Science North: Northern Ontario’s premiere tourist attraction turns 30

Science North: On solid ground

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One of Northern Ontario’s most popular tourist attractions, Science North is easily recognizable for its ‘snowflake’ design created by Architect Raymond Moriyama who also designed the Ontario Science Centre.

Long before Sudbury's famous science centre moved off the drawing board and onto the picturesque shores of Ramsey Lake in downtown Sudbury, there was considerable apprehension that such a grand vision could be realized. But, Dr. David Pearson, a Laurentian University Geology Professor and the centre's founding director says history, timing and goodwill were on their side.

"It's 1979; the city had come through a long and bitter miner's strike," recalls Dr. Pearson. "There was a collective will to move forward by diversifying the local economy and strengthen Sudbury's image as well. The idea of building a 'mining museum' to tell the story of the Sudbury Basin began to take hold among civic leaders and the business community."

Bolstered by a $5 million donation from INCO ltd., a feasibility study determined that a public attraction, similar in scope to the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, offered the potential to become an educational experience and a popular tourist attraction at the same time. A vision now became an action plan as the project's steering committee built community consensus and province-wide support to create a viable tourist draw that would reflect not only the geological origins of the Sudbury Basin but the natural science and history of the region as well.

On June 19, 1984, two large, hexagonal "snowflake-shaped" buildings perched on top of a rock crater overlooking Ramsey Lake, officially opened their doors as "Science North".  Thirty years later, it is expected that the 10 millionth admission ticket to the centre will be issued sometime this summer.

Inside these futuristic-looking buildings visitors can walk through a tunnel cut into a naturally occurring rock formation that leads to several floors of interpretive science exhibits and interactive demonstrations. Helping to make science and technology interesting and engaging for students, tourists and patrons are the centre's famous "bluecoats"; volunteers and scientists always ready to answer questions or to help make learning 'hands-on' and engaging.

Sand and Science: Hands-on learning is fun

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Not a typical sandbox, these children are learning about the causes and effects of soil erosion with the help of a volunteer “bluecoat”. Science North pioneered the idea of bluecoats or staff interacting with patrons which has since become a standard practice at science centres around the world.

Over three decades, Science North has evolved from a single-site attraction to a multi-faceted visitor experience featuring a tropical butterfly gallery, a special exhibits hall, Northern Ontario's only IMAX Theatre, plus a digital planetarium. Science North has also incorporated into its operations the former Big Nickel Mine, transforming it into a multi-million dollar underground mine attraction aptly named Dynamic Earth. Along the way, Science North has become much more commercially oriented by developing travelling exhibits and programs, as well as film productions and documentaries for the IMAX screen.

Helping Science North grow to become the second-largest Science Centre in Canada required the support of many local, provincial and federal partners, including FedNor. Since 1998, FedNor has invested over $7.8 million to support expansion plans at Science North and Dynamic Earth, as well as the development of new programs and exhibits.

Thirty years after it first opened its doors, Science North continues to demonstrate that what is good for Sudbury and the local economy can also benefit the rest of Northern Ontario.

"Our outreach programming attracts over 2,000 kids at summer camps in 25 communities each year," says Dr. Pearson. "It's one example of how we work hard at being relevant and respected in the North. Succeeding in becoming the number one tourist attraction in Northern Ontario also means that we've succeeded in making science learning good business."

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