Ottawa's Escape Manor expands with Museum of Nature partnership

You will now be able to live out your fantasy of executing a heist from the Canadian Museum of Nature, but the gems are fake and you’ll have to pay for the privilege of trying.

By Ryan Tumilty

The museum is partnering with local firm Escape Manor to offer two escape rooms in the evenings after other visitors have gone home.

The first one allows users to pretend they are cat burglars breaking into the facility after dark in the museum’s earth exhibit. Their entry trips silent alarms, however, and they have only 60 minutes to get out with “space gems” before the RCMP and security teams sweep in and arrest them.

The other scenario in the museum’s mammal exhibit imagines you are a museum guard who finds out you are about to be framed for a theft, with only an hour for you to identify the real culprit and prove your innocence.

So far both escape rooms have a roughly 30 per cent success rate, which is about standard for the company’s rooms.

Steve Wilson, co-founder of Escape Manor, said the idea came about after they designed an escape from the Diefenbunker last year, and when the nature museum gave them the opportunity they jumped at the chance.

“We were blown away at the chance to do an escape room in a national museum, so we started the planning process from there,” he said.

Escape Manor has received several industry accolades this year.

In April, Escape Manor was named a New Company of the Year award winner by Ottawa Tourism. Several months later, one of the company's co-founders, Billy Rogers, was named a Forty Under 40 recipient.

Wilson said museum staff worked with them to make the transition from active museum to escape room pretty seamlessly and in their first weeks of operation it has been going well.

“The museum clears out the galleries at around 5 p.m. and our team rolls in and takes out all of our equipment,” he said.

He said they are able to use the exhibits from the museum as part of the fun.

“We built puzzles around those items and used actual literature from different placards that they have,” he said.

John Swettenham, the museum’s director of marketing, said the idea seemed like a natural fit. He said the museum is primarily a location for families and children, but it wants to expand.

“The core for our business has been families and the demographics suggest that family segment is not going to grow in a huge way,” he said. “We have been trying to extend our reach to more adult audiences.”

He said the museum’s Nature Nocturne nights are one example of its adult outreach and this is just another.

Swettenham said working with Escape Manor gave the museum a chance to build something collaborative that would showcase the facility to people who may have not have been in years.

“We like to fulfill our mandate to get people interested and engaged with nature,” he said. “We’re hoping people will come back after they get a taste.”

He said the museum is happy with the first week of booking and there may be more opportunities in future.

“We will see how it goes. The early signs are very good.”

Swettenham said there are no concerns about people trying out a real heist in the museum and officials are sure the exhibits will be safe and sound.

Wilson jokes with so many young children and school groups going through the museum during the day, he believes the exhibits may actually be safer at night.  

“Our escape room clientele is probably a welcome reprieve.”

This story was originally published by Metro News. With files from OBJ staff.