Beer, dance parties and Zelda: Unconventional events boost Ottawa’s Museum of Nature

525,000 people attended the museum last year, compared with 380,000 in 2014, according to officials
Museum of Nature
The Canadian Museum of Nature on McLeod Street. Photo by Jeremy / Flickr.

Fans of the action-adventure video game series Legend of Zelda have an opportunity to become heroes in their own rights next weekend by solving puzzles at a local ‘temple’: the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Defenders of the Triforce is a live-action escape room-style event produced by Scrap Entertainment in collaboration with Nintendo, the developer of the Legend of Zelda series. The branded experience has toured around the United States this year and is now making its way across Canada.

The Museum of Nature acts as Ottawa’s setting for the bit of fantasy adventure, the latest offering from an institution hoping to stretch its brand with non-traditional programming in an attempt to attract new audiences.

“I think they were attracted to the museum because we had a lot of fun stuff going on,” says John Swettenham, marketing director at the Museum of Nature.

Triforce
Defenders of the Triforce, an escape-room style game hosted at the Museum of Nature, is just the latest in a series of programming aimed at a younger demographic.

Scrap Entertainment approached the museum to rent its space as a venue for the event. Mr. Swettenham believes it was approached because of the brand the Museum of Nature has been building in non-traditional programming.

For example, the museum has taken up a partnership with Ottawa-based Escape Manor to host escape rooms that incorporate exhibits, has held beer tastings that investigate the science of the brew and holds its monthly Nature Nocturne, a night club-style event at its spacious McLeod Street location.

While the museum has a strong hold in the core family demographic in Ottawa-Gatineau (Mr. Swettenham says one in five people in the region visits the museum at least once a year), events like these are largely about attracting the growing young adult population. He says the goal is to have fun while promoting the museum’s mandate for scientific education.

“People are really engaged in what our museum’s about.”

The approach seems to be working. Mr. Swettenham says the Museum of Nature pulled in 380,000 visitors over the course of 2014. Last year, he says attendance numbers rose to about 525,000.

Much of that attendance is driven by tourism, he says. According to Ottawa Tourism’s annual report, which uses data from the Conference Board of Canada, more than 3.6 million tourists in Ottawa-Gatineau visited museums in 2015. That represents an increase of nearly 10 per cent year-over-year. Ottawa Tourism is slated to release its 2016 annual report with updated statistics on May 29.

“Brand is a big part of the purchase decision for tourists to decide to come,” Mr. Swettenham says.

While the Museum of Nature is a Crown corporation, only about three-quarters of the museum’s operating budget comes from government funding. The rest is derived from avenues such as private sponsorships and individual donations. That provides the motivation, Mr. Swettenham says, to encourage the museum to experiment in attempts to build attendance and fulfil its mandate.

“Anything we do, we have to look at it from a revenue perspective … It drives us to make sure we’re providing good value,” he says.