By Laura McCaffrey
Carleton’s biology department has been successfully hosting its Butterfly Show for nearly two decades. An annual community event held in Carleton’s greenhouse, the Butterfly Show features exotic butterflies from 41 species worldwide. While the show is undeniably enchanting, the real beauty lies in the ways in which the show brings together community, enables family bonding and allows for a fun learning experience for children, students and adults alike.
The show, which attracts upwards of 10,000 people over the course of nine days, is offered free of charge. This decision was born out of the desire to give back to the Carleton and Ottawa communities and to allow everyone to experience the magic of butterflies.
Butterfly Show creator and greenhouse manager Ed Bruggink, who has been spearheading the show since it premiered in 1999, notes that the show has always been strategically held around family-oriented holidays. In its early days, the show was held in the spring, around Mother’s Day; in more recent years, it has taken place in the weeks preceding Thanksgiving.
“The goal is, and has always been, to encourage time spent with loved ones,” says Bruggink. “I’m always trying to have a family event.”
Photos by Akintunde Akinleye
While the show strives to promote community engagement and family bonding, it also provides significant learning opportunities. Educational posters are developed and displayed in the biology building’s lobby and Let’s Talk Science guided tours are offered by student volunteers—from both Carleton and the University of Ottawa—to local schools and community groups.
For their part, Carleton students are afforded plentiful opportunities to volunteer and learn about the butterflies and their evolution. The students, who volunteer both during and prior to the show, get to experience special moments of which most people can only dream—like seeing the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises.
“The average person will never hold a chrysalis from Indonesia in their hand. And the students get to experience that,” Bruggink muses. “They’re knocking down the door trying to get into that nursery to help me out.”
In addition to student volunteers, there’s a plethora of Ottawa community members who help enable the success of the show.
Jen Skanes, a Carleton alumnus, volunteers as a greeter every fall; she happily walks the entry lines and enthusiastically entertains and educates visitors.
Jim des Rivières and Rick Cavasin, both local photographers and experts on moths and butterflies, respectively, share their expertise with guests. Jim also prints the show’s signage and designs t-shirts for volunteers, while Rick provides photographs of local butterflies for the ‘butterfly wall’ in the biology building lobby.
A local Ottawa artist, Kathryn Finter, creates butterfly origami, which are handed out to thousands of visitors as souvenirs.
While the Butterfly Show has become a fall tradition in Ottawa, the impact of the show expands far beyond the local community. The 40+ species of butterflies are sourced from butterfly farms around the world. Such farming relies on the maintenance and protection of jungle and rain forest conditions, as the butterflies can only thrive if their natural habitats are preserved. Global butterfly farms also create jobs by employing local residents who have expertise in cultivating and farming the butterflies safely and sustainably.
Year after year, families flock to Carleton’s campus to enjoy the butterflies; and year after year, parents, children, students and friends leave the show feeling excited and grateful.
“The evident happiness on the faces of visitors is what gives me and my team the energy to keep delivering and improving upon the show,” says Bruggink. “The Butterfly Show is a signal to community members that Carleton is a unique place that’s doing great things—and we will continue to do great things far into the future.”
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