Kids and squids

Even the most squeamish youngsters can enjoy the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium

Published on July 22, 2014

Before I begin this story about our trip to the best mini aquarium in the land, I have to preface it with the fact that Surprise Child possesses a delicate stomach and overactive gag reflex.

I have no idea why, but he urges at the sight of a soft-boiled egg. A drip of yogurt on the table sends him running to the bathroom. And he builds a wall of cereal boxes between my place and his lest he catch a glimpse of granola in milk. Yet when my husband and I took him to the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium on World Oceans Day, he watched in earnest as Meredith Schofield, co-ordinator of education programs, took a knife to a squid to reveal its jelly-like innards.

Now, squid are pretty gooey animals from the get-go. You don’t have to cut them open to know they’re floppy and inky and cephalopody.

So when Meredith took her paring knife and cut into the squid’s mantle, I expected Surprise Child to take off running. But no, he held his place around the table waiting to see what each progressive incision would bring.

Meredith and the squid made quite a team. They held the rapt attention of not only Surprise Child, but the other 20 or so children that surrounded the table on the wharf on that freezing day in June.

I have to mention here that we were outside and it was cold enough to freeze the suction cups off a squid, but those children forgot all that. They stared at the small carcass on the table, its eight arms and two tentacles protruding from its lifeless head.

Having worked as a Parks Canada interpreter for five seasons, I’m always interested in seeing if interpreters can hold a child’s attention. Meredith did not disappoint.

After cutting the squid neatly down the middle, she proceeded to withdraw the “pen” or the plastic-like gladius, which is actually made from the same material as a lobster’s shell. She then offered the children the opportunity to pierce the ink sac, get the “pen” nice and inky and write whatever their hearts desired on the table.

I consider myself a pretty liberal parent, but this is definitely not an activity I have offered in my kitchen.

It seemed like all the interpreters at the mini aquarium were as skilled as Meredith. The ones inside could barely move for the crowds jostling for position around the various clear tanks, but yet each interpreter held the attention of adults and children alike and made each one of us work to find answers to our scavenger hunt.

I should say here that the mini Aquarium is indeed mini. In fact it measures only 800 square feet. But the developers have done an excellent job of making do with less. The white brick former fish processing plant, spiced up with blue trim, on the south side of Petty Harbour, uses water pumped directly from the ocean so it doesn’t have to be treated.

Besides squid dissections, the aquarium, which was founded by Melanie Knight, offers daily story time at 3 p.m., with an extra story on weekends at 11 a.m. Outside they had set up a puppet show with excellent sound. They even do birthday parties. For more info, email

The Mini Aquarium is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Saturday, Oct. 11, which is the big animal release party when the sea life in the tanks gets to go back to where they came from.

In order to get out and meet Gorm the blue lobster and his red sea star and albino white crab friends, follow Black Head Road through Shea Heights towards Cape Spear but turn right at Maddox Cove Road. Continue through Maddox Cove and Petty Harbour, crossing the bridge until you pass the church on the left, then it’s time to pull in to the large gravel lot on the left side of Southside Road. (Note: if you’re using a GPS make sure to input Petty Harbour as well as Southside Road; otherwise you may end up at the Fort Amherst light instead of Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium).

Once you’re out of your vehicle, sea stars spray-painted on the ground will lead you to the front of the Mini Aquarium towards the mouth of the harbour.  

After your visit, you can enjoy fish and chips down by the bridge at Chafe’s Landing Restaurant which advertises seafood “from our boats to your plates.” If you’re not ready for a big meal, you can get an ice cream at Petty Harbour Convenience and bring home a dark ’n’ dirty for later in the day when you’ve finished driving. I’m sure you’ll get a chuckle out of Theresa’s version of a rum and Coke.

Out behind the store — which has washrooms, by the way — you might catch a glimpse of the moving boat Jake jumped on in Republic of Doyle. And just a couple of hundred metres back towards Maddox Cove is North Atlantic Ziplines, where you can sign up to go zipping around 250 feet off the ground. Petty Harbour Museum is also up here and is open seven days a week from 9:30–5:30. Admission by donation.

When you go to leave Petty Harbour, you can drive out Petty Harbour Road past Herbie’s Olde Shoppe, which was established in 1933 as Weir’s General Store and sells made-in-Newfoundland and Labrador souvenirs. You’ll also see both the German-made flume for hydroelectricity and the zipline before you come out to main Road in Goulds where you can stop into Bidgood’s Store for a glimpse at Bidgood’s Cove tourist section at the back. There they sell everything from dried caplin to flipper pie.

If you love Petty Harbour so much that you find you can’t leave, contact Caplin Cottage at 747-9660, Home Away From Home 747-4247 or Shorelark by the Sea at 743-6118 and spend the night.

We’ll be back in Petty Harbour soon, but first we have to go to Hants Harbour for the food fishery which, in eastern Newfoundland, is July 19 to Aug. 10. Last year my husband caught a 35-pound cod. Maybe this year he’ll jig up a squid and we’ll see if Surprise Child is adventurous enough to eat it.

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Things you need to know about Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium:

Two single-stall washrooms are located outside the aquarium, at the top of approximately 25 steps. For visitors with limited mobility, there is a ramp to access the washrooms up the driveway and along the roadside.

Admission Prices

Adults: $7 + tax

Children: $4 + tax

Family: $16 + tax

Senior: $5 + tax

Season family pass: $35 + tax (two visits and you’ve got your money’s worth). For one person, a season’s pass costs $15 plus tax.

Visa, Mastercard, debit and cash are accepted.

Susan Flanagan can be reached at

Cabot Rock, Grates Cove feedback

Dwayne Trickett writes: “Knew a lady years ago from Grates (Cove) — surname Meadus. The rock was right beneath her dad’s fishing stage. Anyway story goes from her … that the two guys were working with the university and were studying the rock. I’ve heard one story that the rock ended up in the U.S.A. … some very prominent Newfie who relocated to the U.S. had it put into his fireplace. But somewhere out there, someone knows … it is the most important identifiable piece of history that ties us to the Old World. (It) has to be found … the media has to play this story more and more ... the story does have a ending … the whereabouts of Cabot’s Rock has to be found.”