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Ancient History and Heritage at The Royal Ontario Museum
There are many museums in Canada that claim to be a perfect venue for a family day out. Sadly, not all of them live up to their claims. (Some – such as the Children’s Museum in Kitchener – even charge adult entry prices for kids over the age of four.)
On the other hand, The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), located in the heart of Toronto, is more than just a great excursion for the whole family. A single day here simply won’t do it justice. Its exhaustive exhibits are a combination of cultural showcases and natural history that span art, social history, archaeology and more. In my native London, England, you would have to visit at least three different museums and galleries to see a collection that is this diverse.
The exterior of the building gives you a hint at what to expect inside. On the Queen’s Park side are two engraved tablets from the mid-1930s that proclaim: “The record of nature through countless ages” and “The arts of man through all the years”.
The most recent addition was in 2007. The spectacular Michael Lee-Chin Crystal – named after the Canadian-Jamaican investor – seems to hover above the main entrance on Bloor Street West , like a giant claw that’s trying to drag you in. My advice is to let it; you won’t be disappointed.
Inside the Crystal are the Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs. Nearly 40 years after first seeing a T-Rex’s remains at London’s Natural History Museum, they still fill me with awe. What I didn’t know then was that most dinosaur exhibits are actually recreated from casts because the chances of finding a single, complete specimen is extremely remote. The ROM’s displays include a diagram to show which parts are real and which ones are recreated. This does nothing to lessen their emotional power.
The Galleries are bright, modern and high tech, in contrast to the subject matter. This works extremely well and treats these prehistoric giants with the required reverence.
Speaking of contrasts, the museum should have set aside part of the $135 million budget for construction of the distinctive glass and metal Crystal towards some of the interior work. The finish on some staircases and walls appeared a bit shoddy, with nails and screws sticking out of what looked like whitewashed drywall. While this is only a minor detail, it’s still a bit disappointing.
At the time of this, my second, visit to the museum, the beloved Bat Cave was closed for a revamp. No problem; it’ll be open by now, so another return is called for.
As well as the permanent displays there are numerous events, lectures and exhibitions. February was Black History Month so the ROM featured several seasonal commemorations.
Running from the beginning of the year to April 4, 2010 is Fakes & Forgeries: Yesterday and Today. This interactive exhibition presents real and fake specimens and artifacts that date back to Natural History and World Cultures, all the way up to modern designer brands, pirated software and counterfeit currency. Visitors are invited to guess which are real and which ones are clever fakes. My only quibble about Fakes & Forgeries is that while the 20 or so presentations are fascinating and engaging, they have been put in a poorly lit and partially decorated room. They deserve better than this.
I’m eager not to end on a negative point because there is so much to the ROM that warrants many visits. The vast floor space, split over five levels, is filled with wonderful displays that are well worth the investment of time for exploration and discovery. My advice is to arrive early and stay late, taking a break to replenish your spent energy from plenty of healthy options at the family-friendly Food Studio Café.
The temporary exhibitions change every few months, so there is always something new and interesting to see. But it’s the prehistoric beasts that will always draw me back in.