Museum Maintenance Woes


The Canada Science and Technology Museum is going into the porcelain facility quickly, a victim of years of neglect.  To those who don’t know the joint, the museum is one of the pre-eminent museums of, oddly enough, Science and Technology in the world, located not 10 kilometers from where we write this august blog.

Science and Tech, as is has been known for a zillion years, was originally a Morrison-Lamonthe bakery, a huge rambling joint in the suburbs of Ottawa since 1967 when it opened.  Morrison-Lamonthe, so the story goes, was expanding their production plant from their old Echo Drive location into a new state of the 1966-art high tech bakery when the market tanked.  They had a big, almost finished building and a big bill to finish the construction, when they decided not to go ahead with their mammoth undertaking and turned to the Feds to bail them out, which they did. 

Now, what to do with 11,000 square meters of floor space (118,403 square feet) and 12 hectares (almost 30 acres) of land?  It being Centennial Year, they decided to do a museum to Science and Technology and do it fast. 

Being an Ottawa kid, growing up a short bike ride from the site, I’ve probably been to the museum more times than I’ve had freshly laundered shirts.  It was an amazing place. 

We’re using past tense for a reason.  This story tells of the imminent demise of the joint.  Years of neglect, budget cutbacks, shifting priorities and the usual level of governmental dumb has left the now-shuttered Canada Science and Technology Museum in a bureaucratic limbo.  The roof leaks, there is asbestos falling out of the ceiling and enough mold growing to the point of the mold having their own exhibit space with their own docents for single cell attendees from the schools.  Alas.

The Crazy Kitchen, messing with your perception of what is level, or straight, the rotating Earth, the optical illusions, the artifacts of some of the first Cobalt 60 radiation machines, radios, televisions, telephones and telegraphs.  Where else could you see a working old-school rotary dial Central Office switch connecting two phones, not a foot away from your face, or an IBM card reader from an early IT beast along with a Minimoog Model D?  A Massey-Ferguson combine, a Model T, or components off one of the original Avro Arrows along with a working submarine periscope that stuck out the roof of the building?  Nowhere else but what we called Science and Tech.

In the Train Hall you could walk up into the cab of several massive 4-8-4 Northern-class steam locomotives:   Number 6400 looked like it needed nothing more than a few thousand gallons of water and a load of coal (plus the attention of a hotshot fireman) to get up a head of steam and pull the whole darn building out to the main CP line, then off to Montreal with green lights all the way

Outside was a collection of more rolling stock, some of the first passenger diesel locos, a working lighthouse, the working radar dish, and of course, the brushed aluminum menace of the Atlas missile pointing its finger at the Soviets, ready to release Armageddon at the press of a button.  We’re barely scratching the surface here, but suffice to say it was a magical place.

Now, with the mold, the collapsing roof and the asbestos, the years of fiscal neglect are going to kill the Canada Science and Technology Museum.  It will become pedagogically-approved, socially inclusive, hyperlinked, positive and affirming travelling exhibit on a series of tablet computers:  Here is a picture of a car, or a jet engine , or how sound travels in a tube that the target audiences and stakeholders can interact with in a contemporary learning modality. 

Interacting is nice, but being able to reach out and touch a drive rod of stainless steel as big around as your waist, smelling of oil and exertion, on a 1929 CPR Locomotive (#3100 to be exact) that would push a wheel twice as tall as you were, along with their five other brethren, is not interactive learning.

It’s magic.  Wild, uncontained, uncontaminated, magical, learning.  We’ll miss it.

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