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13 Aug, Saturday
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Montreal Families

An electrifying experience for kids

You know you’re getting close to the Electrium when you see dozens of electrical towers on the horizon. Located in Ste. Julie, just 25 minutes south of Montreal, this “interpretation centre,” run by Hydro Quebec, teaches families everything they could possibly want to know about electricity and electromagnetic fields. The centre has free admission and offers fun, 90-minute guided tours. While not obligatory, it’s highly recommended to do the tour as the guides offer age-appropriate information.

We began our visit by watching one of the three films, each one geared to a different age. The one for preschool and younger grade-schoolers is a series of animated, minute-long snippets on topics such as lightning, magnets and batteries. There is also an animated movie for older grade-schoolers and young teens that explains how power is generated in Quebec and how it gets to your home. Older teens and adults get to watch one about electricity and electromagnetism.

hydro Quebec ElectriumOnce the film is over, a guide walks you through the centre’s four sections, which are full of engaging, hands-on exhibits.

The Hydro Quebec Zone deals with environmental and safety issues. Young children will learn the folly of extracting bread from a toaster with a knife. Adults can find out what to do if you’ve smashed your car into a pole and live wires are touching the vehicle.

There’s also information about wind power and the environmental impacts of the various methods used to generate electricity in Eastern Canada and the States. Given the on-going debates going on about how we humans use the earth’s resources, parents might want to follow up at home by exploring more deeply with their kids the pros and cons of different ways of producing electricity.

Next is the Nature Zone, which makes it clear that humans didn’t invent electricity. Here, with the help of some fancy gizmos such as an electrocardiograph, we learn about electricity’s function within the human heart and nervous system. There’s a short film on lightning and the Northern lights (pay attention, there’s a quiz at the end). But for kids, the main attraction is seeing the resident electric eel and black knife fish, who both use electricity to protect themselves, although in different ways.

The Physics Zone is where visitors learn about static electricity, conductors and insulators, and get to re-enact the experiments of Edison, Ohm and Volta. If that doesn’t wow the kids, the plasma ball and Van de Graaff generator — that big metallic ball that makes your hair stand on end when you touch it — will surely get them tingling.

Finally, the Magnetic Zone offers hands-on demonstrations about magnets and magnetic fields. Visitors will find out why opposites attract, how magnets are used in generating stations and how animals and insects use the earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves while migrating.

At the end of the tour, everybody goes home with a book about electricity and a T-shirt. Sure, in a centre run by Hydro Quebec, there’s a certain amount of rah-rah pride in hydroelectricity. But that doesn’t diminish the centre’s attraction as an educational, fun and informative way to spend a few hours with your kids. Our society depends on electricity for so many things—think back to the last power outage!—so starting to understand a little more about how and why it works just makes sense.

Electrium is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in August. From September through May, it is open Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are available in French or English. Groups of 10 or more must call to make a reservation. For directions and more information call (800) 267-4558 or go to www.hydroquebec.com/visit and click on Montérégie.

Hydro Quebec’s website also has information for kids about electricity at www.hydroquebec.com/learning

Hydro Quebec welcomes families

Hydro Quebec also offers free tours at some of its generating stations, dams and other facilities. Two nearby facilities are the Rivière des Prairies Generating Station on du Barrage St. in Laval and the Beauharnois Generating Station approximately 40 km southwest of Montreal.  For information about touring these or other Hydro facilities, call (800) 365-5229 or go to www.hydroquebec.com/visit.

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