London·Exclusive

London Regional Children's Museum to find new home in old Kellogg's plant

The London Regional Children's Museum is moving from its current location on Wharncliffe Road to the old Kellogg's cereal plant in the city's east-end.

Founded in 1978 by Londoner Carol Johnston, it became the first children's museum in Canada

The London Regional Children's Museum is moving 0:50

The London Regional Children's Museum is moving from its current location on Wharncliffe Road to the old Kellogg's cereal plant in the city's east-end, according to its founder and first executive director Carol Johnston. 

It brings to an end a nearly four year search for a new home after the private, non-profit organization's board of directors sold its current home to London developer Shmuel Farhi for $2.1 million in 2014. 

Johnston said the museum's new home will be on the fourth floor inside the old Kellogg's cereal plant on Dundas Street. 

'I think it's wonderful'

Carol Johnston, 86, founded the London Regional Children's Museum in 1978 and volunteered as its first executive director until she left the job in the 1990s. She still retains a seat on the organization's board of directors. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"I think it's wonderful," said Johnston. "Isn't great to use a building like that? They were there for 100 years and to use that place with all that history and all those people who worked and made their lives from Kellogg's and now it will be home to the children's museum and they will make their lives from it too." 

Johnston founded the London Regional Children's Museum in 1978 after a family trip to Boston, Massachusetts. 

"We happened to go to the children's museum," she said. "I have a large family and I watched those children play and have fun and they were just so excited and in fact, I had fun too. That's the value of a children's museum, adults can have fun too." 

After that, Johnston got together with a group of volunteers and put forward a proposal and by chance, was offered a space in the old City Centre. 

'Playing is how children learn'

The London Regional Childrens Museum will be moving from this First World War-era school building to a new location inside the refurbished former Kellogg's plant. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"It gave us a chance to try out our ideas," she said, noting that through trial and error the museum was able to develop one of its central tenets, which is play. 

 "Playing is how children learn and we must remember that and not deny children the opportunity to play," she said. 

The Children's Museum moved more than once in those days and it wasn't until 1982, with the help of a generous grant from the Richard Ivey Foundation, the organization was able to buy the building it currently calls home, the former Riverview Public School.

Over the course of three decades, the museum outgrew its First World War-era home and officials with the museum began searching for a new home about four years ago, finally settling on the old Kellogg's plant in London's old factory district. 

"We're thrilled that we get to be part of a larger redevelopment in London," Amanda Conlon, the museum's current executive director told CBC News Monday. 

'This space is really perfect for us'

The old Kellogg's cereal plant is currently being retrofitted to a host a number of different companies and organization, including the Regional Children's Museum, which will be located on the fourth-floor. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Conlon said the museum chose the old Kellogg's plant based on what patrons wanted in a new space. 

"We feel that this space is really perfect for us. It has a nice open concept layout, all on one floor, has lots of parking and has a really unique outdoor space for exploration and play." 

Conlon said as part of the move, the museum is reaching out to the community to help design new exhibits.

"We learned a long time ago that kids have some of the best ideas," she said. "We're going to bring some of our history and experience and memories into the new space, but we're also going to build some new custom exhibits." 

Conlon said some of the favourites will include the dinosaur exhibit, the arctic exhibit and "Bellina" the whale skeleton that currently hangs in the museum's atrium. 

Conlon said the move is at least three years away and all the while the Children's Museum will stay open in its current space on Wharncliffe Road. 

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of the renovation of the space and the custom design," Conlon said. "So we're looking at probably three years." 

The official announcement of the move is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday.

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca