From shoes to canoes, these museums highlight the odd and obscure … and mundane
If you’ve had your fill of looking at pretty art and ancient pottery shards in the usual types of museums, it’s time to visit some that zone in on unusual subjects. Last week we looked at some weird and wonderful museums in the United States. This time it’s Canada’s turn. Be prepared to be amused and perhaps a bit bewildered by these six extraordinary highlights – or fascinated, if you’re a fan of clocks or canoes, gophers in costume or shoes.
Toronto: Bata Shoe Museum
We all know someone who is obsessed with shoes, but Sonja Bata’s obsession was out of control. Her historic footwear collection officially burst at the seams in 1979, sparking plans to build a museum with 39,000 square feet of space. In May 1995, it opened to the well-heeled crowd who viewed more than 13,000 shoes, including those from celebrities like Elton John, Shania Twain and Marilyn Monroe. The exhibit All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages walks you through 4,500 years of history, while special showings hone in on a topic like men in heels through the decades. The museum is just the right size for a couple hours’ visit. By the time you’ve gone toe-to-toe with the last exhibit, you will have had enough and it’s time for your boots to take you walking – to the exit. (Note: The decidedly less weird Gardiner Museum, which focuses on ceramic art, and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto’s major museum for world cultures and natural history, are both steps away.)
327 Bloor St. W., Toronto; 416-979-7799
Bata Shoe Museum
A boot formerly belonging to Elton John
Peterborough, Ont.: Canadian Canoe Museum
Author Pierre Berton may have been right when he quipped that “a true Canadian is one who can make love in a canoe without tipping.” Long before we could hop a plane to get somewhere, canoes were the Model-T Fords of the aquatic waterways. Every Canuck seemed to have one. With that legacy in mind, this museum opened in 1997 – a kind of love letter to the canoe – with a fleet that has grown to more than 600 vessels. Guests can avoid canoe overload by signing up for various activities, including adult workshops that include carving your own canoe paddle and making your own snowshoes or winter moccasins. Soon, there will be more to float your boat soon: Groundbreaking is set for 2017 on construction of a brand new building that will include almost 1,600 square metres (17,000 square feet) of exhibition space.
910 Monaghan Rd., Peterborough, Ont.; 705-748-9153
Canadian Canoe Museum
Deep River, Ont.: Canadian Clock Museum
What time is it? Guests at this precisely specialized museum can find the answer thanks to the 2,500 clocks in the museum’s horological collection, which houses timepieces from the last two centuries. Located between North Bay and Ottawa, it’s the only one of its kind in the country. Founded by research scientist Allan Symons in 2000, the Canadian Clock Museum chronicles the evolution of the lowly clock, one of the most common household items around, from strictly pragmatic designs to rare ones created to impress and hint at the size of one’s bank account. Those with a keen interest in history and/or design can fill a couple of hours staring at faces. What keeps this non-profit museum ticking is its volunteers, so opening hours can vary. Call ahead to avoid disappointment.
60 James St., Deep River, Ont.; 613-584-9687
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.: Canadian Bush Plane Heritage Centre
Gearheads who love aviation should taxi to this museum dedicated to bush planes and the important role they play in northern and remote communities. For a small facility, it is packed with cool stuff, including more than two dozen aircraft. One of which is the Silver Dart, built by Alexander Graham Bell. It’s a replica, but hey, it’s still impressive. Guests can opt for a hands-on experience by trying their hand at a flight simulator or a “3D adventure” called “Wildfires!” to get a taste of what it likes to fight blazes from a CL-415 water bomber. Kiddies dig this museum, too, courtesy of the abundance of arcade-style games and interactive displays that are disguise their learning quality amid a big ball of fun. Other exhibits pay homage to hometown heroes like Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar and how bush planes help keep towns safe. It’s hard to leave without feeling at least a bit smarter for having visited.
50 Pim St., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; 705-945-6242
Canadian Bush Plane Heritage Centre
Montmagny, Que.: Accordion Museum,
Finally, the accordion gets star billing with a museum dedicated to the part it plays in jazz, tango, classical, polka and world music. More than 130 varieties of “squeeze boxes,” as they are lovingly dubbed, make up the collection. One-third of them are displayed at any given time in the historic Manoir Couillard-Dupuis (circa 1800), located an hour’s drive from Quebec City. Photo and recorded archives strike a chord with some visitors, while occasional music performances showcase the many musical styles featuring the instrument. You could squeeze a visit into an hour, unless you are have a deep fascination for accordions.
301 Blvd. Taché Est, Montmagny, Que.; 418-248-7927
Torrington, Alberta: World Famous Gopher Hole Museum
It’s no joke. This wacky museum really is world famous, thanks to the wave of media attention it received when it debuted in 1996. Visitors have come from all over the globe to see posed taxidermied gophers (actually Richardson’s ground squirrels, if you want to get technical) in recreated scenes from life in a small Prairie town. The dioramas are hilarious, including depictions of gophers dressed in corresponding outfits in vignettes captured at the beauty salon, at the curling rink, on a toboggan hill, during a bank robbery and at church, Don’t worry, these critters weren’t killed in the name of art. They were all deceased prior to their museum appearance. This place is ideal for Instagram posts and selfies. Otherwise no one will believe that (a) such a place exists and (b) that you wasted your time to go to a museum with almost zero educational value. Anyway, the absurd qualities of this place make a visit time well spent.
208 1 St. S., Torrington, Alta.; 403-631-2133
World Famous Gopher Hole Museum
Hit it, fellas! Play us out.