It was a somewhat subdued launch party.
The Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing held a reopening ceremony outside the discovery centre’s main entrance at the bottom of Broad Street on Brockville’s downtown waterfront on Saturday morning. The 33,000-square-foot facility had been closed to the public since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Executive director Michelle Osborne welcomed the audience to the Aquatarium’s “…new, safe and socially distant” look. “Today, we are celebrating the ability to bring educational and fun experiences to our local region.”
Osborne told the spread-out crowd of about 50 that the Aquatarium team had been “…given a mountain of a task,” which was to create a new business model in a short period. The hands-on nature of many of the Thousand Islands-themed displays and exhibits that had been part of the Aquatarium’s appeal since the facility opened in 2016 is no longer appropriate during the pandemic.
“We can’t do that so much anymore,” Osborne remarked.
Visitors will now be able to take in the facility by way of a museum-like guided tour that lasts between about an hour and a half and two hours. Each tour will have different interactive experiences with the Aquatarium’s animal husbandry team, Osborne noted. There will be more emphasis placed on how the facility’s vision came about, she indicated.
There is a limit of eight visitors per tour. Masks are to be worn at all times, and physical distancing is practiced. Strict COVID protocols are in place, according to the executive director. Cleaning and sanitizing will take place around the building and between tours during the day, and there is increased cleaning at night.
Osborne is encouraging local residents to make use of the opportunity to tour the Aquatarium and share in the new experience.
Mary Jean McFall, a longtime board member who began serving as chair in March, described the Aquatarium as an anchor for tourism, economic development and education. Having the opportunity to continue to enjoy it during these these times is ‘a huge deal,” she said.
The fact that the Aquatarium is one of the first major attractions in the region to reopen to the public was noted by the elected officials who spoke at the ceremony on Saturday.
Brockville mayor Jason Baker remarked that is inspiring to see the resilience of Aquatarium staff and volunteers and their ability to ‘pivot and adjust’ to the circumstances, according to the mayor. It’s reflective of what Baker described as the spirit of the Brockville community.
“We won’t be defeated by this pandemic,” he declared. “We’re going to work within it.”
Also on hand at the re-opening event were MP Michael Barrett and MPP Steve Clark. “This really is a special place,” said Barrett, who focused on the importance of still getting out into the community as COVID-related health measures and travel restrictions remain in place.
“Supporting local is really the theme of 2020,” stated the MP, who added that this is the time for people to invest in their community by camping at local campgrounds and re-experience local attractions such as the Aquatarium. “This is what we should remember this year for,” commented Barrett.
In thanking everyone on behalf of the Ontario government for accepting the COVID-19 measures that have been implemented, Clark noted that all three levels of government have been working hard with public health officials during the pandemic. The Aquatarium is another example of such co-operation; each level of government provided millions of dollars in infrastructure support to help make the attraction a reality.
“I wish you all the best,” added the MPP, who applauded the Aquatarium for providing an experience that will not only be remembered by visitors but one in which they will feel safe and secure.
Guided tours are being conducted five days a week (Thursday to Monday) between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and start every half hour; the last tour of the day begins at about 3:30. Tickets must be purchased in advance at aquatarium.ca. Visitors can park in the Flint Street lot on the north side of the building and are asked to meet the guide at the Broad Street entrance about 10 minutes before the tour is scheduled to start. Guests are also being asked to bring their own mobility aids; the Aquatarium has a limited number of wheelchairs.
Visitors will be asked COVID-related questions before entering the building. A ‘yes’ answer to any of the questions will result in that person not being permitted to enter.
The facility is not open for tours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
There was a much more crowded and boisterous gathering in October when the Aquatarium held a celebration to welcome its new resident, Justin Beaver.