Is it still considered a museum when all the artifacts are alive and swimming about? Why not? There is a carefully researched collection. There is detailed interpretation. There are plenty of screaming kids… OK, perhaps aquariums are more closely related to science centres, but glass cases full of strange things comes close enough to a museum for me. Certainly the humidity is a bit higher than most collection managers would recommend. And of course, a curator rarely needs to remember to feed her collection of butter churns or worry that when she comes back from the weekend the Picasso might have eaten all the Rembrandt etchings. But the basic experience of walking into a space and being fascinated by strange objects behind glass is similar - even if the objects do look back at you.
This is what crossed the ever-curious mind of a member of our staff as he and his family took a tour of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada at the base of the CN Tower in Toronto. One of the reasons they chose to visit was that it was a rare family destination actually open on a Saturday evening. It’s a wee bit pricey (a family of four costs $80-$100) but once on the moving sidewalk (very cool) in the main aquarium chamber, all thoughts of price disappear. It was pretty amazing. Called Dangerous Lagoon, it is a 2.5 million litre tank with a transparent tunnel winding through it. You really feel among the fish as they swim past you and over you, all intent on their mysterious, fishy errands. None of the tank inmates seemed to give the humans a second glance but the sheer size of the tank makes you question if it is not you on display for the edification of the fish. Graceful rays, cheerful tropical fish, psychotic-looking sharks, a lazy sawfish, a very shy moray eel and the occasional sea turtle might drift all around you or hang about among the rocks along the walkway. The environment, emulating a sunlit, tropical sea, is beautiful and everywhere you look there is a bright, aquamarine glow.
Outside of Dangerous Lagoon, there are a great number of fascinating environment-specific tanks with such subjects as rays, coral colonies, sea horses, a dazzling silver cyclone of mackerel (I think they were mackerel), a 2 story kelp forest and a calming, elegant collection of glowing jelly fish.
The consensus among the family members was that it was worth it. Unlike the museum stereotype, there were no bored teenagers, only excited and engaged ones. There was a ridiculous amount of selfie action going on and I’m sure Facebook pages were filling with watery profile pictures that evening. For the more curious, there was plenty of interpretation to read and the intestinal workings of the aquarium itself were visibly presented as their own exhibit. On the way out there’s the cafeteria, a great play area (yes, wet) for the kids and the Touch Tank, where you are able to handle some of the more relaxed tenants of the aquarium. I didn’t notice if sea food was on the cafeteria menu but if so, I might be leery of the “catch of the day.”
All-in-all, a really well-presented and fascinating experience. We recommend you book on-line.
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