Travel broadens the mind

Nine Maritime destinations for summer learning

By Helen Earley

Immersive or hands-on experiences offer a depth of understanding that’s hard to match in the classroom. Luckily, when the school doors close in June, many museums and galleries open their doors for the summer season.

Here are nine places in the Maritimes that offer rich educational experiences, the kind of learning you can’t get from sitting on the couch or looking at a screen.

Africville Museum, Halifax, Nova Scotia

In 1967, the city of Halifax left a scar on history when, as part of the expropriation of land in Africville, bulldozers came in the middle of the night to tear down the Seaview United Baptist church.

This was a place where children learned leadership skills, took music lessons, and celebrated special occasions with their families.

More than 50 years later, the Africville Museum is housed in a replica of the church, providing a rich historical experience. Kids will be curious about what life was like for residents of Africville and may feel upset to see photos of the expropriation and of residents’ belongings going into city dump trucks. This summer, choose a sunny day, bring a picnic, and stay a while, exploring the site of Tibby’s Pond and the green grass on the shores of the Bedford Basin where the houses of Africville once stood.

Beaverbrook Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Photo: Tourism New Brunswick

For students who are interested in the fine arts, there is no better place to explore than the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It began its life with valuable donations from Sir Max Aitkin, a millionaire Canadian-British newspaper publisher and politician, also known as Lord Beaverbrook.

Nowhere else in the Maritimes will you see such an impressive collection of 18th-century British masters, European, and Canadian art. The piece de resistance for many aspiring artists is Salvador Dalí’s Santiago El Grande, a larger than life surrealist oil painting that, curators say, is best viewed while lying down on the floor, looking up.

Kings Landing, Prince William, New Brunswick

Photo: Tourism New Brunswick

About 20 minutes west of Fredericton, King’s Landing Historical Settlement is a 121-hectare living museum where children can step back in time, rolling up their sleeves to become temporary residents of this summertime village.

What’s interesting about King’s Landing is the community isn’t original. When the Mactaquac Hydroelectric Dam was built in the 1960s, conservationists noticed the water would flood areas of the mid Saint John River Valley, potentially destroying settlements begun by Loyalist refugees and 19th-century immigrants. To prevent their loss, important buildings from these early settlements were moved to King’s Landing.

Miner’s Museum, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia

There’s an advantage to being young (or at least short) when you go into “the deep.” A hands-on tour offered by the Cape Breton Miner’s Museum in Glace Bay requires visitors to don a helmet and travel into tunnels with a ceiling height of just over four feet, guided by a retired miner who tells stories about what a miner’s life was like working underground.

See the equipment used to break the face of coal. Learn about the horses and pit ponies that spent days and nights in the darkness. Hear the sound of water dripping and the echo of your guide’s voice as you imagine a time gone by when the sound of blasting and machinery filled each dark room, located deep underneath the sea. This tour is an impactful experience: a lesson in culture, history, and industry children will never forget.

Eskasoni Cultural Journeys, Goat Island, Eskasoni First Nation

Do you know how to do a friendship dance? It’s pretty easy. But other dances are trickier, with a hop, slide, and a stomp that takes practice. Eskasoni Cultural Journeys is a two-hour hike through the woods of Goat Island, on the shores of the Bras d’Or lake, Cape Breton. Along the trail, experience hands-on lessons in traditional Mi’kmaq culture such as dancing, drumming, weaving, story-telling, and cooking, led by members of the Eskasoni First Nation.

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Most children know Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone, but there is so much more. Despite leaving formal education at the age of 15 (it’s said he was too curious for school), he was also a teacher of the deaf and a prolific inventor.

With partners, Bell built aircraft such as the June Bug and Silver Dart, which broke world records at the beginning of the 1900s.
Another incredible invention was the HD-4, a massive hydrofoil, which in 1919 set the world marine speed record as the fastest craft on water.

At the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site this summer, children of all ages can experience what it was like to drive this hydrofoil on the Bras d’Or Lake, through an incredible Virtual Reality experience. Children 13 or older can don a set of goggles for a totally immersive adventure; younger children can enjoy the experience using headphones and a screen.

Province House National Historic Site, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Everyone loves spending a week on the beaches of beautiful Prince Edward Island, but there are treasures to be found in the city of Charlottetown too. Although Province House is under construction, head next door to the Confederation Centre of the Arts, to learn about the political birth of Canada. See Parks Canada’s award-winning film, “A Building of Destiny,” and experience the exhibit, Story of Confederation.

Transportation Discovery Centre, Moncton, New Brunswick

Moncton is a popular summer destination for families who love the thrill of waterslides and wild animals, but further downtown there’s a fantastic opportunity to get hands-on with science at the Transportation Discovery Centre at Resurgo Place.

Children can launch a rocket, build a truck, fly a plane, float a boat, and even send homemade creations up a wind-tunnel. This hands-on science centre is a great way to spend a rainy summer afternoon in one of New Brunswick’s most kid-friendly cities. While you’re there, check out the Heritage Collection at the Moncton Museum, included in your admission fee, or pay an extra fee for a guided group tour in English or French.

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia

What does family mean to you? This summer at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, there is a special exhibition called Family Bonds and Belonging that ponders this question through a collection of photos, objects and heirlooms, oral histories, and home movies from many different Canadian families.

The interactive part? To learn about the child’s important family role, young visitors are encouraged to crawl through a pillow fort and play games in their own special section.

Other summer getaway suggestions

By Katie Ingram

Nova Scotia abounds with summer vacation opportunities. Here are some affordable options that won’t break the bank. Many can be combined into a single trip, as they’re in the same community or town.

Interactive History
If you’ve ever wanted to know what life was like in the 1700s, 1800s, or early to mid-1900s, there are 10 living history sites in Nova Scotia. Visit the Fortress of Louisbourg, a partly-reconstructed French fort from the 1700s. It focuses on the day-to-day life of soldiers and everyday people, along with housing several exhibits and displays.

Ross Farm has costumed interpreters and heritage buildings, but visitors can also be more immersed in history by taking part in activities, like candle making and woodworking. They can also visit the farm’s many animals and walk the trails.

Sherbrooke Village allows guests to be Witnesses, where they just observe; Explorers, where they dress how people did at the time; or Discoverers, where they’re fully immersed in village life and take on a specific role.

Museums
There’s a Museum of Industry in Stellerton and a Firefighters Museum of Nova Scotia in Yarmouth. Many communities have more than one museum, covering different subjects or eras. A whole trip could be planned around museum visits in a single community, given how many there are. For example, a trip to the Bay of Fundy area could involve six Nova Scotia Museum-affiliated locations: North Hills Museum, Prescott House, Haliburton House Museum, Shand House Museum, Lawrence House Museum, and Fundy Geological Museum.

Upper Clements Parks
Upper Clements Parks, located in the Annapolis Valley, offers traditional theme park rides, such as the flume, a rollercoaster, paddle boats, bumper boats, Ferris wheel, and even a leisurely train ride. It’s also adjacent to an adventure park, which has 14 ziplines and a 20-metre free-fall jump.

Beaches
There are beaches all over the province, ranging from lakes to ocean and sand to rocks. There’s an abundance of beaches on the South Shore. You could stay for a week and go to a different beach each day. There’s everything from the tropical-like waters of Carter’s Beach to the rocky shores of White Point and the mile-long white sand of Summerville Beach.

Camping
Nova Scotia’s national parks offer views of Nova Scotia’s most unique natural wonders, including the Cape Breton Highlands and Kejimkujik between Queens County and the Annapolis Valley.

Provincial parks, like the national ones, require a reservation and boast breathtaking scenery. They range from Cape Chignecto overlooking the Bay of Fundy, to the walking trails of Dollar Lake with its 119 campsites, boat launching site, and two beaches.

Private campgrounds abound, with many offering family-oriented features like pools, theme days for children, and playground equipment.

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