10 Quirky Museums Across Canada
These hidden gems are dedicated to the offbeat, unusual and downright wacky.
Photo: Travel Manitoba
Canada’s Most Unusual Museums
We often think of museums as stewards of high culture, but by their very definition they’re simply spaces that collect, interpret and exhibit objects of interest. Although the quirky establishments in this roundup might not share the profile of major attractions like the Royal Ontario Museum or the Canadian Museum of History, they certainly deliver on those “objects of interest,” with exhibits dedicated to the offbeat, unusual and downright wacky.
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Photo: Canadian Potato Museum
Canadian Potato Museum
Did you know that more than 100 different varieties of potato are grown on Prince Edward Island? You would if you’d popped into the Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary, P.E.I. Here, you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about the history of the humble tater, which is more integral to Island culture than Anne of Green Gables herself. The interpretive centre showcases the world’s largest collection of antique potato farming equipment, and exhibits highlight traditional harvesting processes. Budget some time to tuck into Island-inspired potato dishes at Potato Country Kitchen next door, and don’t forget to snag a selfie with the world’s largest potato sculpture.
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Photo: World Famous Gopher Hole Museum
World Famous Gopher Hole Museum
Whether you view them as annoying pests or impossibly cute little critters, you’ve certainly never seen gophers like the ones on display at Torrington, Alberta’s World Famous Gopher Hole Museum. Here, you’ll find 47 different dioramas showcasing taxidermied gophers (Richardson ground squirrels if we’re being technical), dressed up in detailed costumes, enacting everything from a wedding to a hockey game to a bank robbery. This truly one-of-a-kind attraction hibernates on weekdays until July and August, when it’s open Thursday to Sunday.
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Photo: Barbie Expo, Les Cours Mont-Royal
Looking for free things to do in Montreal? There’s no entry fee to browse Expo Barbie, the world’s largest collection of Barbies. The permanent, 5,000-square foot exhibition at Les Cours Mont-Royal boasts more than 1,000 Barbies, dating back to the doll’s debut in 1958. Since then, the anatomically impossible blonde has reflected the styles of her times, and there’s no shortage of glamorous outfits designed by the likes of Bob Mackie, Versace and Ralph Lauren.
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Photo: Government of Yukon
Sign Post Forest
One of the most iconic stops along the Alaska Highway is found at Watson Lake, a small town near the Yukon-British Columbia border. Back in 1942, a homesick American soldier was tasked with repairing directional posts at the site, and erected one of his own to point the way towards his hometown in Illinois. He unknowingly started a trend, and there are now more than 80,000 such markers making up the ever-growing Sign Post Forest. Destinations from the around the world are tacked onto lofty signposts, indicating their distance from the Yukon. Wander through the maze-like outdoor sign museum to find your hometown—or feel free to add your own.
Photo: Musée de l’Accordéon
Musée de l’Accordéon
If you’re a fan of traditional folk music, the existence of a Canadian accordion museum will be music to your ears. The Musée de l’Accordéon in Montmagny, Quebec (an hour’s drive from Quebec City), is the only Canadian institution dedicated to the boxy musical instrument, tracing its history in Canada through the lens of immigration. The evolution of the accordion, most notably how different cultures made it their own, is traced through the exhibits, which include an assortment of accordions from around the world.
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Photo: Olivier Soapery
New Brunswick’s Acadian region is rightly renowned for its rich culture, living-history villages and yes, its soap. Part museum, part artisanal workshop, Olivier Soapery in Ste-Anne-de-Kent is dedicated to showcasing the time-honoured techniques of hand-made soap production. Visitors can watch soap-making demonstrations, join guided facility tours, and browse exhibits highlighting the development of soap crafting and skin care regimes through the ages.
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Photo: Travel Manitoba
Sam Waller Museum
Even if taxidermy isn’t your jam, the Sam Waller Museum in The Pas, Manitoba, is a hidden gem worth exploring. Waller, the museum’s original curator, was a teacher, taxidermist and self-proclaimed “pack rat” who accumulated oddities from around the world. His eclectic collection of more than 70,000 artifacts is now a mecca for natural and human history buffs, offering one-of-a-kind exhibits ranging from an albino alligator to a typewriter with keys in Cree syllabics instead of English letters.
Photo: Ottawa Tourism
Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum
Fears of nuclear holocaust were at an all-time high in the late 1950s, prompting then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to commission a secret bunker to house military and government officials in the event of World War Three. Fortunately, the underground complex never had to fulfill its purpose, and it’s now open to the public as a 30,000-square metre war museum. Featuring remarkably well-preserved technology and period furnishings, Diefenbunker is an engaging blast from the past, complete with espionage-themed escape room experiences and spy camps for the younger set.
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Photo: Miniature World
If you dig dioramas, make a beeline for Victoria’s Miniature World. This portal to the past features 85 intricately designed, teeny-tiny displays. From medieval times to space exploration, history’s greatest moments and achievements are reproduced in miniature, including the world’s smallest operational sawmill. On the opposite end of the scale, this attraction also boasts two of the world’s largest doll houses, with more than 50 rooms apiece.
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Photo: Bata Shoe Museum
Bata Shoe Museum
The world’s largest collection of shoes and footwear-related paraphernalia, Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum is a must-visit for fashion mavens. More than just a stylish stroll through evolving tastes and trends, however, the 14,000 artifacts in the collection tell a story of technological development, and how attitudes to gender and social status have changed over the past 4,500 years.
If you enjoyed this virtual tour of unusual museums, be sure to check out the 10 places in Canada every Canadian needs to visit.