How a small Okanagan science centre became a community treasure - InfoNews

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How a small Okanagan science centre became a community treasure

Sandi Dixon and Ryan Jameson with the science centre's mascot.
November 24, 2013 - 11:33 AM

VERNON - It’s not the size of the city that makes a science centre, it’s the people in it.

From a humble beginning as a portable planetarium in the 1980s, the Okanagan Science Centre is now featured as one of the best centres across the country. Its hometown of Vernon is also the smallest community in Canada to even have a science centre.

“We’ve gone from the back of a van to a three floor facility,” executive director Sandi Dixon says, noting the current building is a fitting home as it used to be the Vernon Schoolhouse.

“It’s been an education facility for over 100 years.”

The centre was born out of the community’s passion for science, something that continues to sustain it today.

“The community values it; it’s their science centre. There’s a lot of ownership with our members,” Dixon says.

The centre currently has over 1,100 family memberships, up significantly from 90 in 2003. Approximately 25,000 visitors come through the doors every year, and a further 10,000 are reached at festivals and schools. More still are exposed to the centre’s contagious passion by initiatives like the science bike, aimed at bringing science to those who might not be regulars at the usual location. You never know when or where the science bike might show up—at a street corner, the beach, the park.

“It’s about more than just being an institution. Our goal is to create a culture of science through online presence, being out in the community... reaching people not just through conventional ways and reaching the people that don’t already love science,” Dixon says.

She understands people who think science is boring. She used to be one of them.

“I’m converted,” she says. “Science wasn’t my background, but I’ve busted through the barriers.... Science isn’t all the things I thought it was.”

It’s hard not to have fun at the science centre with its hands-on activities and interactive displays, many of them hand-me-downs from facilities in bigger cities. But as cool as the exhibits are, it’s the people that work there who make it such a unique experience.

“We don’t have the budgets that big centres do, but it’s not all about the whiz-bang high-tech stuff. What we have is people. Personal interaction with people, not just pressing buttons,” Dixon says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.

News from © iNFOnews, 2013

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