The Exploration Place

and a great old train

Prince George, BC, Canada

June 28, 2002

Winding down our Alaskan trip brought us back to the city of Prince George.  This is the town which connects the greater loop of the great North West.  From here one can either go north into the Yukon and cross into Alaska or continue west to Prince Rupert and catch the ferry to Alaska.  There aren't to many other ways to get there from Canada.  For many years from the late 1800s to the early 1900s this was the end of the Canadian railroad.  Until the Alcan highway was created during WWII, Prince George was pretty much the end of the road going West. As such, this was our second pass through the town. Although spending only a few days, we were able to find yet another interesting thing to write about.  In Fort George Park, we found a small museum and a delightful 1912 small gauge locomotive. The engine was built by  the Davenport (Iowa) Locomotive Works.  It is an 0-4-0 engine and the small drive wheels allow it to work on steep grades. Its 10 horsepower boiler working at 160 pounds of pressure with a normal passenger usage, burns half a cord of wood a day. It is an example of a number of similar engines used by Foley Welch and Stewart, the contractors for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, now Canadian National Railway.  The train was rescued from a scrap yard in the 1920s and was repaired using spare part from other engines.  It runs on a half mile track that is made of 20 pound rail in 24 in. gauge.  The track is laid out in a beautifully manicured park with plenty of concrete sidewalks to meander down. Rolling lawns were lined with flowerbeds and Mountain Ash, which displayed bright orange berries in contrast to the delightful blend of green formed by hedges and grasses.  All this in a harmonious landscape.  There are many acres available for wandering.  On such a pretty day it was difficult to draw ourselves back to explore the small museum at the entrance. Known as the Exploration Place, this building housed some most interesting and peculiar items for study.  There were relatively small items such as the Mutoscope. In 1884 the idea for a mutoscopes was created by William Dickson as a cheap and simple alternative to the kinetoscope (invented by Thomas Edison). Dickson printed a sequence of photos on a rotation drum and housed them in a cabinet.  When the drum turned, the cards rapidly flipped giving the illusion of movement. The advantage to the earlier inventions was that no electrical power source was needed to illuminate or run the machine.  Since the drum was turned manually, the viewer could control and vary the speed at will.  The machine, which was first marketed in 1897, was instantly popular and the "coin-slot" versions remained popular in fairgrounds in Europe for over 50 years. The material use for the photographs that flipped by were often risqué, giving rise to it nickname and subsequent coinage of the expression "peep show".  I have found  the beauty of the small museum lies in its unique acquisitions.  Every museum seems to have that one thing that makes the trip worthwhile.  Many times it is surrounded by mundane and commonplace items which, up until just a few years ago, were considered junk.  Unlike its large, well funded counterpart, these museums often diversify with no particular theme. As this part of Canada is famous for its paleontology , a sampling of its archeological finds was a necessity.  Bones, bones and more bones.  Big ones and small ones;  most carefully assembled into recognizable creatures, at least in shape and size.  Being her playful self, I caught Laura nuzzling up to a giant brown bear for a little kiss on the cheek.  As we moved on through the maze of attractions, we passed through the children's rooms.  This is always a fun place filled with surprise and awe.  There always seems to be small creepy-crawley things, sitting around in glass boxes to the delight of small eyes.  We caught one just coming out of his shell, to check out the new local arrivals who were busy peering back it him.  One particular interactive play area was of particular interest to me.  A large plastic crane was mounted on the floor in such a manner that boxes of varying size and shape could be stacked in its sling and then hoisted up over a railing and onto what appeared to be the stern of a ship.  The wee-ones would try their hardest to get as many boxes into the sling.  As the boxes were of  irregular size, much thought had to go into which boxes could go with which others.  Daddy would then crank away while swinging the crane over the stern.  The test of the toddlers ability being measured by the number of boxes that fell back to the floor. This was of little concern to the child who was now racing around the stern to the stairs in order to get up on the boat so that he could unload all his precious cargo.  I had to smile at all the marvelous physical principles being applied in this seemingly pointless effort and couldn't help but wonder if someday as an adult this toddler will stack and lever without thought to how he was first exposed to such principles.  Thus it was that we ended yet another perfect day of sun, fun and adventure in a delightful place called Canada.