A dozen niche museums within a day’s drive of Ottawa

Barbies! Shoes! Clocks! Kick-ass Victorian women! Whatever floats your boat, there’s probably a museum devoted to it within a day’s drive of Ottawa. Heck, speaking of boats, there are at least two museums devoted to those. Here’s a list of some of the most intriguing specialized collections in our backyard.

Barbie Museum, Stittsville, Ontario

These Barbies aren't from the Stittsville collection; you'll just have to drop by in person to see what's on display. Flickr/Creative Commons photo by romitagirl67.

These Barbies aren’t from the Stittsville collection; drop by the flea market to see what’s on display. Flickr/Creative Commons photo by romitagirl67.

The Barbie Museum has been a mainstay at the Stittsville Flea Market for almost a decade. Local collector Elizabeth Kondruss displays about a quarter of her collection of 20,000 dolls and accessories and also has Barbies for sale. If you’ve ever wondered what Mountie Barbie or Pilgrim Barbie looks like, this would be a good place to start.

Miss Chocolat, Gatineau, and ChocoMotive, Montebello, Quebec

ChocoMotive photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

ChocoMotive photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

The Outaouais is home to not one, but two, chocolate museums. Both are mainly shops where you can buy yummy treats, but there are small exhibits devoted to the history and production of chocolate at both Miss Chocolat in the downtown Hull sector of Gatineau and ChocoMotive in Montebello, part of the Quebec-wide network of economusées (industrial museums).

Centre d’interpretation du Doré jaune, Grand-Remous, Quebec

Flickr/Creative Commons illustration of a walleye courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Flickr/Creative Commons illustration of a walleye courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

It doesn’t get much more specialized than this: an interpretation centre in the northern Outaouais devoted to the yellow walleye. Fascinating fish facts! Open from mid-May to early September.

Canadian Clock Museum, Deep River, Ontario

Flickr/Creative Commons photo by Anne Swoboda.

Flickr/Creative Commons photo by Anne Swoboda.

Billing itself as Canada’s only clock museum, the Canadian Clock Museum in Deep River has over 2,500 timepieces and related articles. Beginning in 2000 with some 600 pieces amassed by local collector Allan Symons, the museum has expanded its collection largely through eBay, Kijiji and antiques fairs. It’s open year round, but call ahead to confirm hours.

Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum, Montreal, Quebec

Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Credit : © Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin.

Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Credit: © Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin.

Did you know you can see archaeological artifacts dating back some 2,400 years deep below Old Montreal? Long before French colonists built a chapel in 1675, native people had been using this site near the shore of the St. Lawrence. Find out more—and, if you’re feeling macabre, visit a centuries-old crypt—at the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum.

Insectarium, Montreal, Quebec

Montréal Insectarium. Credit: © Space for Life, Michel Tremblay.

Montréal Insectarium. Credit: © Space for Life, Michel Tremblay.

If you have small kids, you probably already know about the Insectarium, a centre for all things creepy-crawly (OK, I’m a bit biased; bugs give me the willies). The brave can check out 250,000 specimens, including live cutter ants doggedly going about their anty business.

Canada’s Penitentiary Museum, Kingston, Ontario

Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

This small but sobering museum—housed in what was once a prison warden’s home—gives visitors a taste of life behind bars in Canada over the last two centuries or so. Read prisoners’ stories, see a reconstructed cell and examine vintage guard uniforms. Note: The museum is currently closed until March 15, 2015.

Antique Boat Museum, Clayton, New York


This summertime museum in the 1000 Islands displays more than 300 classic watercraft, many made of gleaming wood. Learn about the St. Lawrence skiff and the history of speedboat racing, and take a guided half-hour tour on a 1903 houseboat.

Canadian Canoe Museum, Peterborough, Ontario

Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

You’ll also find heritage vessels at the Canadian Canoe Museum, where the collection of more than 600 “paddled watercraft” ranges from Inuit kayaks to boats used on the Amazon. The museum also offers lots of workshops for adults and kids, many with a First Nations focus; learn to carve a kayak paddle, string a snowshoe, make moccasins or restore a canvas canoe.

Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, New York

Amelia Bloomer was one of the take-charge Victorian women of Seneca Falls. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Amelia Bloomer was one of the take-charge Victorian women of Seneca Falls. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Even though it’s called a park, the main attraction is the excellent museum focusing not only on the groundbreaking Women’s Rights Convention held in this small Finger Lakes town in 1848, but also the history of feminism in general.

Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Ontario

Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Channel your inner Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex in the City” at this five-floor institution devoted to footwear of all descriptions. It’s surprisingly captivating, whether you’re ogling a 16th-century velvet Venetian shoe or Elton John’s silver platform boots. Trace the history of shoes all the way back to 2,500 B.C.

That just scratches the surface of the cool museums within a stone’s throw of Ottawa. Do you have a favourite I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll try to include it in a future post.

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I travelled to several of these locations—Montebello, Toronto, Kingston and Seneca Falls—as a guest of their respective tourism boards. None of those boards reviewed or approved this post.

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