The Canadian Museum of Nature is housed in that interesting building that looks like a castle. If you are driving past downtown Ottawa on Highway 417 and always wondered what that building was, it contains one of the world’s largest collections of natural history. Among the permanent exhibits, you’ll find galleries of rocks, minerals, fossils, dinosaurs, animals, mammals, birds, and more. The collection has been housed in this building since 1912. When you pass through the huge entrance doors, you’ll see the words “Victoria Memorial Museum” carved in the stone above the entrance: the official name of the museum building.
Front view of Canadian Museum of Nature – prior to the Lantern tower addition of 2010.
The Canadian Museum of Nature is located on 240 McLeod Street, about 20 minutes (on foot) south of Parliament Hill, and is easily accessible (by car) from the Metcalfe exit on Highway 417. They do have parking on site.
Summer Hours (From May 1 – September 2)
- Daily 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays & Fridays)
Regular Hours (From September 4 – April 30)
- Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays)
Closed Mondays except special holidays (listed on their website). Also closing at 2 p.m. on December 24, closed December 25, and January 6-10 (maintenance).
Student & Seniors (65+) $10
Child (3-12) $8
Tiny Tots & Members (2 and younger): Free
Membership costs $99 for a family (other packages are available) and allows you free admission to the Canadian Museum of Nature for a full year.
Extra tickets are required for their Special Exhibitions (unless you are a member) and for their 3D movies. There are special prices for those who wish to combine admission, special exhibit visits, and 3D movies (or any combination thereof!) together.
The museum is free (permanent galleries only) on Thursday evenings from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., on Earth Day (April 22), International Museum Day (May 18), and Canada Day (July 1). It’s usually pretty crowded on those days–great if you’re on foot, but not so great if you have a stroller, or need to use the elevators! Still, the free Thursday evenings are enough time to take in two or three of the permanent galleries if you like taking your time.
The building that houses the Canadian Museum of Nature has a rich heritage that is just as interesting as the collection that lives in the building! The sandstone structure incorporates animals and plants found in Canada in the stained glass windows, exterior walls, and interior carvings and embellishments.
The building, designed by chief architect David Ewart, was intended to mirror the Centre Block of Canada’s Parliament Buildings. The matching clock tower was removed in 1915 due to foundation issues. Finally, in May 2010, the new glass tower, called “The Lantern” was unveiled.
The Lantern provides a design that is both functional and beautiful. The lantern encloses an additional staircase that allows visitors access to the upper floors in the museum. From the new tower, there are spectacular views of Metcalfe Street, and the stone carvings and ornamentation on the museum’s outer walls. The new tower at the Canadian Museum of Nature actually hangs from a specially constructed roof cantilevered from new concrete walls inside the building, solving the previous problem of too much weight on the stone walls. The structure is made from 160 panes of face glass and 120 glass fins.
One of many fossil examples on display in the diorama section of the Fossil gallery.
The museum was the birthplace for several museums that you will find around Ottawa today. At one time, the museum housed exhibits that birthed the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canada Science and Technology Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada.
But the present Canadian Museum of Nature also has interesting historical connections. When fire destroyed the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings in 1916, the Parliament moved into the museum for four years. Important decisions and laws were passed during their stay such as the Military Service Act, the introduction of the income tax law, and the right for Canadian women to vote in national elections. If you had been downtown during these four years, you might have seen the motorcycle messenger shuttling back and forth between the Museum and the remaining offices on Parliament Hill.
Extensive renovations on the museum buildings started in 2002 and took 8 years, 216.6 million dollars, 400 workers, 3 architectural firms working together, and an endless supply of patience and paperwork to complete in May 2010.
Complete skeleton display in the fossil gallery.
What to see and do at the Canadian Museum of Nature
Besides offering Special Exhibits and 3-D movies that change periodically, the museum also has several Permanent Galleries for the public to browse.
When you first enter the museum, you’ll enter a giant atrium/lobby where you will see a grand staircase at the back of the lobby that splits into two and leads to either side of the building. Each floor on each wing of the building houses the galleries. The top floor galleries can be accessed by this staircase, or the new one built in the “Lantern” tower over the entrance of the museum. There are also large elevators (one for each wing of the building).
The Permanent Galleries are divided into six sections: the Water, Earth, Animalium, Fossil, Mammal, and Bird Galleries, as well as a large space dedicated as a “Discovery Zone“.
Below is a brief description of what you will find in each gallery.
- Water Gallery: Life in marine and fresh waters, tides, Arctic research vessel, deep-sea creatures, blue whale skeleton
- Earth Gallery: A look at geology, how the Earth was formed, Canada’s rocks and minerals, meteorites, samples from the Earth’s core, mantle and crust
- Animalium: collection of insects, arachnids, and slugs, tarantulas, camouflage
- Fossil Gallery: swamp forest with seven life-sized dinosaurs, more than 30 complete skeletons from the end of the dinosaur era, diorama scenes with 15 life-sized models, Extinction theatre
- Mammal Gallery: Grizzly bears, bison, moose, caribou, pronghorns, cougars, and other Canadian animals in three-dimensional scenes and animal adaptations
- Bird Gallery: Interesting interactive displays show a impressive collection of 500 specimens of birds found in Canada
- Discovery Zone: A learning space organized for various activities, crafts and learning experiences
Ever wonder what it would have been like to be Jonah? Here’s a fun view of the belly of a whale–the blue whale skeleton on display at the Canadian Museum of Nature.