Reimagining the Adult Museum Experience (Parks Canada Bellevue House Case Study)

Carly Syms

VIP + Marketing Manager

Bellevue House has a rich history in Kingston, Ontario, and it’s one of the area’s top tourist destinations. A National Historic Site of Canada now owned by Parks Canada, Bellevue House commemorates Sir John Macdonald as the nation’s first Prime Minister and is one of the most famous Canadian examples of Italian Villa architecture.

Bellevue House is super popular among visitors to Kingston. Guests can enjoy videos, take pictures with a life-size cutout of Sir John, and explore the house where the nation’s first prime minister once lived during the 1800s.

But even though the House is considered a must-see in Kingston, staff knew they had an opportunity to take the guest experience to the next level. They wanted to completely reimagine adult engagement at the historic site and knew that our style of audience development would work well for them.

Earlier this fall, we sent two VIP staff members to Canada to spend four nights in Kingston as they helped Bellevue House staff reinvent the adult museum experience at this awesome historic site.


Breaking down the elements of a Museum Hack tour

Zak Martellucci and Kate Downey put together an intensive, three-day audience engagement workshop for the team at Bellevue House with the ultimate goal of having museum staff ready to launch their own one-hour, Museum-Hack-style tours for museum visitors.

Our workshop kicked off with a discussion on how we frame our tours. We explained how our guides choose the best objects in the museums we tour in and make them stand out in new, creative ways. Kate and Zak also discussed the Five Elements of a Hack, or the five principles we use to successfully craft a tour stop.

Zak with the lifesize cut out of Sir John Macdonald.
Zak with the lifesize cut out of Sir John Macdonald.

The workshop included a breakdown of how our tours are structured, with Kate and Zak explaining the reasoning behind our madness. We discussed how we pace our tours, why we include games and activities, and what museum pieces really help to make the experience awesome.

Once we’d gone through the why and how of what makes a Museum Hack tour, it was time to put those tools to work for the Bellevue House.

Bringing Museum Hack to Bellevue House

After we spent day one of the workshop going over Museum Hack principles, it was time to focus on how to make our magic work for Bellevue House. The second day of the program was all about developing new tours as staff outlined and practiced our techniques in their space. The site is full of so much amazing history, but Kate and Zak helped staff narrow it down to choosing six awesome tour stops with the best stories.   

We taught their staff how to apply our hacking principles to those tour stops to maximize engagement and reinvigorate the tour experience for guests.   Of course, it wouldn’t be a true tour in Museum Hack style without interactive activities and pictures! We helped design a tour game unique to Bellevue House and worked with staff to shape the tour route to get the most out of what the site has to offer. Once we cooked up a photo challenge guests could participate in throughout the tour and implemented a few VIP touches, Bellevue House staff was ready to launch their brand-new tours.


We had a fantastic time hacking one of Kingston’s favorite spots!  

Check out this awesome video of Kate and Zak’s trip to Canada:


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