Water Gallery – level 2 east
  • Mammal Gallery – level 2 west
  • Vale Earth Gallery – level 3 east
  • Bird Gallery – level 4 west
  • Animalium – lower level west

Special exhibitions are located on level 3 – west, and the level 4 – east gallery is available for special events and rental.

Apse & Salon

At the rear of the atrium on level 1 is the Apse, another smaller exhibit area, and if you want to get up close and personal with a million dollar hunk of gold, check out the Salon at the rear of level 3.

Location & Parking

The Museum of Nature is located in the heart of the City of Ottawa, about 2 kilometres (1.6 miles) from Parliament Hill. You can walk or drive east on Wellington to Elgin Street, south on Elgin to McLeod Street, then a right turn and the Museum of Nature is on the left about a block down McLeod.

There is pay parking immediately in the vicinity of the museum, as well as on the streets adjacent. If you are into doing a bit of walking, two blocks north moves you into a residential area where there is free, but timed, parking on the street.

Museum of Nature Contact Info

240 McLeod Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 2R1

Telephone: 613.566.4700
1.800.263.4433 (toll-free in Canada and U.S.A.)

We very much welcome your comments about your visit to Ottawa’s Museum of Nature.