My little ones love museums and we've worn a path through many of our local favourites however we had never visited Pier 21 - Halifax's national museum of immigration - before last week. Last year the museum did an extensive renovation that included new interactive exhibits. They invited me to come for visit with the itsy bitsy ones (ages 4.5 and 2.5 years old) to see just how kid-friendly it is now and we jumped at the chance.
We started by checking out The Empress of Ireland, the current temporary exhibit.
This grand ship sunk in 1914 and it's referred to as Canada's Titanic. It brought 100,000 immigrants to Canada before it's sinking. Some of the recovered artefacts on display include a ship's wheel and bell, this deck chair that both children just had to try out, and even a pair of pajamas worn by one of the few survivors.
Upstairs is The Pier 21 Story which is the area that I think is best suited to younger children. So much of it invites them to touch, explore and learn about how families immigrated to Canada between 1928 and 1971.
There are dress-up stations.
A complete replica of a ship's cabin.
An example of a children's nursery with classic toys (you should have seen Miss M trying to figure out how the spinning top worked).
And a storefront with very realistic looking food, a working cash register and a scale.
There was also a replica of a rail car that immigrants travelled in that the children were very excited about. They both "played" checkers (i.e. built towers of checkers) and looked out the window at the scenery. They love trains so this was one of the highlights for them.
Across the hall from The Pier 21 Story is the Canadian Immigration Story which walks visitors through the process of immigration and shows how immigrants have contributed to Canada. While I think this area is a bit more suited to adults or older children who can take the time to read and listen to the stories, they still considered younger children in this space with hands-on elements for them to explore. I loved how they provided multiple ways to understand the stories depending on age and/or language skills.
There were touch screens with audio and/or video stories.
There were written word signs with questions to consider and sometimes activities to go with them.
And plenty of interactive elements to enhance the comprehension, such as building blocks in the section about architecture styles that immigrants have contributed to Canada.
We spent a full two hours at Pier 21 and I'm sure we could have easily stayed for another hour exploring. I definitely want to go back by myself so I can take my time savouring the incredible stories that so many immigrants have shared.
(CONTEST CLOSED) The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 has generously offered to give a family pass to one of you too! Enter below and good luck!
Disclosure: The museum provided free passes for us to visit, however all opinions are my own.