11 Museums Not to Be Missed in the Northeast U.S. & Canada
Unique stops in the Great Lakes Region, New England, and the Canadian Maritimes.

By: Sue Ann Jaffarian

This past summer, I embarked on a four-month journey with Stacy Smith, one of my BFFs and a fellow Winnebago Travato owner. Our goal was to visit states around the Great Lakes, New England, and especially the Canadian Maritime Provinces. We called our journey Stacy and Sue’s Excellent Adventure 2023, featuring two women, two Winnebago Travatos, and two cats.

A couple of years ago I did an article for the GoLife Blog on unique museums. This article will introduce you to more incredible museums you may want to add to your list of things to see. Most of these museums are what Stacy called “bite size,” meaning they are easily visited in one trip without leaving a sense of being overwhelmed.

I have included the prices at the time of this article, but always check the websites of these attractions as they can change, along with hours of operation. Also, they all had discounts for young people (some for students, others for certain ages).Most offered free admission for very young children.

1. Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum 

Before heading to the east coast, we started our tour in the Great Lakes region at this fascinating museum which is an actual iron mine that had operated for one hundred years. It is located in Ishpeming, Michigan, just south of Marquette. There is a lot of walking and a few short flights of stairs, but nothing strenuous. The guide talked about the history of iron mining and the process. He went through the different displays, including one on an accident that killed 50 miners. Only one survived the tragic event. 

There were interesting displays on communications, architecture, equipment, etc. When the museum portion of the tour was over, our guide took us outside to view the different shafts and workshops. The museum is open from the end of May until the end of September. Learn more.

Museum admission is $7 for adults. The full guided tour, which I recommend, is $15 for adults. There is plenty of parking for any size RV.

2. Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum 

Located in North Tonawanda, New York, this museum was a delight. The $10 admission includes two tokens to ride the large carousel they have on display twice. Which we did. 

While we waited for other riders, Burt, the museum volunteer, gave us the history of the Herschell company and the carousels and how they were made, including the differences in the horses. The other part of the museum provided information on carousel carvings, restoration, and music. There is also a room in which they display old carousel animals of various types, like an ostrich and lions and other exotic creatures, that had been made by the different carousel manufacturers. 

The parking lot for this museum is tiny, but there is a lot of street parking around it.

3. Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center 

This small but important museum located in Niagara Falls, New York, was recommended to us by Burt at the carrousel museum. It is definitely a treasure and must see. Although small, it is beautifully laid out with the history of the underground railroad that operated from Niagara Falls into Canada. There were personal stories, history, and short films that really set out the danger and desperation of those seeking freedom and those who helped them. 

Admission is $10 for adults; $8 for seniors. Learn more about visiting. There is a large free municipal parking lot next door.

4. Erie Canal Discovery Center 

Just thirty minutes from Niagara Falls in Lockport, New York, is the Erie Canal Discovery Center. Using creative videos, personal histories, and explanations of the process to build the Erie Canal, it tells the story of the Erie Canal’s history from conception to completion. Some of the special effects and features were quite original. 

Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for seniors. The parking lot can be tight and crowded as it serves many businesses, but there is street parking. There are also many other historical things to see in this area.

5. Jell-O Gallery Museum 

Yes, there is a Jell-O museum. It is located in Le Roy, New York. Although small, it is well worth a visit. It is open April through December, and only on Thursday through Sunday. The museum is great fun and packed with information on the history of the jiggly dessert, its production, uses, molds, and pop culture. You can even get recipes. 

Admission is $6.00 for adults. The museum is housed in a building behind a house, and street parking is available.

6. Women’s Rights National Historical Park 

This is a very impressive museum located in Seneca Falls, New York. It is also a designated National Historical Park. Everything was curated beautifully and set up to follow the history of the women’s rights movement. It was remarkable and moving. I was particularly taken with the sculptures of prominent participants on the first level. The permanent exhibit is on the second floor. It is easy to spend hours there. 

The museum is in a historical building that is next to the Wesleyan Chapel at which the women’s convention was held on July 19 and 20, 1848. At that conference, The Declaration of Sentiments (which called for women's equality and suffrage) was drafted. 

There is a small parking lot and street parking available, and admission is free. (Note: Not far from this museum is the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. We did not stop there, but I would like to see it one day.)

7. Harriet Tubman Home 

Like the Women’s Rights Museum, this is also a National Historical Park. Located in Auburn, New York, it contains a couple of buildings besides Tubman’s home. One of the buildings is a single-story building that contains pictures and writings and the history of her life. 

There is a very informative tour lasting about an hour and reservations are required - $7 for adults; $5 for seniors. Reservations are made by calling a number on the website. The tour is well worth taking to get a complete timeline, not only of Tubman’s life, but it was amazing to learn about some of the people she knew and some of her other endeavors. 

There is a large parking lot at the museum. Learn more about visiting here.

8. Haskell Free Library and Opera House 

Technically not a museum, this interesting place could not be left off the list. Located on the border with Canada in Derby Line, Vermont, it is a working library that is historical, unique, and well worth a visit. The library is a stately building with a built-on opera house. 

The claim to fame of this library is that the U.S./Canadian border runs right through it and is designated by a black line on the floor, not just in the main part, but in every part of the library it passes through. They have a guided tour, which is $5 US or CAD, payable in cash. The tour was amazing and lasted an hour. 

Our guide Lynn told us about the history of the library and the opera house, which is still used today, and discussed the issues and challenges of having public buildings serving two countries. The library was built in 1901 and both buildings have most of their original furnishings, windows, floors, wood paneling, and doors. 

9. Pointe-au-Père Historic Maritime Site

Located at Pointe-au-Père, Rimouski, Quebec, this is actually home to three different museums. There is a huge parking lot on the point overlooking the St. Lawrence Estuary and free overnight parking is allowed. We stayed there two nights with no issue. The views are incredible.

The Empress of Ireland Museum is dedicated to the wreck of the ship by the same name in 1914. It is very informative and interesting with a great film at the beginning and artifacts. It is the greatest maritime tragedy in Canadian history.

The Onondaga Submarine is ninety meters long and housed seventy in its career from 1967 to 2000. The submarine is a self-guided tour with stations that coordinate with audio packs they provide, available in both English and French. It was fascinating to be inside a real submarine and see how the crew and officers lived, and all the technical features. 

Admissions to the Empress of Ireland Museum and the Onondaga Submarine can be combined for CA$25.50. The Lighthouse can be added on for CA$3. Otherwise, individually it is CA$12 for the Empress of Ireland, CA$19 for the submarine, and CA$4.50 for the lighthouse. We did not go into the lighthouse.

10. Canadian Museum of Immigration 

This was an impressive museum located at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, right by where the cruise ships dock. It is separated into two parts. One section told the story of the influx of immigrants into Halifax, mostly from Europe, starting in the late 1920s until the early 1970s. There were wonderful exhibits on things immigrants brought with them, why they came to Canada, and personal stories. 

The second part contained the history of immigration to Canada from the earliest settlers until now. Admission is CA$15 for adults. It is across from very large public parking lots. Learn more about visiting the museum.

NOTE: You can stay in Lot D for free over the weekend beginning on Friday night. We stayed three nights. And if you are there over the weekend, do not miss the huge farmers’ market across the street on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday is the biggest day for the market.

11. Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site 

Located in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, this museum was, hands down, one of our favorites. It is huge and packed full of information about Bell, his life, family, and inventions. We all know that Bell invented the telephone, but we were gobsmacked to find out what else he invented and his support of other inventors. 

If you are traveling in this area, do not miss this marvelous museum. The grounds are also very lovely and there is a huge parking lot. Admission is CA$9 for adults; CA$7.50 for seniors.

Honorable Mention Museums:

  • Museum of Ojibwa Culture at Old Mission in St. Ignace, Michigan. The museum is donation only and is housed in the old St. Ignace Mission founded by Father Marquette, who also founded the town. This is a lovely small museum about the Ojibwa people. It has a large parking lot in back.
  • The Bayfield Maritime Museum located in Bayfield, Wisconsin, is packed with artifacts and information about the fishing and shipping industries that went back and forth across Lake Superior. Admission is free, but they do ask for donations. There is also free street parking. (NOTE: Some of the streets allow free overnight parking. Just pay attention to the time limits on signs.)
  • The Salt Museum in Liverpool, New York. This teeny tiny museum talks about the salt industry in the Syracuse area. It is housed in one of the original buildings in a beautiful park right on Onondaga Lake. Check out the museum then spend time relaxing by the lake. It is free with lots of parking. 
  • The Elmira Railway Station Museum is a small railway museum located in Elmira, Prince Edward Island. It is the original train station at the beginning of the Confederation Trail. They also allow overnight parking in their lot.
  • Joggins Fossil Cliffs was originally the site of coal mines, but they discovered a rich catch of prehistoric fossils there. It is on the banks of the Bay of Fundy on the Nova Scotia side. There is a small, interesting museum on fossils located in the area, plus guided and self-guided tours that go down to the beach.
  • The Fisheries Museum in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia talks about the sea life in and around the area and ecology. It also has exhibits on the indigenous people, and how they fished and lived along the banks of this coast. (NOTE: This is a very popular harbor area and parking is very tight with some restrictions on RVs. But there is much to see and many restaurants.)
  • Whale Interpretive Center located at Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia. This was a very interesting non-profit museum located just off the Cabot Trail. It is dedicated to the whale, from their origins millions of years ago to now, including preservation. Tip: Pleasant Bay allows free overnight parking along the seawall. It has the most fantastic views, and you might even see a whale.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the above museums and going along with Stacy and me on part of our Excellent Adventure 2023!


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User commented on January 27, 2024 12:15 AM
Wow ! What a great review.