Brockville Aquatarium reopens, adapts to new experience during pandemic
Mary-Jean McFall cuts the ribbon to reopen the Brockville Aquatarium on Saturday. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)
BROCKVILLE -- A light drizzle and thick humidity didn't dampen the excitement at a ribbon cutting ceremony to reopen the Brockville Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing Saturday morning.
Brockville Mayor Jason Baker addressed the crowd, encouraging the community to come and enjoy the new experience.
“Today is a celebration of this facility once again, and its ability to pivot and adjust and to react to what’s needed," Baker said to a crowd of about 30 people.
"Congratulations on being one of the first to get back to the new normal in operation. Thank you.”
With that, chair of the board Mary-Jean McFall cut the ribbon, standing with other local dignitaries including MP Michael Barrett and MPP Steve Clark.
A big change to the operation at the Aquatarium during the COVID-19 pandemic is the hands-on experience, now more of a history lesson.
"We’ve gone from a very immersive, very touch, very engaging experience to more of a tour experience. There's more of an educational, what you would expect from a guided museum tour,” said Michelle Osborne, executive director of the Aquatarium.
“You’re going to find out a lot about the history of each exhibit, real knowledge of how those exhibits came about and what they are intended to teach the public as they go through.”
Director of operations Thomas Harder said to change the facility was a challenge.
“We’ve had to create a linear path, as we were a free roaming facility before. We have to keep our hands touching to a minimum. Most of our exhibits were designed to be touched and interacted with so we’ve had to learn to move through those and still make it fun and interactive for everyone.”
When you arrive for a tour, guests must go through a screening protocol and masks are mandatory.
A guide will lead the approximately two-hour tour in groups of eight, with a new group leaving every 30 minutes.
Once inside, arrows along the floor walk you from one exhibit to the next.
"Everyone is looking for something to do, myself included,” said Harder
"We’ve really gone about it with the idea of 'here’s something we may have seen but we can see it in a new light, we can learn some new things.' We really hope that people come in and enjoy it and learn a little bit more that they may not have otherwise known before."
A couple families were waiting outside for their tour, excited to get their kids out of the house.
"We wanted to figure out how to get our kids out into public a little bit and get used to adjusting to masks and people because they've been home the last number of months,” said one father.
"I thought it’d be a good opportunity to try things out in a safe way the way everything is organized really well here.”
Another family waiting outside agreed.
"We’re just looking to get out and especially on a rainy weekend just do something inside. It’s always been on our to-do list to get down here,” the man said.
Mayor Baker is happy to see a business adapt under the situation.
“Under this mask I’m smiling. This is a big day. The Aquatarium had an awful lot of work from going from a facility that is geared towards touching to one that can operate under COVID-19," said Mayor Baker.
"So I think its symbolic of our spirit here in Brockville and I congratulate the board and staff and the volunteers for being able to pivot and find a way to operate inside COVID-19 parameters. It's fantastic!”
Now the Mayor says the Aquatarium can be an example for other businesses and attractions to reopen.
“It's going to be a test. It's also going to be hopefully an example. They've done an awful lot of planning and an awful lot of work to try and figure out ways to keep people safe and also entertained and those two things in COVID-19 don’t always run in parallel.”
Tickets can only be purchased on the Aquatarium website, and the facility is offering a discount with the community discount code XBR613.