Museums are cool. Especially when they’re nearby.
London is a city full of history. And when there’s history, there are always rad people to gather those stories and facts and put them together behind a Plexiglas® case.
All these museums are in walking distance of downtown, making them easy to access. They’re perfect for popping in during your lunch break. But be warned – all of these exhibits are so interesting that you may very well end up spending a few hours at each. Enter at your own risk (of having a great, informative time)!
1 – Celebrate science at the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame
Editor’s Note: As of Summer 2019, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame has moved from downtown London and is due to re-open exhibits in 2020 at 100 Kellogg. Follow their Facebook page for updates!
The J Allyn Taylor building sits on the corner of Dundas and Wellington. It was named for a former Canada Trust president. Because all bank presidents get things names after them. It used to be a bank for the Bank of Toronto, which after many corporate mergers came to be the TD Canada Trust we know today. Now, it’s a testament to the power of Canadian scientists. Much better.
The Hall opened in 1993, but moved to its current building in 2003. The story goes that one future inductee, Dr Calvin Stiller, brought his son to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. His son asked him why hockey players got a hall of fame but his dad and other doctors didn’t. It was a good question, if not a little biased, but we’ll forgive him.
And thus, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame was born! But not every face that lines the walls belongs to a doctor. Many influential Canadians like Terry Fox and Tommy Douglas are inductees as well. Hall of Fame executive director Lissa Foster reminds us how important it is to celebrate our Canadian heroes.
“When you share a border with a superpower like America, you’re so inundated with mass media that is not your own. We fight a little bit for truly remembering and understanding what our contribution and our role is on the medical scene. And we contribute significantly.”
Medical heroes are important, and sometimes it’s nice to devote yourself to just one…
2 – The man behind insulin at Banting House
Tucked away in the Old East Village is a house where one of Canada’s greatest medical professionals practiced. Sir Fredrick Banting actually lived and practiced in London for a short period of time! He was wildly unsuccessful at getting customers – a problem that plagues many small businesses even today.
Although clients were hard to find, medical breakthroughs were not. “It was here that the world changed 97 years ago on October 31st, 1920. After a night of restless sleep, Banting wakes up and writes down his 25-word hypothesis that would lead to the discovery of insulin and lift the death sentence for those suffering from diabetes. If Banting doesn’t wake up in this house, insulin is not discovered in Canada and is not discovered until about 1924,” said Grant Maltman, Banting House Curator.
One of the most interesting parts of the house is how much is dedicated to Banting as a human, not just as the co-inventor of insulin. There are displays that focus on his service in both world wars as a medic, as well as a collection of his artwork. A few of his friends were in the Group of Seven. There’s a lot you don’t know about Banting.
On the topic of houses, what about one of London’s oldest…
3 – The gardens and teas of Eldon House
You probably know Eldon House as the oldest residence in London – but did you know that they have events going on all year round? They especially come alive during the summer, when their beautiful gardens start to bloom.
But you might want something to drink while staring at the flower beds. Eldon House has got you covered – they have a summer tea program! All the tea comes from their Organic Works Bakery.
Why should you check it out? Tea animator Elena Reyes said that it’s nice to disappear into the past.
“It feels surreal, especially because I’m in this Victorian dress walking through the gardens. It feels a little nostalgic – a taste of a time that I never got to live through. I think people from many different walks of life can enjoy the house. But especially on a nice summer’s day, it’s nice to walk through the gardens and have a bit of an escape from the big-city business.” – Elena Reyes, Summer Tea Animator.
Maybe you want something a little more artsy? There’s more to see downtown…
4 – Inspiring art at the Satellite Art Space
Downtown London is home to its fair share of art galleries, enough for any wannabe art-snob to practice the discourse of fine art-ing.
But what about those who are still learning art, or have just started on their artistic journey? Enter the Satellite Project Space, a joint project between Fanshawe, Western, Bealart, and Museum London. Going on right now is the Mystic Travelers exhibit, brought to you by the City Art Centre.
The exhibit features artists from all walks of life who self-identify as facing mental health challenges. It’s a very free-form organization, but it’s been around for 25 years. J. de Vincenzo is a volunteer coordinator and believes in the therapeutic power of art, especially when there’s no pressure.
“People just come in and we can hang out, eat, and make art. The most important thing is that you have somewhere to go and it’s an occupation. Most of us don’t have full time jobs or jobs at all. But we like to draw, paint, and make things. Some people just started making art in the past year, and it’s something you feel proud of. It’s therapeutic.”
The gallery rotates through exhibits pretty quickly, so make sure you get a chance to see it before it’s gone. Satellite has had lots of interesting exhibits in the past, including one on surveillance.
Let’s get back to the museums!
5 – Explore the First Hussars Museum
This one is really in an odd spot – it’s nestled in Ivey Park and is right next to the splash pad and the incredibly large swings. You know the swings I’m referring to. It’s a beautiful little home with a lot of well-researched military history of the London area’s oldest armoured regiment, the 1st Hussars.
The 1st Hussars were originally formed in 1856 in St Thomas, and then moved to London in 1888. They’re the twelfth most senior armoured regiment in Canada. Two of their tanks remain standing in the world – one is in London (Victoria Park!) while the other lies on the beaches of Normandy. Curator Andrew Johnston is fascinated by this connection.
“As a Londoner myself, I’ve always looked outside of London for my historical knowledge. London does have its own history, but it’s not like London England where you can go down a street and see a wall that was built by the Romans. But the 1st Hussars, especially with the Holy Roller Tank in Victoria Park and the other tank on the beach of Normandy France provides a direct historical tie between London and some of the biggest events of the 19th and 20th centuries.”
London was originally going to become the capitol of Upper Canada. It was a good strategic location, as it was close to the States on three sides. The threat of being annexed by America was higher at the time than it is now.
Begone with you!
Get off the internet and check out these museums! They’re all very close together, so you could even spend a whole day bathing yourself in the sweet, sweet nectar of knowledge offered by these locations.
Feature photo by Thomas Sayers