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An artistic representation of a lady’s writing desk at Billings Estate.Supplied by the Ottawa Museum Network

Last year, more than 20,000 visitors passed through The Diefenbunker, and executive director Christine McGuire expects the attraction to be even busier as restrictions loosen. As Canada’s only Cold War museum, this unique experiential venue offers two escape rooms – one of which takes up an entire floor of the four-storey bunker.

“There’s a new appreciation for activities museums offer because traditional gathering places weren’t accessible during the last two years, explained Elaine Eagan, programming and visitor experience manager at Watson’s Mill. Each of the 11 museums that make up the Ottawa Museum Network has prepared sanitation stations, physical distancing markers and complimentary protective gear.

Highlighting the history of lockdown hobbies

Whether due to aspiration, necessity or comfort, the pandemic brought out the baker in many of us. As one of few functioning water-powered flour mills in Canada, Eagan noticed an uptick in visitors interested in studying Watson’s Mill’s inner workings and buying stone-ground flour made on-site. “The past two years have made people slow down and think about how their lives are affected by processes they never see,” she said.

The farm-to-table ethos has also been a mainstay of the Osgoode Township Museum where neighbours make the most of the vast heritage garden. “We often see people come by to check on the strawberries, and we have volunteers ready to answer questions,” said educational officer Caitlyn McDougall.

Bytown MuseumSupplied

The museum has a new program in the works, catering to seniors with dementia. Created in collaboration with the Dementia Society of Ottawa, Bloom will guide participants through a secluded sensory garden where smells and sounds may be used to trigger happy memories.

This summer, visitors can also spend a Sunday at an artisan market or attend a behind-the-scenes tour during Doors Open, a popular city-wide event running June 4-5, 2022, offering free admission to participating museums. McDougall said while they’re prepared to pivot online if necessary, staff are excited to show off the museum’s archives. “It’s so much better in person,” she said. “It’s a unique experience, so people get really excited.”

Exploring Indigenous cultures

With a focus on examining relationships between the region’s earliest settlers and Algonquin peoples, the newly renovated Vanier Muséopark and Sugar Shack will feature exhibits about the history of maple tapping as well as present-day stories. Online programs, which have been incredibly popular with the museums’ patrons, will continue alongside in-person events. The museum will offer an online Sugar Festival and continue hosting panels virtually in partnership with the Assembly of Seven Generations.

“Truth and reconciliation is everybody’s business,” said educator and program manager Mario Bélisle. “We’ve run similar programs since the museum opened in 2006, and they’re very important to us.” Along with historical education, Bélisle stressed the importance of acknowledging Canada’s colonial identity and the ways First Nations and Inuit people continue to contribute to Vanier’s community and culture.

Robin Etherington, executive director of the Bytown Museum, echos Bélisle’s sentiment adding museums can be insightful venues to learn about contemporary issues. Last fall, the museum hosted round tables led by leaders from Pikwàkanagàn and Kitigan Zibi about truth and reconciliation; the event was such a hit, the Elders and Council plan to return for a discussion on repatriation.

Savouring the staycation

Despite the resurgence of international travel, Sara MacKenzie, executive director of the Ottawa Museum Network, said some people are sticking close to home for their next vacation. Visitors can look forward to regular programming at OMN venues starting in May, and those coming to Ottawa from elsewhere in the province can take advantage of Ontario’s 2022 Staycation Tax Credit, offering residents 20 per cent of eligible accommodation expenses up to $2,000 before December 31, 2022.

Exploring vintage television equipment at the Nepean Museum.Supplied by the Ottawa Museum Network

As people get set to explore this summer, they can find multiple Ottawa area estates boasting hundreds of acres free to roam. The Billings Estate, Pinhey Point Historic Site, Nepean Museum and Fairfields Heritage House offer picturesque grounds a short drive from the city’s downtown core. Guests can explore sites by foot, bike or boat, and spread out for picnics making use of on-site barbeque pits while learning about the land’s rich history.

“It’s going to take you into more rural neighbourhoods where you’ll get stories specific to each community,” said Jennifer Maybank, audience development officer at the City of Ottawa. “It’s a great opportunity to see parts of the city you might not see as part of your normal tourist experience.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Ottawa Museum Network. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.