However, there is a place in Sherbrooke where the wonders of the Earth are celebrated every day: the Sherbrooke Nature Science Museum. When I first visited the Nature Science Museum in the late 1980’s, when it was located in the Seminaire de Sherbrooke, my children and I were fascinated by the exhibit of animal and bird specimens and mounted insects.
But since my last visit, the museum has undergone quite a change, thanks in large part to the efforts of Sherbrooke’s former mayor, Jean Perrault. The conversion of the Julius Kayser Company’s textile factory on Dufferin Street into the new locale for the museum began in 2000 and was completed by October of 2002. The transformation was quite impressive; the new museum was awarded a Prix d’excellence in 2003 from the Canadian Museum Association and received the Laureat Or des Grands prix du Tourisme quebecois in 2004. It now has two permanent exhibits, several temporary exhibits a year and many other activities for different age groups. As the museum’s executive director, Marie-Claude Bibeau put it: “If you haven’t been to the museum in the last four months, there’s something here that you haven’t seen!”
My recent tour of the museum began in the basement, in the heart of the museum’s reserve collection of over 65,000 natural objects and specimens. The museum was launching its newest ‘invention’: a virtual tour, available in French and English, of its collections in storage that can be accessed on the internet at www.naturesciences. qc.ca. “There are different ways to take the tour. You can take a virtual tour, opening drawers; you can go further and get more information about the animal or object; you can visit the collection thematically; or you can play games like a treasure hunt,” explained the museum’s curator, Serge Gauthier, at the launch.
Steven Bolduc, who works as a substitute teacher and was at the launch, has tried the virtual tour in the classroom. “We used a Smartboard and the students got really excited. I think the virtual museum site is perfect for people who think they wouldn’t like to visit a museum,” said Mr. Bolduc.
The Cycle of the Seasons, a permanent exhibit filled with many of the animal specimens I remembered from the old museum, was the next stop of the tour. Here we can learn about the birthing season of animals, how they build their homes and how they manage to survive in our cold climate. You can even crawl into a skunk’s little home to see what it’s like from the inside!
Terra Mutantés, the other permanent exhibit, was a completely different experience. The multi-media and multi-sensory show explores the birth of the Appalachian mountains and the history of the land of the Eastern Townships with the help of three large film screens, a booming voice, a hands-on, interactive, vibrating table (if you can imagine such a thing) and steam, mist and snow. It was a lot of fun and I learnt a lot of surprising things, geographically and historically speaking, about this region.
The temporary A River runs through it exhibit, which runs until September, 2011, explores the secrets of our rivers with many interactive, child-friendly installations, all built in the museum’s workshop by a team of skilled workers who also build science exhibits for museums across the country and in the United States. “We are the biggest exporter of science exhibits in Canada,” explained Mrs. Bibeau proudly. The next temporary exhibit is called What’s for Dinner and will open this June.
This family-friendly museum is a ‘mustsee’ if you have children; there were several school groups touring it while I was there and I didn’t see one bored child, not even among the high school students who were touring the reserve collection in the basement. Becoming a member of the museum is another option which, for a low price, allows unlimited visits to the museum and use of the ‘nature counter’ where members can borrow specimens for projects. “The skunks and beavers are very popular,” said the Executive Director. Members also have free admission to many other science and nature museums across Canada, such as the Montreal Science Centre and the Canada Science and Technology Museum, in Ottawa.
Finishing the tour, Mrs. Bibeau said: “In our museum children can talk, touch things, run. It’s a museum for kids!”
An animator at the Sherbrooke Science and Nature Museum talks with high school students who were enjoying touring the ‘Reserves’.