A new perspective on the Canadian War Museum

by DaniGirl on February 15, 2010 · 9 comments

in Ottawa Family Fun

We were watching the Olympic mogul races (Go Canada Go!) the other day when one of the boys started talking about how Germany was evil. I don’t know whether it was something they’d been watching on TV or something from school, but it led to a long talk about heritage and ancestry (Papa Lou was born in Dusseldorf) and circuitously to a talk about war. We boiled it down to an analogy of bullies and defenders at the global level, and the big boys seemed able to relate to that quite well. By the end of the conversation, Simon was actively cheering for the German competitors when a Canadian was not in the race.

In the serendipitous way the Universe works, when I mentioned on Twitter the other day about things to do on Family Day in Ottawa, the Canadian War Museum tweeted back that we would find an edible fort-building activity at the War Museum today. That, and my new fascination with all things military sealed the deal.

That’s how the three boys and I ended up having the whole Lebreton Gallery all to ourselves early on Family Day morning. We’ve never visited it before, and I really didn’t know what to expect. What we found was a vast room filled with the kind of heavy machinery that fascinates boys and photo-junkie mothers alike: tanks and Howitzers and amphibious vehicles and even a jet. It’s all laid out in a cavern of a room flooded with delicious white light and perfect for burning off a little energy.


I have to admit, I was a little cautious at first. The boys are used to the Children’s Museum, where you’re not only allowed but supposed to touch and clamber on and generally interact with everything. I wasn’t expecting the War Museum to allow that kind of interactivity and in fact, it doesn’t — most things are roped off and you aren’t allowed to climb on anything. But the very excellent docent named Eric quickly assured me that some touching within reason was fine, and when I hauled Lucas bodily and somewhat guiltily back from the far side of a barricade for about the fifth time in as many minutes, he told me not to worry too much about Lucas’s irrepressible need to violate the boundaries and inspect things up close.

We spent the largest part of our morning out in that gallery, learning about the various machinery, the eras during which they were used, and their functionality. We had the run of the place, and Eric offered simple facts on interesting pieces to the big boys while I shepherded Lucas away from the stuff he wasn’t supposed to touch. It’s an impressive collection!

Leopard tank

After we’d edged toward wearing out our welcome in the Lebreton Gallery, we headed out to the main lobby for the morning’s main attraction, the edible fort-building activity. I should have seen this one coming, but keeping the Rice Krispie square walls and assorted edible accoutrements (did you know they made gummy soldiers? I so need to bring some to work!) out of Lucas’s mouth proved to be even more of a chore than keeping him out from under the military equipment, so we quickly moved on from that activity to view some of the other exhibits. Our next stop was a special exhibit on camouflage.


Even when he didn’t know what he was listening to, Lucas was happy to push the buttons and use the headphones.


The only moment that made me cringe was in the section of the museum that looked at the military since World War II. There was a series of videos with the sound of a camera’s shutter clicking, which of course is as familiar to my boys as the sound of a mother’s heartbeat is to her fetus. Unfortunately, the images were violent and rather gory and really not appropriate for little kids. Now before you get all excited, I *know* we were in the war museum, and I am not saying we should sanitize any of this. But, let’s face it, little kids under eight just don’t need to be exposed to that stuff. Not at this age. So I just hustled them along to look at something else and made a mental note to talk to them about it later.

Further down, we found a colouring station, which is always a favourite activity.


We found one of these, which has really not much at all to do with war but we had one just like it when I was a kid and I don’t think the boys have ever seen a telephone that actually rings instead of warbling.


I have to admit, before today when I thought of “kid friendly Ottawa” the War Museum did rise to the top of my mind. But both Tristan and Simon rated it as one of their favourite places to visit, better even than our beloved Sci and Tech Museum. Not surprisingly, Simon said he loved the edible fort building activity the best, but Tristan made me smile when he said he enjoyed “learning the stories about everything.” There was a lot we didn’t see (leaving us some good bits for next time!) but here’s a sample of some of the other stuff we did see.

My creation

I think context is key when explaining complex concepts like war to kids. The boys know I work with soldiers and am proud of what they do, but the media and their peers give them strong mixed messages about the nature of war, from the cartoonish to the horrifying. While the big machinery appeals to them in the same way that garbage trucks and excavators do, I think the big boys at least are old enough to start learning more of the realities of what it means to be a soldier and a nation that prides itself on its peacekeeping force. A trip like this gives the conversation a little bit of context I couldn’t otherwise offer.

In the end, I’d say we got our money’s worth today, but I’d further opine that I’m not sure I’d be willing to make it a part of our regular seasonal rotation simply because the cost is high relative to other Ottawa activities. We paid $7 for parking, plus $20 for one adult and one child admission. Lucas was free, as was a second child under their special Family Day promotion. I know the War Museum’s job is not to cater to families, but I don’t see a comparable value to a visit to the Children’s Museum, which costs the same and is worth every penny and more.

Having said that, I’m glad we went. If you’ve never been, you should go. We had fun, all four of us, and we each learned something, too. What more could you ask for?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Janet February 15, 2010 at 6:16 pm

We have a family membership at the Museum of Civilization which also allows you free access to the Canadian War Museum. It also includes 20% off parking at both museums, discounts on IMAX tickets, and 10% off at the museum gift shops and cafeterias. For $99 a year, it’s great value (or at least for people like us who frequent the museums).

2 _Don February 15, 2010 at 8:28 pm

I’ve been a number of times with my son (9), and he has requested to go on two occasions. No argument from this Dad! And I agree, its a photog’s paradise:

3 Batman February 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Nice pics (as usual).

4 smothermother February 16, 2010 at 7:43 am

with that being my previous place of work and all, i really can’t say anything bad. i agree that the cost is pretty steep for families and the children’s museum is so much better value. and it going with children, parents definately need to make sure that they keep the line of communication open and put into context a lot of the visuals that they might see. as you mentioned, some of it is not sanitized and for good reason. but little kids need to understand it. unfortunately most parents don’t use the opportunity to discuss them afterwards. i like your broad bullies vs defenders concept. it’s something that kids can understand. the hosts and guides are usually a wealth of info and they can often bring it down to something that kids can understand too. we haven’t brought the jellybean there yet, though i know he’s love the tanks. at the moment he is all about the aviation museum.

5 CanWarMuseum February 16, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Don't just take our word for it! #Ottawa blogger @DaniGirl visits the Museum with her kids & posts her impressions http://bit.ly/ckeb0U

6 Rebecca February 17, 2010 at 7:22 pm

thanks for the review and details! I think ds would like the tanks, but am not sure about the rest – we really like it and are into history (dh esp. into War history) so want to take them when we can discuss more I think

7 CivilizationMuseum February 17, 2010 at 7:57 pm

A new perspective on the Canadian War Museum @CanWarMuseum http://bit.ly/bddrjC

8 Attractions Ontario February 17, 2010 at 8:39 pm

RT @Civilization A new perspective on the Canadian War Museum @CanWarMuseum http://bit.ly/bddrjC

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