Who knew that canned fish could be so exciting! If you ever find yourself in Stavanger, Norway, do yourself a favour and visit The Norwegian Canning Museum.
To put things into perspective, we don’t often visit museums when we travel with kids. But Norwegian museums are so very different from most other museums we have been to, that I really recommend visiting at least a couple. Friendly people at Stavanger Region tourism recommended The Norwegian Canning Museum to us, and I am really glad we visited. It’s fun for young and old.
In this post I will first share some short background information, followed by our experience when visiting The Norwegian Canning Museum with kids. If you would like to get to know a bit more about the Norwegian fishing industry, if you like hands-on experiences and learning by doing, then this museum is for you!
Norwegian canning industry – a little bit of history
The fishing industry has always played a very important role in Norway’s economy. Since more than 70% of Norway’s exported canned fish production came from Stavanger, this is the perfect region to get acquainted with this fascinating part of Norwegian history.
The canning industry peaked in the 1920’s with almost 200 factories operating in Norway, 59 of them in Stavanger. By 1978 only 21 factories remained, 9 of them in Stavanger. By 1990 only 4 plants remained in the whole of Norway. The production is now more centralised, and the Norwegian seafood industry is doing extremely well. Norway exports seafood to about 130 countries worldwide, and this multi-billion industry is growing at a steady rate.
The Norwegian Canning Museum in Stavanger – what to expect
The Norwegian Canning museum is located right in the middle of Old Stavanger – ‘Gamle Stavanger’, an area you definitely have to visit when in town. A short walk through the most charming street with the white wooden houses decorated with flowers leads you to the former canning factory that is now home to the ‘Hermetikk Museum’.
It’s not a big museum, but we spent 1h20 – more time there than I had anticipated. And we loved every minute of it. Here is what you can expect to find…
Meet the friendly staff
Upon arrival we were greeted by the very friendly staff and Mr. Piers Crocker, the curator of the museum himself, offered to guide us. There aren’t many text explanations in the museum, so it’s best to visit with one of the staff. This way they want to keep people curious, ask questions, and really get to learn about this fascinating industry. I have to say that they really succeed at it! Piers is so passionate about the industry and the museum that his enthusiasm is contagious. We never thought that we would love this little museum so much! Just take a look at his t-shirt, it will put a smile on your face!
We started our visit upstairs, with a short introductory film showing the whole process of production of canned sardines. From catching the fish, washing and pre-brining, threading, smoking, decapitating the fish to oil filling, laying of the sardines in the can, to finally sealing and labelling the cans. The film shows factory workers from the beginning of the 20th century, and you really get a very good picture of the importance of this industry, as well as the work that goes into a single can of fish. I can tell you that I will never look at canned fish the same way again!
There is also a big exhibition of fish can labels, and if you take the time to look at them more closely, you will be amazed with the huge variety of them!
Labels have been used since the 1880’s, but in the beginning the contents were considered more important than the packaging. However, with standard fish cans all looking the same, there was a strong need for every individual producer to give their products a distinctive look. And by 1900 colourful and carefully designed labels became the norm, with a huge increase of sales and a big number of new factories opening as a result.
Piers told us that the museum now holds a collection of over 32,000 different labels (only a small part of them is on display)! One thing is clear, Norwegians have always had a profound knowledge of marketing. With beautiful labels tailored specifically for different countries, social groups, a variety of famous people, events and interests, they would sell canned fish even to a fisherman!
Take a look at some of the labels (these images are courtesy of the Norwegian Canning Museum and all rights are reserved)!
The worker’s lunch-break room
If your kids like role play, then don’t miss the workers’ room on the first floor. Here you can find typical clothing worn by the workers in the old days, and – if you fancy – dress up, like our kids did. They had so much fun!
Production and packaging hall
We already loved everything about the Norwegian Canning Museum, but the exhibition on the ground floor has made the whole experience even better! Here you can see the whole production process, step by step. And the best part is that you can actually touch and try everything for yourself! This part of the museum is not to be missed if visiting with kids!
We couldn’t resist trying the threading and the laying of sardines! It’s really fun, and not just for the children. But beware that it’s not as easy as they make it look in the film! No way could we properly fill a can of sardines in 5 or 6 seconds. Not even in 50 or 60… But we had so much fun trying! Oh, and don’t worry, the sardines you play with are not real, so no oily or smelly hands.
In the meantime, a friendly gentleman had turned on the oven and smoked some (real) sardines for the visitors to try. Even our most fussy eater tried one and had to admit that they are really good. The tasting is not a daily event though, but you may get lucky, as we did.
Kids’ play corner
As I already said, the Norwegian Canning Museum is really family-friendly and it’s a great place to spend an hour or two when visiting Stavanger with kids. If you are still not convinced about taking your kids to a museum, you need not worry. This museum even has a separate kids’ play corner, where they can draw, do some crafts, or even personalise their own can.
The Norwegian Canning Museum is also an excellent place to spend a couple of hours if visiting Stavanger on a rainy day.
The Norwegian Canning Museum is open daily. Check their website for more practical information.
The Norwegian Canning Museum was the first one we visited during our 2-week Norway trip. It was such a big success that we added quite a few other museums to our itinerary as well. All I can say is that Norwegian museums are a must, and especially if traveling with kids. Never thought I would ever use these three words (museum – must – kids) in the same sentence!
Have you visited the Norwegian Canning Museum? Feel free to share your experience in the comments!
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