It’s safe to say that The Aquatarium is one of Brockville’s most eagerly anticipated attractions. An ambitious $25 million dream five years in the making, the 27,000 square foot interactive learning centre is dedicated to showcasing the waterways and wildlife of the St. Lawrence and 1000 Islands. Excited by the prospect of peeking inside a warship, seeing river otters up close and trying out the ropes course, I recently visited The Aquatarium with my 6-year old daughter and 9-year-old son. While each of the exhibits garnered comments like “this is so cool!” from my children, we consider these seven to be must-sees at South Eastern Ontarios newest family-friendly attraction.
Ropes Course and AquaDrop
If you’ve ever imagined climbing the rigging of a tall ship, the Ropes Course is your chance! My agile and fearless son loved the course, which features rolling barrels, narrow planks and a mast. Instructors fit you with harnesses and a helmet and give you a short lesson on how the carabiners work, plus follow along behind you to ensure your safety. When you’re finished, take the gentle slide or the much more exciting AquaDrop – the 40 foot harnessed and controlled drop to the ground. Age restrictions are enforced for safety reasons (no, your mature and tall 7 year old should not do the ropes course).
Power of Water
Two hands-on exhibits make a splash here (literally). At one, the St. Lawrence River is re-imagined as a kid-friendly water table, complete with the Thousand Islands Bridge, the Lost Villages and functioning lock systems – and children can float foam ships down the seaway. At the second, kids learn the complexities of generating hydro electricity as they try to harness the power of water with miniature dams (go head-to-head with another family to see who can generate the most power from their dams). Plastic aprons are available, but your kids will love getting wet here.
Salt Water Touch Tank
Sea stars, spider crabs, star fish, anemones and more are housed in the salt water touch tank near the Creation exhibit. While these creatures are not native to the region, it’s a rare and fascinating opportunity to see them up close. Knowledgeable Aquatarium ambassadors help small hands gently pick up tank residents – but mind your fingers with the crabs!
Singer Castle Library
Singer Castle is one of the River’s most recognizable landmarks and its mysterious library is recreated here (can you find the secret passage?). It’s a quiet escape from the busier exhibits, with colouring and activity sheets, iPads and quiet toys when you need downtime, making it a great spot for kids who are easily overstimulated.
A replica of the British warship that was shipwrecked on October 31, 1780, this version of the HMS Ontario is full of nooks to hide in, rope ladders to climb and the interactive Captain’s Table. Kids (and adults) will be amazed at the touch-activated artifacts that cue up videos about the region’s watery legends. Nearby is a sensory bin of kinetic sand that will keep wee hands busy while bigger kids explore.
The St. Lawrence’s most playful residents, river otters, are the stars of the show here. You are most likely to see the three otters during the 1:30 pm feeding, so you may wish to plan your visit accordingly. During our visit, one shyly poked her head out of the water and swam towards my kids during a break in the crowds.
As avid fishermen, we all loved this exhibit because it was a chance to see our most common catches up close. Three tanks representing the region’s lake, river and shore habitats house bass, perch, pumpkinseed and sturgeon. The crawl tunnels underneath Aquaria let kids (and curious short adults like myself) poke their heads up into tanks for a unique look.
Know before you go
Location: 6 Broad Street, Brockville.
Driving time: From Ottawa 1 hour, 15 minutes / From Kingston 59 minutes / From Oshawa 2 hours, 45 minutes.
Hours of operation: 10 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week
Best time to visit: We visited in the late afternoon on a weekday and the crowds had fallen off by 2:30 pm. Expect The Aquatarium to be busier during fish and otter feeding times.
Admission: Adults $19.95 / Senior (65+) $14.99 / Youth (13-17) $14.99 / Child (4-12) $9.99 / Child (3 & under) FREE / Groups (15+) $12.99
Ropes Course: admission fee + $7.00 (minimum age 8 years old, kids 8-12 years old must be accompanied by an adult)
Aqua Drop: admission fee + $5.00 (minimum age 8 years old, kids can do this one solo)
Save on admission fees: An annual Family Pass is $149.97, a worthwhile investment if you plan on visiting more than twice per year, a family of 5 or kids age 13-17. Brockville residents can checkout an Aquatarium pass at their public library with a valid City of Brockville library card.
Speed up the Ropes Course process: download the waiver forms here and fill them out before you arrive to minimize wait times.
Parking: There are several pay-per-hour parking spots within a short walk of the Aquatarium which accept credit cards or coins. Two-hour complimentary parking spaces throughout downtown Brockville are available, but you will spend more than two hours here and the parking bylaws are enforced (you will be ticketed if you exceed the time limit). Park in the facility’s heated underground garage (great for families with little ones) for $2 per hour.
Family-friendly factor: Elevators and family bathrooms are roomy for strollers and visitors requiring wheelchairs. Washrooms are all equipped with change tables. Exhibits for the most part are child-sized, and when they aren’t stools and benches help kids get the most from their experience. Staff go out of their way to make sure that you are having fun and learning.
What to (and not to) bring: Snacks are not permitted inside The Aquatarium, so make sure your children are well fed before starting your adventure! Your kids WILL get wet – a change of clothes and small towel will come in handy for the hands-on water exhibits. If you plan on doing the ropes course, bring a pair of running shoes (flip flops are not permitted).