Look up. Look waaay up. No – it’s not the Friendly Giant. It’s the “Centre of the Universe” in your own backyard. You can get there and back in just a few billion years – or an afternoon; it’s all relative.
The Astronomy Interpretive Centre offers a universe of wonders; planetarium and multimedia theatre; telescope tours; photos, exhibits, and specimens that make your head spin; and interactive attractions to spark the imagination of any budding rocket scientist. Thirteen-year-old Cam and sister, Carole, are in agreement for once. “This place is awesome,” says Cam.
But if looking up isn’t your thing, maybe you’d rather look down; deeeep down. No, that’s not a pineapple under the sea. It’s a sea urchin. No sign of Sponge Bob. The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre has something much better.
Here you can poke around on the “bottom of the Salish Sea” and you don’t need scuba gear or a submersible to stay down as long as you want. You can get eyeball-to-eyeball with a wolf eel, share a one-finger handshake with a starfish, and find out why plankton isn’t just another pretty face.
Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre file photo
Joan Eaglesham, Director of Development and Special Events declares the Discovery Centre is, “the best bang for your buck on the Peninsula” and points out that it’s, “a learning centre.” And that might be the best thing of all. Kids think they’re just having fun; moms know they’ve pulled a fast one on the youngsters – they’re actually learning.
If looking up gives you a crick in your neck, and salt water makes you wrinkled and pruney, and you’ve been missing those good old days when you walked five miles to school and back, in bare feet through a blinding blizzard in the morning and scorching sun in the afternoon, try looking backward – in time. Heritage Acres might be the place for you. You won’t meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, scribbling “Little House on the Prairie” stories, but you can look, poke, pump, pull, turn, and climb till the cows come home.
Eight-year-old Kieren likes the games and riding on the tractors. It’s his fifth time here. Dad, Larry Smith recalls, “First time I was here I was about 9 years old with my grandfather and we used to sail little boats in the pond. We come here as often as we can. We love it here.”
Don Williams shares their enthusiasm. “It’s incredible … we can actually touch the exhibits here, and museums don’t usually allow people to handle stuff.” Carl Wolford from Duncan agrees. “I was just watching a young family and the father was putting his kids on the tractors and there was no one to say ‘you can’t do that’, and they can pull the levers up and down … they had a wonderful time.”
Allllll aboard! With the Vancouver Island Model Engineers (VIME) next door you can hop on a scale model train and catch a ride back to the present. The Society builds and maintains just under two kilometres of tracks. Most of the engines are the personal property of the engineers and they’re happy to share their big-boy big toys with the kids – “easily 300 or more today” according to Vice-President Watcyn Jones.
Parents Karen and Kevin Guise, “came out to ride the train,” with their kids. Both declare, “This place is the best kept secret on the Island.”
VIME’s President, Dave Cormie points out that, “… this is win, win, win for everyone. The Society [Saanich Historical Artifacts Society] gets the land in perpetuity as long as they develop and maintain it; Central Saanich gets a great park at no cost to the taxpayers, and families get a fantastic place to take the kids.”And it won’t break the bank; admission is by donation.
Photo by Judy Barlow. Dave, president of VIME
Look around. The Peninsula has a lot to offer. If all this sounds like too much work, requiring more energy than you can ‘mustard’ up during the hot-dog days of summer, toss the kids into the car, winch them down tight in their seat belts, and take the lonnnggg way to the Red Barn Market with stops at local farm gates for fresh berries and corn on the cob. Promise them a double-scoop ice cream if they’re quiet and don’t fight. Let them run off the sugar at Elk Lake, and with luck they’ll fall asleep on the drive home. One day down and too many to go before school returns, along with your sanity.
Dominion Astrophysical Observatory – The Centre of the Universe