9 Fun experiences that will make your day at the Vancouver Maritime Museum

maritime museum teepee

The Vancouver Maritime Museum ain’t just for kids. The way I see it, you could hire a nanny in Vancouver to take your kids to the museum for a day, or you could use the kid-free time to visit the museum yourself and enjoy its fun little details 🙂

It turns out the Vancouver Maritime Museum has been undergoing a bit of a makeover since realizing that people think it’s a boring place with a ship inside of it. I found it hilarious that the executive director of the museum told The Globe and Mail,

“We’re a little bit like the Catholic Church,” said Mr. Robinson. “We’ve seen our audience get older and older and older, and the pews aren’t being filled up.”

I beg to differ. I had a blast at the museum and Yelper’s also seemed to love it, giving it a minimum of 4 stars. You know why? Cuz there’s fun stuff to play with and see that you don’t normally get out of any ol’ museum visit.

 Here’s my list of things that will make you feel like the place is a playground, for grown ups and kids alike:

1) You can climb the first ship to ever sail all the way around North America.

Note: The St. Roch ship is temporarily closed for museum upgrades at time of writing.

Yes, the first ship that ever went all the way around North America, and the first ship that ever went West to East through the Northwest Passage is in Vancouver. It’s called the St. Roch. In the Maritime Museum. And you can go inside of it! Also very cool is that it has a second floor so you can climb a ladder to its top area. And who doesn’t like climbing ladders on preserved ships in museums? I can’t believe it’s allowed, so I’d go do it before they set up some lame safety rule and stop us all from having fun in that place.

Vancouver Maritime Museum 017

top of ship

You get to see how the RCMP lived and worked and cooked and ate on this ship, and even how they washed their clothes, the old fashioned way!

ship bedroom

ship clothes washing

It also has some life-sized stuffed animals on display so you can see what it was like for the RCMP who sailed on the ship to have carried a walrus with them, plus some sled dogs and a musk ox (and yes, you can see the huge sled on the ship too).

ship animals and equipment

Then, there’s this tent on the ship, which was apparently occupied by an Inuit guide named Joe (of all names), who helped the white guys out on the journey because I guess they didn’t know where they’d be going without him? Anyway, the funny thing is that he brought his seven family members with him. Wouldn’t that be a cool job to get hired for? Just think, it would have been ‘bring your kids to work’ day every day….And all you’d have to do is point the way… (Lol, I don’t really know if that’s all an Inuit guide does, but I sure do want to know how they knew where to go if the white men had compasses and they didn’t. That would make two things white men can’t do…dancing and navigating).


2) You can try on Inuit snow goggles.

Ok this was so cool. I had no idea Inuit used snow goggles. They could have been rich from their idea, what happened? But their snow goggles weren’t made of clear plastic and rubber. They were carved pieces with little narrow holes that naturally helped prevent getting snow and cold wind in your eyes, because you know, that’s kind of important when you live in arctic weather.


3) You get to see what the Inuit do with all their free time, like make dolls for kids out of sealskins.

 This is that one part of museum cozy-ness that makes you feel like all humanity is the same. Kids everywhere need toys, right? I know grown ups do…(but that’s another story). Well, the Inuit sure did know this, so they made dolls for their kids out of sealskin, called Ookpiks (in case you remember those from a few years back). So nice to think of play time and not just staying warm after skinning and eating an animal….

ookpik doll

The museum also has those fun pullout exhibit thingies where you can see neat things by opening up drawers that have Inuit tools and carvings in them. They make finding things so much more fun. I can see why kids love getting into drawers, there’s so much more mystery to something when you hide it first 🙂

pull out drawers

4) You can check out the “Newtsuit” in real life.

What is a “Newtsuit”? Well, I’m so glad you asked. It’s apparently “the submarine that you wear” and looks like a space suit for underwater travel. It looks like a giant yellow marshmallow suit and, according to the Vancouver Maritime Museum’s website,

“The Newtsuit is an atmospheric diving suit (ADS) that permits deeper, safer and more efficient work than conventional commercial diving gear. In a Newtsuit, the diver is not exposed to crushing outside pressures and has no need to decompress, taking only two minutes to come to the surface.

The Newtsuit is constructed of aluminum, titanium, stainless steel and Teflon. It weighs nearly 500 pounds on land, but when submerged is virtually weightless.”

So what I want to know is, when can we try that thing on? Regardless, it sure does make for a great photo op. Imagine making the peace sign (or bunny ears, whatever you want to call it) on top of this guy’s head and Facebooking it:


5) You can watch a “master model builder” in action, making model ships

So apparently this guy, Lucian Ploia has his ship model making shop inside the museum. He also apparently has a Tuesday to Thursday workweek, which makes me want to change careers. I just have to say, it is so fascinating to see how a model ship is made from start to finish, and you can catch his works of art in their various stages if you visit the museum. Even if he’s not there, you can see his workshop through windows.

ship model workshop

On another note, it’s also probably worth mentioning that the museum is one of the only places in the city you can buy model ship kits. Neat little fact I never knew.

6) You can pretend you’re a marine and push buttons to operate a mini submersible

 If you thought a “submersible” was the same as a “submarine”, you were wrong. But they must be both equally fun to operate, even in mini form. Don’t take it from me; Edward on Yelp even had a hoot using it, he says,

 “One fun little exhibit is this small remote-controlled submersible that can be controlled with buttons on the side of the display.  I seriously got all giggly messing with this thing.”

You can play the ultimate game of battleship ever….with yourself.


Photo credit: Edward L on Yelp

7) You can start smart conversations with your friends by learning about George Vancouver

So aside from being a fun place to mess around in, this place is, after all, a real museum. It has real archives and real historical documents and displays. So if you’re a history buff, or homeschooling parent or teacher, you’ll still have a good time while also getting some education into your day. The museum exhibits some really old maps that show some of the first voyages to Vancouver from Britain, and tells all about George Vancouver, who did most of the work finding this area in the late 1700s.  You can see models of his ship, The Discovery, and his real Chronometer, which helped him navigate and not get shipwrecked…

george vancouver

8) You can sail in Viking ship on open waters, like on that History Channel TV Show

This is for real, and I couldn’t believe it either. There is “a 40 ft. authentic half-scale replica” of a Viking ship in Vancouver that was originally built in 890 A.D.  It’s called the Munin, and it’s operated by none other than the Norwegian House Society (who else? Though it’s still part of the Vancouver Maritime Museum). The ship is not in the museum’s building (obviously), but you can get on it at Heritage Harbour nearly every weekend except when it’s on display at other events (see their sailing schedule). When you get on for a sail, you actually row out like the Vikings used to, onto open water, before they hoist the sail.

I don’t know about you, but this photo makes me laugh every time I see it:

viking ship

photo credit: http://www.scandinaviancentre.org/munin/

How can you not be itching to wear one of those horned hats and row like a Viking by now?

 As a side note, those horns on Vikings were one big huge mistake made by artists that for some reason everyone believed. I recommend watching CGPGrey’s YouTube video, “5 Historical Misconceptions Rundown” to get a kick out of that, and other untrue things that never existed in history.

9) You can take a stroll through Vanier Park and take photos of beautiful Vancouver city skylines

Vancouver can’t get any more beautiful, and probably one of the highlights of going out to Kitsilano to see the Vancouver Maritime Museum is that you are right in Vanier Park, with all its quirky art things you can hang off of. But in the background you’ll see blue waters, green, green grass, ships sailing, breathtaking mountains and city building skylines. You gotta love Vancouver when you see a sight like that (take it from someone who’s travelled). Heck, you can even feed ducks right outside the museum! The scenery is perfect for photo ops, like showing all your friends you’ve been to Vancouver. Or that you’re from Vancouver, woot!

vanier park

vanier park skyline

Of course, very important to note is that across the field is the Vancouver Museum and Planetarium. So you can make a museum day out of your outing and visit those as well. If you’re travelling from out of town, try to hook up with some other sightseers or people who like making friends and go together (you need someone to take photos of you anyway!).  Try out Kijiji’s “friendship and networking” classifieds. If you are a homeschooling parent, it would be fun to go as a group to the museum with other homeschoolers. See if they can accommodate special tours for your children. Try posting in the “activities and groups” classifieds to find a pool of interested parents to join you!

Photo credits:

Photos are by Joyce Grace unless otherwise noted.

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