FRDC goes to new level

Kathleen Bertrand checks the temperature of water from the Fraser River, one of the interactive science experiments visitors to the Fraser River Discovery Centre
Kathleen Bertrand checks the temperature of water from the Fraser River, one of the interactive science experiments visitors to the Fraser River Discovery Centre's new My River My Home exhibit will be able to conduct to further their understanding of and connection to the river.

The Fraser River Discovery Centre is going to a new level.

My River My Home is the centerpiece of a new exhibit that occupies the centre’s expansive second floor.

It’s also the first time the centre has been able to secure the funding to launch a full-scale project worthy of the area that once served as the entryway to the old Royal City Star riverboat casino but has been largely unoccupied since the old paddle wheeler sailed away.

“All of a sudden we’re a complete centre,” said Catherine Ouellet-Martin, FRDC’s executive director.

Getting there has been a three-year process that really started to come together when FRDC formed a partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of the Fraser Valley in their ongoing examination of the world’s great rivers, like the Yangtze in China, the Amazon in South America, the Congo in Africa.

Initially the FRDC’s role in the project was going to be a show of children’s art, but it quickly evolved into a fusion of art, science and fun that will educate and entertain visitors young and old, as well as give them a whole new appreciation of the muddy waters flowing just below the picture windows.

The idea, said Kathleen Bertrand, the centre’s exhibit coordinator, is to create a personal connection to the Fraser, which ranks amongst the world’s greatest rivers as well as one of its most endangered.

After entering through a blue door set into the clapboard facade of a typical Fraser Valley farmhouse, visitors can learn about the Fraser’s place in the globe’s rivers through a series of informative panels and photographs.

They’re then invited to create their own interpretation of what the Fraser means to them by assembling dioramas of pebbles, pinecones, twigs and trinkets in mason jars that will be displayed on book shelves.

Science stations will allow visitors to learn hard facts about the river by giving them a chance to test the water’s temperature, turbidity, PH  and oxygen levels through a series of simple, hands-on experiments.

“It’s all designed so people can do it on their own,” said Bertrand, adding there will be interpreters and volunteers on hand to help, as well as explain some of the data they discover.

The final component of My River My Home is Disrupted Currents, a multimedia area that uses X-Box Kinect technology to give visitors a chance to interact with the Fraser in a new, high-tech way.

Standing in front of a screen, they’ll be projected into a tableau of sights, sounds and facts about the river that they can manipulate with the sweep of a hand or flick of a finger.

“All of the science, all of the data, now comes back to being personal,” explained Bertrand.

“We have a very big influence on the health of the river, we have an impact on the scientific data.”

Designing an exhibit that is fun and educational for kids, as well as engaging for adults required a delicate balance, said Bertrand.

The activities are targeted at a Grade 6-8 level and were put together to fit the school ciriculum.

“There is learning, but its underlying focus is on fun,” said Bertrand. “We try to let people have as personal an experience as possible, but we hope they’re also engaged on a scientific level.”

Ouellet-Martin said the new exhibit, which will reside on the second floor for the next three years, is the first tangible realization of the centre’s potential.

“There’s more content, more engagement with real science,” said Ouellet-Martin, adding there’s already been some preliminary discussion about adapting it for a traveling display that would visit communities up and down the length of the Fraser. “It’s a different level for us, and it’s not just because we’re on the second floor.”


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