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OPINION: A museum hidden in plain sight

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George Mathewson

I once worked with an editor who had lived in Sarnia for years and never been to Canatara Park. He’d heard it was a nice place but somehow never got around to checking it out.

I suspect the same is true for many Sarnians when it comes to Stones ‘n Bones museum. They know it exists, and might even recognize the downtown storefront with its stuffed animals in the window.

But actually go inside?

Despite receiving almost no government assistance, Stones ‘n Bones has survived for 21 years for two very good reasons. It has some really neat stuff and visitors love it.

This may come as a surprise, but TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, rates Stones ‘n Bones one of the 10 best museums in Canada.

It’s up there with the Royal BC Museum in Victoria (#1), the Royal Tyrrell dinosaur museum in Drumheller, Alberta (#2), the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa (#3) and Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, (#4).

The independent reviews and opinions of visitors are so overwhelmingly positive that Stones ‘n Bones currently ranks #7 in the nation, ahead of Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Canadian Children’s Museum in Gatineau, Que.

More than half of those who visit Stone ‘n Bones are tourists passing through who find the museum on TripAdvisor, a site that has more than 60 million members worldwide.

“Great Place” writes Sarah S of Winnipeg in a typical recent post. “I highly recommend it, especially if you have a family. It includes a wide variety of animals, insects, and more. Don’t underestimate it like I did!”

Reba G of Waterford, Michigan, said she comes annually with her grandsons.

“We tell everyone we know about it, including border patrol both coming and going. We do museums everywhere, but this is my favourite.”

Stones ‘n Bones is a labour of love for owners Jim and Allison Richards, who opened the not-for-profit museum inside the Bayside Mall in 1994, and reopened it at 233 North Christina St. 14 years ago.

They are passionate about science and nature and keen to share it with others. Admission is $6 adults, $3 children under 12.

I hadn’t visited Stone ‘n Bones in years, largely because I’m personally allergic to the sort of hands-on tour that earns the Richards high praise from travellers on TripAdvisor. But that’s just me.

The museum, which is deceptively large inside, has 6,000 artifacts – from dinosaurs and butterflies to sea creatures and glow-in-the-dark rocks – that are high quality and often flat-out remarkable.

The ranking is based on 130 reviews, which is relatively small. But for a privately-owned tourist attraction in Sarnia to be mentioned in the same breath as the ROM and the AGO is a remarkable achievement.

Sometimes, it takes the validation of outsiders to appreciate what’s in your own backyard.








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