Science North unveils newest attraction in Sioux Narrows

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Sioux Narrows is the new home of a special interactive installation from Science north.

In a special unveiling at the Northern Ontario Sportfishing Centre in the small town, municipal dignitaries, Science North staff and administrations, and representatives of the provincial and Federal governments were on hand to officially open the Science North Nature Exchange, the newest of a line of special installations from the organization that are dedicated to “exploration, discovery and fun for all ages.”

The premise of the exchange is simple. Visitors to the Sportfishing Centre, children and adults alike, can bring in items they have discovered in nature, from pinecones and shells to stones, or even fossils. The found items can then be traded in for points. Extra points can be earned for sharing more information about the items in question, or even just the story of how it was found, and collected points can then be traded for other special items on hand at the exchange, including mineral samples or preserved insect specimens. A system keeps track of the logged points, and visitors can access the points at any of the other existing Nature Exchange sites.

While the exchange is brand-new to Sioux Narrows, it is an established venture for Science North in other northern municipalities including Kenora, Thunder Bay and Red Lake. Lora Clausen, the senior manager of Northern STEM Initiatives for Science North said that the exchange is based on the idea that learning can be done anytime and anywhere.

“It’s a very unique and proprietary concept founded by Science North on the belief that we learn best from our day to day activities,” Clausen said.

“Visitors will engage with the science of the world around them as they trade items from nature with items in the nature exchange collection, learning about their items they have found, and then being able to connect with the staff working at the nature exchanges, exchanging points, information and their items for additional items in the collection.”

Clausen said the installation of the nature exchange at the Sportfishing Centre was made possible by support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) and FedNor, and both Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford and Kenora MP Eric Melillo were on hand to help celebrate the opening.

Rickford, who is also the chair for the NOHFC board of directors, shared that the Science North installation has been a bit of a passion project for him, and he has worked to expand the reach of the organization to more northwestern Ontario communities, including the THINK Hub now located at the Fort Frances Public Library.

“What we’ve built out is an exciting Science North,” Rickford said of the work that has been done over the past few years.

“My little girls are right into this Northern Nature Exchange as it exists in Kenora. You probably know that we have announced late winter, early spring, that Kenora is going to be the home of a Science North asset. Thunder Bay is getting one. But this is really all about ensuring that northwestern Ontario has a voice and presence and shares in the assets of what’s going on. We’re proud supporters because we know that kids forage and find natural items on their own, that they endeavour to identify and inquire, they love to trade treasures, and collect points to leverage future options in the treasures that they keep.”

Rickford also noted he was a key figure in bringing the Northern Ontario Sportfishing Centre to Sioux Narrows back when he was a member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet. He thanked Melillo for continuing to work with FedNOR to keep investments and opportunities to the northwest region.

“It was really one of my first major projects when I was a Member of Parliament, way back in the days of Canada’s Economic Action Plan” Rickford recalled.

“I know Eric is a tremendous advocate, making sure that the Federal government’s feet are kept to the fire, that northwestern Ontario counts, so I can assure you that every dollar that FedNOR spends in cooperation with the provincial government has to pass through Eric’s campaign in Ottawa to make sure they’re sharing in the opportunity we have.”

Gale Black, the acting mayor for Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, extended her thanks to the organization for bringing the exchange to the community, highlighting it provides tourists and travellers one more reason to stop in and visit.

“We are pleased to partner with Science North to host the Northern Nature Exchange at the Northern Ontario Sportfishing Centre,” Black said. 

“This new exhibit is a great fit with our Centre, and the programming it offers fills a need for family friendly programming in our community.”

Science North’s director of education Ryan Land spoke on behalf of the organization and thanked those gathered for the opening, as well as the political representatives, for the support seen across the region for Science North’s efforts as they travel through or see additional permanent installations.

“I know community members and visitors to the region are going to love [the nature exchange],” Land said.

“Science North has previously developed and installed six Northern Nature Exchange experiences throughout partner locations in northern Ontario. This growing network of Northern Nature Exchanges has not only contributed to the ongoing growth and sustainability of these attractions, but has also facilitated new partnerships and relationship building to deliver science programming through summer camps, science festivals, education and outreach in these locations. Northern Nature Exchanges have seen significant success in host attractions, resulting in increased memberships and repeat visitation. On average, 50 percent of registered traders are attraction members and 73 percent of registered traders return to the attraction to trade again.”

The Science North Northern Nature Exchange located at the Sioux Narrows Northern Ontario Sportfishing Centre is open to visitors now, and will keep the same operating hours as the centre, which remains open daily from May to September.