Owning a library card can get you more than just books on loan. While the hallowed halls of your local library may lead you to the latest bestseller, certain locations may also offer you a key to the city.
Many libraries across the country loan special passes to card-holders giving them free access to city attractions, such as museums and zoos.
Snagging one of these passes at your local library could save a family of four more than $100 on a single outing, not to mention create lasting memories.
Library card-holders in Vancouver can check out the Vancouver Inspiration Pass for two weeks at a time and unlike in some other cities, it can be used more than once. Not only does the pass give access to museums and galleries, but it also lets holders use various fitness centres across the city. The pass can be used by a mixture of four adults or children under 18, or four young people between the ages of 14 and 18.
With the Vancouver Inspiration Pass, you can visit more than 20 city attractions, including:
- The Beaty Biodiversity Museum
- Museum of Vancouver
- Vancouver Aquarium
- Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Cost for a family of four to visit the Vancouver Aquarium without the pass: $108
If you live in Toronto, drop by your local Toronto Public Library branch to see if you can get a Sun Life Financial Museum + Arts Pass. With a valid adult library card, you can borrow a pass over a seven-day period to use at one attraction. Each pass admits one family or two adults and up to four children.
You can’t renew or reserve passes and because there is a limited quantity, they’re available on a first-come first-served basis or are chosen by a draw at select branch locations.
With the Sun Life Financial Museum + Arts Pass, you have the option of visiting more than 15 city attractions, including:
- Art Gallery of Ontario
- Aga Khan Museum
- Royal Ontario Museum
- Toronto Zoo
Tip: You can check online which branches require a draw to choose who gets a pass. It’s likely these locations have more contenders for passes, so if possible, try to find alternate branches to pick up from for a better chance.
Cost for a family of four to visit the Toronto Zoo without the pass: $92
The Ottawa Public Library offers access passes to various museums across the city. Each pass has a seven-day loan period. Just don’t return the pass late or you’ll incur a $2 daily fine to a maximum of $35.
Check out your local branch and see if you can visit participating attractions, including:
- The Canadian Museum of Civilization
- National Gallery of Canada
- Canadian Aviation and Space Museum
- Canada Agriculture Museum
Cost for a family of four to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization without the pass: $36
The Hamilton Public Library offers free family passes that let users visit historic museums and sites. They’re valid for two adults and two children maximum and can be held for a two-week period.
Here are some of the places you and your family can visit with the pass:
- Battlefield House Museum
- Dundurn National Historic Site
- Fieldcote Memorial Park and Museum
- Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology
Cost for a family of four to visit the Dundurn National Historic Site without the pass: $30
The Calgary Public Library has a similar pass to Toronto but it’s available to fewer people. The Sun Life Financial Arts + Culture Pass is available to anyone with both a valid library card and a City of Calgary Recreation Fee Assistance card for low-income citizens. This attraction pass also offers admission to various events like Global Fest and the Calgary Highland Games.
With the Sun Life Financial Arts + Culture Pass, you can visit several museums:
- Aero Space Museum of Calgary
- Fort Calgary
- Glenbow Museum
Cost for a family of four to visit the Glenbow Museum without the pass: $40
The Greater Victoria Public Library offers Cultural & Recreational Passes for specific attractions around the city, such as:
- Royal BC Museum Family Pass
- Saanich Recreation Pass
- The Robert Bateman Centre Pass
- Art Gallery of Greater Victoria Household Access Pass
The loan period for all of these passes is seven days, with no renewals allowed. Some passes are only available at certain branches, so be sure to check with your local branch to make sure it’s carrying it.
Cost for a family of four to visit the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria without the pass: $28
When you stop by the Central Branch at Whitby Public Library, you can also pick up a Town of Whitby Swim and Skate Pass for free. They’ll allow up to five people to attend public skate or swim at these Whitby recreation centres:
Where you can swim:
- Whitby Civic Recreation Complex
- Anne Ottenbrite Pool
Where you can skate:
- Iroquois Park Sports Centre
- McKinney Centre
- Luther Vipond Memorial Arena
The loan period for the pass is one week. The pass program itself has been extended to December 31, 2016, so after that, you may not be able to get one anymore.
Cost for a family of four to swim at the Whitby Civic Recreation Complex without the pass: $11.90
The Kingston Frontenac Public Library lets you visit three local museums for free with their Museum Passes. Two of those museums only operate seasonally, while one is open year-around, so be sure to check their schedules before borrowing a pass from the library.
Here are the museums you can visit:
- Agnes Etherington Art Centre (open year-round)
- Pump House Steam Museum (open April to November)
- MacLachan Woodworking Museum (open until Sept. 4, 2016)
The library also lends a separate pass to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. It’ll admit a family group of five, with a maximum of three adults.
The loan period for both of these passes is one week.
Cost for a family of four to visit the Canadian Museum of Nature without the pass: $46
This article was originally published in August 2015 and updated on March 13, 2017.
Saw a similar in program in place at a library near you? Tell us about it in the comment section below.