The Bank of Canada Museum: An Interactive, Illuminating Stop That’s Easy to Add to Any Ottawa Itinerary

The Bank of Canada Museum recently underwent 4 years of renovations to ensure that a visit to this Ottawa museum is both engaging and memorable, not to mention a great stop for visitors of all ages.

The Bank of Canada Museum in Ottawa, Ontario
The new, vibrant entrance means you’re unlikely to walk past without taking notice! Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

The Bank of Canada Museum, as you might have guessed, aims to help visitors understand what exactly the Bank of Canada does, but also why that matters. On paper (no pun intended), it doesn’t necessarily sound like the most exciting venture, but in recent years, the museum has gone through painstaking efforts to ensure that this is going to be a fun experience for anyone who pops on in.

In fact, there are a handful of experiences inside that make this downright kid-friendly (yes, you heard that right). I saw many children taking part in games that were teaching them some monetary principles in a fun way, and it was wonderful to see how far the museum had come since my last visit. It was out with the endless panels with small print, and in with the interactive experiences.

What we want to stress here at We Explore Canada is that this isn’t an activity that you need to schedule a ton of time for. It’s something that you can build into your existing itinerary and that most people can tackle within an hour or so and get a ton out of.

In short, it’s very manageable, but I’d also like to think it’s meaningful, especially for families who are keen to talk a little bit about economics without sending their kids straight to sleep.

The Origins of the Bank of Canada Museum

Bank of Canada Museum
Some of the old school artifacts are actually some of the most interesting to set eyes on! Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

So, it all begins in the 1950s with the opening of the National Currency Collection which, for the most part, is precisely as it sounds. In the early 1960s, they’re finally given direction to “establish the most comprehensive collection possible of Canadian coins, tokens and paper money.”

As the years went by, curators did precisely that, but they also amassed an impressive array of international currency and items, some of which are on display today. The focus, however, was to pad the National Currency Collection, first and foremost.

As they note on their site:

“Now at more than 110,000 artifacts, the Collection is the world’s most complete collection of Canadian currency and currency-production items, and it continues to grow, with special attention paid to further enhancing this status.”

Finally, in 1980, what was then known as the Currency Museum opened its doors to the public. It called the former Banker’s Hall (built in 1937) home, and had a little over 5000 square feet to play with in a central location in the nation’s capital.

The museum temporarily closed in 2013, and reopened in July of 2017 as the The Bank of Canada Museum. It’s got a whole different look (as you might imagine after four years of renovations), but I love the fact that it’s still technically connected to the Bank of Canada building through the underground conference centre.

My wife, Briana, and I actually met as tour guides in Ottawa back in 2009. At that time, the Currency Museum was a place that we recommended if students and teachers (we were helping school trips see the city) had extra time, but the changes that were made recently have made this a much more appealing option to add to Ottawa itineraries, and a much more fun one as well!

The Bank of Canada Museum's hip new foyer
The Bank of Canada Museum’s hip new foyer. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

What is the Bank of Canada Museum Aiming to Do, Anyhow?

They want to:

  1. “…provide Canadians with a public space where they are encouraged to learn about the policies and functions of the Bank of Canada and gain an understanding of the Bank’s role in guiding the Canadian economy, and to foster and grow the National Currency Collection.
  2. “…creatively bring the work of the Bank of Canada to Canadians by demystifying the Bank’s key functions and interpreting Canada’s monetary heritage; and to provide access to Canada’s National Currency Collection.”
  3. “…be a recognized, world-class Museum that illuminates the work of the Bank of Canada and imagines a future where all Canadians can understand, appreciate and value their economic heritage.”

What Will You Find Here?

It’s not too difficult to imagine what may be here, but I think it might be helpful to run through what they have here in their permanent collection so that you have a good understanding of whether this might be a great stop to add to your visit to Ottawa.

Again, this is all laid in such a way that makes it very easy to navigate, so it’s not a particularly time intensive museum, by any means.

  • A massive digital touch wall featuring hundreds of artifacts
  • A station in which you “land on target” as you navigate the “economic galaxy.” This seemed to be a hugely popular activity among kids who were visiting.
  • Why the Bank of Canada exists (and, well, money for that matter) in a variety of exhibits that combine artifacts and texts and, importantly, are in plain language.
  • A personal favourite section for me – looking at money from around the world, some of which is thousands of years old.
  • A section to design your own Bank of Canada note.
  • Multimedia shows and presentations.
  • Touch-points to reflect on the importance of personal budgets and spendings habits.

What I’ve mentioned above roughly encompasses the permanent collection at the Bank of Canada Museum, but they also almost always have Special Exhibitions. Take a look at what they have on now to see if they’re a good fit for your visit.

Typically, they’ll have at least one exhibition that’s put together with youth in mind. That’s partly why this museum is a fan favourite for visits from local schools.

To give you an idea of scope, the museum currently boasts a collection of over 120,000 artifacts, as well as 8500+ books, journals, pamphlets and more.

What Else is Worth Knowing Before Your Bank of Canada Museum Visit?

One important thing to note is that admission is free to this museum. Personally, I love the fact that a museum dealing with money happens to be free. Access to their cloakroom, as well as wifi, is also provided totally free of charge.

At this time, their hours of operation are from 10am – 5pm from Thursday to Monday. That means you’re likely going to be squeezing in your visit on a weekend. There’s a little boutique located on-site that closes about a half an hour before the museum closes for the door (so 4:30pm).

The Bank of Canada’s mandate is to try to provide each and every visitor with a positive experience. You can learn more about their accessible entrance, wheelchair accessible stalls, as well as listening devices and visual access on the Accessibility and Special Needs section of their website.

The museum itself is relatively easy to find, just look for the glass pyramid like structure that’s facing Bank Street (at the corner of Bank and Wellington).

If you fit this into your next Ottawa itinerary, the whole team here at We Explore Canada wishes you a wonderful visit. Feel free to leave a comment below with your experience, and let us know if this helped guide you. That’s what we’re here for, after all!

We want to humbly thank Ottawa Tourism for hosting us as media. All opinions are completely our own.

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