The Aquatarium has arrived, and so have we


(Playing at a higher level, under the bright lights: Mitchell Jones keeps the Aquatarium ropes course clean on opening day.)

There was one impression I kept having these past two days as I got to walk through the finally-completed Aquatarium.

I felt like I was in another city.

At times it felt like Montreal, where the Biodome is a regular stop for our family when on vacation with my parents. And at times it felt like those trips to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

In other words, my initial impressions were that this place has so much to it, and is so well designed and executed, that it really belongs in a bigger city.

That may sound like a backhanded compliment to the city I call home, bordering on the kind of snark I railed against in my most recent column, but I suspect it's exactly the kind of reaction the Aquatarium's designers want locals to have.

Other places in Brockville are great to visit, but with the Aquatarium we have finally reached a higher tourism bracket, one that allows us to draw in people on a much wider regional scale and compete with many of the larger attractions in that wider radius.

We've been trying to get a spot in that larger neighbourhood for a long time; now, we have arrived.

I may be falling prey to the novelty effect here, and certainly all attractions will eventually wear out their appeal.

But after nearly two decades covering the local tourism scene, this is the first local attraction I have seen with such a wide variety of experiences on offer.

This is the first tourism draw we have that can plausibly be expected to get repeat visits. There simply has been no equivalent.

Novelty might exaggerate the size and significance of this attraction, especially in relation to many other sites in its target market of a six-hour-drive radius.

And an uncertain economy and fickle tourism market might make the projected traffic (55,000 people in the first year) sound like overreach – despite the built-in advantage of a low Canadian dollar.

And of course, the snarlers are bound to start snarling at some point soon. The matter of why it took so long to get it built and open is a separate debate, but one that likely won't go away entirely.

But as the opening day glow fades to the everyday business of getting people into the doors, it's hard to dispute that, with the Aquatarium, we are now playing in the regional league of tourism.

There will be ups and downs along the way, but for now, let's at least celebrate that one significant step.