A few days ago, I visited the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) to see for myself its state of disrepair and imagine its potential if it were maintained and upgraded. When our children were young, we were frequent visitors but, because their interests have developed in other directions, it’s likely been a decade since I was last there.
The Unrepaired Bridge
The biggest change – much for the worse – is the closing of the bridge linking the entrance hall and IMax Theatre on street level with the exhibition halls down the side of the valley. This splits the Science Centre into two unconnected parts, destroying its integrity as a building. You may remember that the bridge has a geological exhibit on one side and overlooks the Don Valley on the other. After funding requests from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport were ignored by the Government for years, the bridge was closed in 2022 because of the risk of structural failure. A preliminary report put the cost of repair at $16 million.
To keep operating, the Science Centre has implemented an inconvenient work-around. After entering and paying admission you have to go back out to the parking lot to take a shuttle bus down to the lowest level. And you have to take a shuttle bus back to the entrance level when you have finished your visit. When the bridge was open, the flow of a visit was down and then back up. Now the flow of a visit is down to the lowest level on the shuttle bus, up to the highest level in the building, back down to the lowest level to catch the shuttle bus, and back up to the entrance. I visited just after opening on a weekday to avoid queues for the shuttle bus. Staff told me that when the Science Centre is busy, indeed there are long queues.
A simple cost-benefit analysis would show that the cost of operating the shuttle plus the lost revenue from people who no longer visit due to this inconvenience would justify the investment in restoring the bridge.
The State of the Exhibits
In addition to seeing how the shuttle works, I was interested in the state of the exhibits. Many were unchanged from a decade ago, for example the Weston Family Innovation Centre, the rain forest, the amateur radio station, and the Kidspark. There is more open space than in the past because there are fewer and smaller exhibits. Also, the Science Centre had frequent special exhibits. Now there are none.
In my opinion, one improvement is the AstraZeneca Human Edge, which deals mainly with human biology. It has replaced much of the previous sports science exhibit, which always struck me as more sports than science. Perhaps the replacement of the sport science exhibit explains Premier Ford’s hate-on for the Science Centre.
The Space Hall is another exhibit that has hardly changed. It is running a video of “the year at NASA.” What year, you ask? 2018. In case you don’t believe me, here is a photo of the title screen of the video.
As I’ve discussed in a recent post, a total solar eclipse is coming to Ontario on April 8 this year. Visiting the Science Centre, you would never know that. There is no special exhibit about it, indeed no mention at all of it. This is a huge, missed opportunity.
Death through Desuetude
My visit confirmed what I suspected, which is that the Ford Government is underfunding the Ontario Science Centre to drive down attendance, and ultimately kill it. The Science Centre remains an attractive facility with great potential. But all that matters to the Ford Government is shiny bright objects. This is nothing less than a betrayal of the public trust.
People are taking action, however. Save Ontario’s Science Centre is organizing a rally on Saturday January 27 from noon to 2 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Clubhouse, 450 Broadview Avenue (Riverdale Park East). I hope there is a great turnout for this important event in the campaign.