We just finished a great family mini-trip to the Okanagan, the “East” leg of our North/South/East/West theme for the year and had a fantastic time. But before we got to the Okanagan Valley, we had a slight detour to the much less famous Thompson River Valley. My husband had been asked to present at a conference in the city of Kamloops on the Thursday and Friday and so we decided that since it was in the same general direction as our trip we’d all tag along and add a couple of extra days to our trip.
The downside to this plan was that the kids and I would be pretty much stuck in Kamloops for the first day and a half until my husband had wrapped up on Friday afternoon and we could head out towards the orchards and wineries of the Okanagan. Now, I have nothing against Kamloops. It has a lovely setting right on the river and I’m sure it’s a perfectly nice place to live. The problem is that, just like my own home town, people mainly go through it, not to it. Kamloops is in fact a major transportation hub in BC, with the older Trans Canada freeway and the modern Coquihalla highway converging there and ensuring that most people who want to pass through BC will drive by the town. But beggars, and families tagging along on work trips, can’t be choosers, so I decided to put aside my preconceived notions of “boring” Kamloops and see what the city had to offer.
Now, I have to say that early October is probably the perfect time to visit this part of BC. The area is quite arid and is much less green and lush than either the Fraser Valley to the southwest or the Okanagan Valley to the east. When we drove through from Edmonton last summer the outside temperature was reading 38 degrees, everything was brown and scorched and the wind off the mountains felt like a blast furnace. Fast forward a couple of months though, and the hills are still brown but the weather is crisp and cool and the lawns and gardens are looking green again. Everywhere you looked there were these gorgeous deciduous trees that had turned bright yellow and contrasted beautifully with the dark green pines. If you used one hand to block out the view of the smoke plume rising up from the chimney of the lumber mill at the edge of town, the view across the Thompson River from downtown was as lovely as you could find anywhere in fall.
Our first day didn’t go according to plan. We dropped off my husband shortly after noon and then headed out to find a small science centre that was supposed to be a few km away. Unfortunately, the marking in the official Kamloops Visitor’s Guide was off by a good couple of cm and we ended up driving up and down a residential area in a frustrating and fruitless search. Since the guide had a description of the place but no street address and I had no internet access, we had to give up and spent the afternoon wandering around a nearby park while waiting for my husband’s session to wrap up. It was a nice enough park and the weather was pleasant, so I suppose we could have done worse than spending a day enjoying the scenery and watching squirrels, but it was a bit frustrating.
That night we went back to our nondescript chain hotel by the freeway and I did a bit of research and came up with a plan of attack for our second day. I knew there was fun to be had in Kamloops and I was determined to find it if it was the last thing I did. Armed with a much better map, I dropped off my husband and then had no trouble finding the Kamloops Museum. It was right in the middle of the small historic downtown area and was quite well done for a small city museum. One floor had a temporary World War One exhibit and another had a mix of fixed exhibits including local rocks and minerals, fish and river ecology, pioneer days and the fur trade.
But the real draw for us was the lower floor, which housed a small, but well done children’s museum. It was pretty small, but there was a dress up area, a fur trading post with different pelts to feel, a little puppet theatre, a water and sand table and lots of building blocks. It probably wouldn’t do to much for older kids, but it kept my four and five year old occupied for an hour and a half or so.
After we had finished exploring the museum, we went for a quick walk around the downtown, then we packed up and headed back across the river for another attempt at finding the Big Little Science Centre, or BLSC. With an accurate map, (take note Official Kamloops Visitor’s Guide), I was able to find it with no problem. I was quite curious about this place and it turned out to be one of those odd and unique little gems that are really fun to discover.
The BLSC was housed in a school that had been closed and the guy at the entrance told me that it had started as the private collection of a much loved local science teacher who has spent his whole career collecting interesting science displays and doing science demonstrations at schools around the area. When he retired, a non profit society was formed to ensure his projects didn’t go to waste and now they fill a school gym and spill out into several hallways.
Now a lot of the exhibits were a bit above my kids’ age level, but there was so much to see and do there that we still spent quite a bit of time there. The kids made giant bubbles, played with magnets, ran marbles through mazes, watched soundwaves form on computer screens and sent ping pong balls shooting through pipes. Everything was hands one with clear and simple directions and I could see a science loving middle schooler spending hours there. And the best part was that in the early afternoon on a school day, we had the place to ourselves! I really wish that more places had the kind of people who were willing to put the effort into making such a great little attraction for both locals and guests. If I lived there, we’d probably be regulars.
But by the time we were finished at the BLSC, it was time to pick up my husband after his final session and head off to the Okanagan for the the real leisure part of the trip. And that was Kamloops. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with what I found to do with the kids in the day and a half that we had there. Kamloops BC. It really is pretty okay.