Your Guide to Science North: Northern Ontario’s Most Popular Tourist Attraction

Science North is an interactive science museum that calls Sudbury home. It’s a massive draw in Canadian tourism, and wears the crown of Northern Ontario’s most popular tourist attraction. There are four floors, and a whole lot more, which means there’s plenty to explore.

Science North
Science North is very “open concept.” Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

Science North, located in Sudbury, Ontario, draws children and adults from far and wide to its iconic snowflake-shaped exterior. It is indeed the most popular tourist attraction in the region, though it’s certainly not the only site worth visiting in the region (or city), that’s for sure.

What makes Science North unique is its fun and friendly approach to science education that, in our humble opinion, is all about empowering visitors to realize that science isn’t a subject to be feared, but rather a name we attach to the processes that happen to be all around us, especially in a nation like ours.

In recounting their history, Science North notes that their thinking process was as follows:

“Rather than purchase push-button exhibits that focus solely on cause and effect, why not create new exhibits that take ordinary people through active processes to understand the relationship between science, technology and their everyday lives?”

Another differentiator? How about the staff. You can’t scan the museum without seeing “Bluecoats” (the name given to staff and volunteers here thanks to their blue lab coats) passionately engaging with visitors. It’s clear that positive personal interaction is a central tenant to the success of this museum, and we just love to see that here at We Explore Canada.

A Brief History of Sudbury’s Science North

Science North exterior
The snowflake exterior of Science North as seen from the Bell Park Boardwalk. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

The first rumblings of what would later become Science North started in the middle of the 1950s but, at first, it was primarily thought of as a museum that would showcase Sudbury’s rich mining history. Fast forward about twenty years, and the general feeling had shifted towards the idea of a more all encompassing science museum.

In January 1981, once the location, design and concept had been settled, Inco Ltd. (A Canadian mining company) announced it would make a $5 million donation to the construction of Science North, marking the single biggest corporate donation to a community project in Canadian history to that point. Other companies also contributed, as well as the Province of Ontario, in order to make this dream a reality.

On June 19th, 1984, Science North was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. The list of famous individuals who have walked through these doors is rather staggering – Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, and Sir Edmund Hillary just to name a few.

Since they first opened, they’ve added an IMAX Theatre, opened the F. Jean MacLeon Butterfly Gallery, created the Toddler’s Treehouse, added a domed planetarium and Club Génome, and have thoughtfully curated and added to their exhibits along the way.

Exploring Science North

One fun thing to know about Science North is that the snowflake buildings which you’ll explore on your visit are actually connected by a rock tunnel that passes through a billion-year-old geologic fault-line. This wasn’t done intentionally, but fittingly discovered after the fact.

After you’re done exploring inside (or prior), we’d also recommend that you enjoy the beautiful views of Hermit’s Bay from the Bell Park Boardwalk, which is just a short walk away from Science North. Many tourists also hop on the William Ramsey Cruise Boat before or after.

You won’t be able to miss it even if you try, but do take a moment to appreciate the 20-metre fin whale skeleton that hangs from the ceiling of the main building. It was found near Anticosti Island, located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in southeastern Quebec.

Sudbury, Ontario's Science North
How about getting to walk through a walk tunnel following a billion year old fault-line? Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

The First Floor

  • Planetarium: In 2009, Science North marked its 25th anniversary in style by adding the domed planetarium, which features state-of-the-art tech that makes it absolutely one-of-a-kind in Northern Ontario.
  • IMAX Theatre: Also in 2009, they completely redid the IMAX Theatre, and the big change they made was adding 3D capabilities.
  • Vale Cavern: The Vale Cavern is home to the multi-sensory visitor experience Wings Over the North: a 4D Bushplane Adventure. This was actually the result of a collaboration between Science North and the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. It’s a fun little adventure through the Arctic archipelago (and reminds us of flying in the Yukon’s Saint Elias Mountains).
  • TD Canada Trust Toddler’s Treehouse: This is an educational play area that was established to ensure that children under 5 have a dedicated educational play area. We’re not going to lie, the pirate ship climber and toy piano looked pretty darn fun.

The Second Floor

Butterfly Gallery at Science North
The F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell
  • F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery: A delightful little glass-enclosed gallery that’s home to more than 30 different types of butterflies. There are typically hundreds of free-flying tropical butterflies to set eyes on at any one time.
  • Lapidary Lab: This hugely popular spot is all about cutting, grinding, and polishing ordinary stones to “turn them into works of art.” This is a classic example of Science North’s hands-on approach to the museum.
  • Nature Exchange: The Nature Exchange is set up in game format, where visitors are asked to collect (and research) items to swap for points. These points are then used to “buy” impressive natural artifacts.

The Third Floor:

The Third Floor is constructed to allow visitors to experience the natural landscapes with Northern Ecosystems. It’s separated into a few main areas:

  • Northern Forests: This area focuses on animals who live in northern forests such as the northern screech owl, the porcupine, northern flying squirrels, the grey rat snake, and a variety of other creatures including bats. Kids tend to love the area where they can look into a bee hive as well!
  • Rivers & Lakes: This area, as you might imagine, focuses on animals in the north that live in lakes and rivers. The beaver is a fun and warranted focus along with water snakes, snapping turtles and local fish. The stream table is a brilliant place to talk about erosion with kids who are of a certain age and, generally speaking, it’s also a good place to talk about climate change, since this section discusses the challenges that some of these animals face in modern times.
  • Wetlands: This area teaches visitors about complex wetland ecosystems and, of course, the animals that can be found in those ecosystems. You’ll find many different kinds of frogs and toads, as well as snakes and turtles.
  • The Northern Garden: This section is located just outside the science centre, and we found it a nice reprieve, and an excellent opportunity to take a breath of some crisp Northern Ontario air. It’s all about showcasing native plant species, as well as teaching people how to take care of these plants properly.
  • The Discovery Theatre: Our friends at Attractions Ontario described it perfectly when noting that “The Discovery Theatre is located in the centre of the third and fourth levels of Science North. Here, live science shows cover topics ranging from fire to sound. A daily schedule, located in front of the theatre and on the LCD screens around the Science Centre, is kept up to date and people can schedule their day around the shows they want to see. Usually, upbeat music will be played two minutes before the show starts to allow people to know the show is about to begin. Wheelchair accessibly is offered on the first, and third level of the Discovery Theatre.”
Northern Garden - Science North
The Northern Garden. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

The Fourth Floor:

  • Racetrack: Build a race car and then race it. Who doesn’t love that?
  • Space Place: Firstly, we love the name. As you might imagine, this area is centred on astronomy and space exploration. Definitely prioritize a visit to the “Between the Stars Object Theatre,” but simply wandering around will have you crossing paths with topics like gravity and microgravity, Canadian space exploration, dark matter, and more.
  • TechLab: This floor, as you might have gathered, is very hands-on. This is a young engineer’s dream come true, as you create and take apart electronics, and there’s no shortage of gears and pulleys.
  • BodyZone: Future doctors will love it here, as the focus is on DNA and how our bodies work.
  • CyberZone: Tech will be the future, so we better teach it to the kids who will one day be Canada’s future. Here visitors can play the role of DJ, mess around with green screen technology, and even create their own stop-motion animation flicks.

What Else Should You Know About This Northern Ontario Attraction?

It’s worth taking a peek at the Current Exhibits on at Science North. At this particular moment, for example, Our Climate Quest, Indigenous Ingenuity, and The Great Northern Ontario Roadshow are on. When we visited, we had the pleasure of checking out ReInventing Reality: Explore the Science of Virtual Reality.

Whenever you decide to go, and whatever you do decide to see, you will, of course, need tickets. We’d recommend heading to this page to see pricing, and consider whether it may make the most sense to simply get a family membership for the year.

In terms of food, Elements is the healthier choice in the food court, but the Coca-Cola Corner also serves up sweet and salty snacks (like popcorn before an IMAX movie!). Whizards is a neat spot to pop into to buy a gift for a curious young member of your family. They’re all about serving up science-based and educational gifts and games. Members save 10% on all of the above.

Finally, we want to spend a second on the design of Science North itself. The snowflake is symbolic of the glaciation that sculpted Canada’s north. To make them glitter, the exterior of the snowflakes are covered with stainless steel (which, of course, is made from nickel from Sudbury). If you’re a fan of science centres, you may be keen to know that the individual who created this science centre, Raymond Moriyama, also designed the Ontario Science Centre!

They’re open Monday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm, and I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you when you arrive. Trust us, especially if you’ve got a family, a visit to Northern Ontario’s top attraction needs to be at the top of your list.

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

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