Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Royal Canadian Mint - Ottawa

Goofing around at The Mint
When we were planning our trip to Ottawa The Mint wasn't originally on our itinerary since we only had a few days and there is a lot of great stuff to do in Ottawa.  I didn't think touring a coin factory would be at the top of my kids' list of things to do, but a friend said it was surprisingly fun and the Science museum was under construction when were went so we figured we would give it a go.

Trying to lift the gold bar at the start of the tour.  
My friend was right!  It is surprisingly interesting and fun even for kids.  The tour is less than hour so it isn't too taxing for young attention spans.  Our tour guide was great and answered all my kids' questions.  Who knew kids would have so many questions about how coins are made?
You are only allowed to take pictures at the gold bar in case you are wondering
why I have included two pictures of that!
The Mint in Ottawa doesn't make coins in general circulation, only collector coins but it doesn't really matter to kids.  A coin's a coin as far as they are concerned.  I would recommend going on a weekday since they don't actually make the coins on the weekends.  You can still tour the facility but you won't actually see the coins being made which is most of the fun of the tour.
More goofing around
Highlights for my kids were watching the coins being made and seeing the coins from around the world that are made at The Mint.  Another big hit with my kids was seeing the Olympic medals from Vancouver which were produced at The Mint.  

The Mint is right by the National Gallery of Canada and a short walk from Bytown Market so you can easily combine a trip to The Mint with a visit to one of those other attractions.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Reservations are recommended.  When we went it wasn't busy so the man who wandered up and wanted to join the tour was able to do so but I suspect if it is busy you could be turned away.  You can make reservations by calling: 1-800-276-7714.
  • It costs $18 for a family of four to take the tour.  
  • They have a pretty good gift shop.  The tour basically starts and ends in the gift shop so you'll see it whether you want to or not.  We picked up some Christmas presents while we were there!
  • You can't take pictures during the tour.  The only place you can take pictures inside The Mint is with the gold bar.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Canadian Museum of History (Museum of Civilization) - Ottawa

Posing with some Totem poles in the First Peoples Hall
My family visited Ottawa and went to several great places for kids while we were there which I'll write about in other posts.  I'll start with my kids' favourite place, The Canadian Museum of History which was known as the Museum of Civilization until fairly recently.  I've taken my kids to lots of museums and art galleries and they have liked them all but I would say this was their favourite or at least tied for first with Science North.
Checking out some fancy schmancy snow machines
My kids liked the Grand Hall and the First Peoples Hall which was on the first floor.  You can actually touch some of the big totem poles and statues on display (although not all) which my kids liked.  The exhibit on the second floor about Snow was good but not as exciting for kids as the other exhibits.
They have a stage in the Children's Museum area with lots of costumes to try out.
My older daughter loved controlling the lights and sound for the stage.
The real fun for kids comes in the Children's Museum which is awesome.  My kids loved everything in this area and you could easily spend all day in this area and they wouldn't get bored.  Highlights for my kids were the stage area, the great Pakistani bus and the International Village but there was nothing that they didn't love about it.  
The bus, a highlight for my kids.
In the International Village kids can see how families around the world live.  They can dress up in clothes from around the world, try some games or their hand at drumming.
Trying out the drums in the Nigerian area
They have an area where you can load and unload things from a ship or you can run your own cafe.  
The prices were a little steep in this particular restaurant.
You can even run your own clothing factory or lay around in a Bedouin tent!

Trying out the sewing machine.
Each child gets a passport when they enter the Children's Museum which they can get stamped at various locations around the museum.  My kids loved this and still have their passports tucked away in their "special box" at home.  
Looking thrilled to bits to be learning about whaling in early Canada.
If you do manage to tear your children away from the Children's Museum there is still more to see in the rest of the museum.  When my husband mentioned that he had discovered an interesting exhibit about Canadian history upstairs I was ... skeptical.  I mean, I love learning about collectivized wheat distribution as much as the next gal but a whole floor of stuff devoted to Canadian history?  I didn't know if I was up for it or how big a rebellion I was going to have on my hands when I turned to my kids and said "hey, let's stop dressing up and riding on funky buses and head upstairs to learn about the fur trade in New France!"  
Listening in on some rebels as they plot.
It turned out to be great!  I don't know if I would say my kids liked it as much as the Children's Museum but they did like it and so did I.  The exhibits are fantastic, really well done and they have enough information so that you know what you are looking at but not so much that you feel overwhelmed or like you will be there until the end of time learning about the role of Ukrainians in the settlement of the prairies or whatever.  
Checking out an old timey school.
The exhibits are organized chronologically so you work your way through Canadian history right up to about the 1960s.  Along the way you will visit whaling posts, shops, houses, schools, churches, Chinese laundromats, factories, jails and airport lounges among other things.  You can touch things (although not everything) and listen to things and insert yourself into the action.

There is also an IMAX cinema but we didn't get to that because we spent all day in the museum galleries.  There is an extra fee for the movies.

Things to keep in mind:
  • It is actually not in Ottawa, it is technically in Gatineau, Quebec but it is a short drive from the heart of Ottawa.  In fact, I would say my husband and I could have walked it from our hotel (Lord Elgin) but the kids would have found that too much walking on top of the walking at the museum. Plus it was freezing when we were there.  You can take the bus.
  • They have a restaurant and a snack bar.  They are both about what you would expect to find ina  museum. 
  • The museum is very reasonably priced.  It is $32 for a family of four to go or $55 if you want to see an IMAX film.  They also have a deal if you buy admission to both the Museum of History and the War Museum but personally I can't see why you would take kids to a War Museum.  
  • Parking is extra, $12.50 for the day.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kilarney Provincial Park

A.Y. Jackson Lake in Kilarney Park
We had heard from several friends that Kilarney Provincial Park, which is nestled in the La Cloche mountains along the Georgian Bay,  was the most beautiful park for camping and hiking in Ontario so we tried for several years to get a campsite.  We had no success - despite the fact that I would get up at the crack of dawn five months before our planned trip and sit with my finger poised and ready over the "Reserve now" button on the Provincial Parks website. Finally, after three years we managed to get a site at the park.
Picking blueberries along Granite Ridge Trail
I am happy to report that Kilarney is as beautiful as everyone says and it is a hiker's paradise. We were there for 5 days in July and we can't wait to go back.  We did three trails, Granite Ridge Trail, Chikanishing Trail and Cranberry Bog Trail and they were all awesome.  Any one of them would qualify as the best hike I have ever been on.  Having said that, it may have been a blessing that we didn't get a site the first few times we tried since most of the trails would have been too demanding for my kids a few years ago.
Standing on a beaver dam on the Cranberry Bog Trail
The trails are more rugged than those found in places like Killbear or The Pinery which tend to fall into the category of "walk in the woods".  You actually have to follow the blazes on some of the hikes and we did the easiest of the many hikes the park has to offer.
Chikanishing Trail
My kids liked all three but Chikinishing was probably their favourite.  They loved scrambling over the rocks and there were wild blueberries along the trail (that is true of other trails too) which was a highlight for my kids.  I would recommend starting with Granite Ridge, partly because it is one of the easiest and partly because you will find yourself thinking, "this is the best hike I have ever been on" until the next day when you hit Chikinishing or some other trail which is even better.

The La Cloche mountains on George Lake
There is lots to do besides hiking in Kilarney.  We went on a great canoe ride on George Lake.  You can't rent canoes in the park but Kilarney Outfitters,which is  a short drive down the road rents them, and you can buy any kind of camping supplies you might need (plus ice cream!)  You pay at the store but you can pick up and drop off your canoe in the park.  One thing to keep in mind is the wind really picks up once you get out of the sheltered bays.  We went on a calm summer day and once we were out in the open the canoeing was twice as hard as it had been in the bay.  Still doable but not a leisurely paddle. You can canoe deeper into the backcountry of the park, in fact most of the backcountry campsites are canoe in, but you can also go for a half day canoe ride and see lots of beautiful sites.

Jumping from the cliff.
My kids loved the swimming at Kilarney too.  My kids befriended some other kids at an event in the park and learned about a cliff behind their campsite that is perfect for jumping off so we spent several afternoons doing just that.  I have mentioned before that lakes in Ontario, especially that far north, are never going to be terribly warm but the water was perfectly swimmable while we were there.
A turtle we found while on the guided hike which we revisited many times.
The park also had several organized activities while were there including an owl prowl which was a big hit with my kids, two folk music concerts, and a guided hike to find reptiles and amphibians living in the park. They also have an artist in residence who leads workshops throughout the summer months.  There are also some self-guided orienteering activities that my kids liked.  The astronomy talk was cancelled due to clouds but everything else wen off without a hitch while we were there.
Chikinishing Trail 
The part of Kilarney for car camping is quite small, only 128 sites plus six Yurts, so you can park your car and walk or ride everywhere in the park quite easily.  The only time we ever used the car was to go rent the canoe and to get fish and chips in the town down the road.  You can walk to the amphitheater, store, comfort stations, beach, canoe launch etc. from just about any campsite in the park.  

This is only vaguely related to the topic I am writing about but my daughters' favourite thing about their trip to Kilarney was making friends with two girls from across the path.  We exchanged addresses and phone numbers and then I lost the piece of paper!  The two girls were even nice enough to send my kids a postcard but it didn't have a return address on it so we haven't been able to write back.  So, if anyone happens to know two little girls named Kian and Indy (I may have those named spelled wrong) from Mississauga, have them send me a message so my girls can write back! They have their letters all written and waiting to go.

Things to keep in mind:
  • There is no store in the park for supplies but the Kilarney Outfitters store has all kinds of camping supplies and there is a general store in the town down the road.
  • There are bears in the campground.  We saw two while we were there and we weren't in the backcountry.
  • You need proper hiking boots or sturdy shoes for these hikes.  
  • There are some brazen raccoons roaming the park.  We had one come up to our campsite while we were all just sitting around and try to get in our van.  Between them and the bears you really need to make sure your food is well stored!
  • Kilarney is one of the parks serviced by Park Bus so you can get there even if you don't drive.
  • They provide bear proof bins to keep things in if you don't have a trunk to secure it in.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada - Toronto

Girl in Edith Widder tshirt
If you are the first person to see a live squid you are going to get
 your face emblazoned on a kid's tshirt!
Ripley's Aquarium is one of my kids' favourite places.  This is largely due to it being an awesome place with lots to see and do and partly because both my kids love aquatic animals.  You know those kids who try to teach themselves how to speak dolphin?  Yeah, I have one of those.   My oldest daughter has a tshirt with Dr. Edith Widder on it.  We're talking hard core sea life fans here.  So it will come as no surprise that my kids had been anxiously awaiting the opening of Ripley's Aquarium in Toronto ever since they saw the sign announcing construction would commence about two years ago.  Even for kids who do not have a favourite marine biologist it will prove to be a fun and exciting day.  
My daughter's favourite creature at the Aquarium, the octopus.
But be warned - the place is packed!  We went on a P.D. day in our city which happened to not be a P.D. day in Toronto so we figured the place would be pretty dead. Wrong!  Wall to wall people.  It worked out fine though, the crowd moves in a pretty orderly fashion through the Aquarium and the tanks and displays are big enough that you can see everything even if there are people in front of you.  I had four kids with me ranging in ages from 6 - 9 and they were all able to see everything fine.
For reasons I can't fully explain these guys cracked me up to no end.
They were in the Canadian Waters section. 
There are several galleries in the Aquarium.  The first one is Candian Waters which lacks some of the colour and excitement of some of the other galleries but still features some pretty funny and interesting creatures including giant lobsters which were very popular with the kids I took to the Aquarium.  I can also say that I had never seen most of the creatures in this section and I've lived in Canada almost my whole life, albeit not under water.
The Dangerous Lagoon was my younger daughter's favourite part.
Next up was the Rainbow Reef  gallery which was bright and colourful and featured most of the fish kids know from Finding Nemo.  So, be prepared to hear shouts of "There's Dory! There's Gill!"  From the Rainbow Reef you head into the Dangerous Lagoon which I feel should have spooky music with a name like that but alas.  What it lacks in atmospheric music it makes up for in conveyor belts.  They have a moving sidewalk thingie that allows you to stand and look up at the ceiling and all around (the tank forms a tunnel that you move through) without having to worry about banging into people since you aren't looking where you are going.  As someone who fairly routinely walks into things, I have to ask myself why we don't have more of these.  This area has various sharks which are a big hit with kids, especially the Green Sawfish which is not at all ironically named.
Petting the wee sea creatures in the Discover Centre.
When you are done with the Dangerous Lagoon you come out in a play area and snack bar area called Discovery Centre.  They have some tunnels and tubes for the kids to climb through, a water activity and an area to pet crabs and I believe rays.  This was a big hit with the kids.  This is the one area where the crowds are a problem.  There is nowhere near enough seating for everyone to sit and have lunch and the line ups at the snack bar are crazy long.  We found a spot on the floor and ate the sandwiches we had brought from home.  Your kids may have to wait their turn to pet the critters.
Thanks to my friend Vicki Murray-Moore for taking some great pictures of
the jellies and other creatures.  
Next up is Planet Jellies, my favourite.   This area features all kinds of weird and wonderful jellies (not jellyfish!)  It is also quite dark so that you can get a better view of some of the flourescent creatures.  Some little ones might find the dark a bit disconcerting so keep that in mind.
A Weedy Sea Dragon.  Come on, that guy is freaky!
From Planet Jelly you go into The Gallery which is host to a wide variety of creatures most of them very weird.  The focus here is on the surprising and amazing ways that many creatures find to adapt to their environments.  From The Gallery you go into the Ray Bay which houses, you guessed it, Rays.  After that you walk through the Life Support Systems which is the heating and cooling equipment.  My kids found that more interesting than you might expect but it isn't exactly the highlight of the tour.

More jellies by Vicki Murray-Moore.
The final gallery is the Shoreline Gallery which my kids loved.  You can pet different sea creatures including Southern Stingrays.  The only way I could get my kids out of this area when it was time to go was by promising them something from the gift shop which is right next to the Shoreline Gallery.  

Some things to keep in mind:
  • Tickets are $30 per adult and $20 per child.  You can buy them online and in fact I would recommend doing so as they have timed entry so if you show up and want to buy tickets you may have to wait until the next available time slot.  
  • They are pretty accommodating with the times.  If you run into problems and are late they will just reissue your ticket for the next time.  That is a bit of a hassle though so I recommend showing up during the window on your ticket.  
  • They are right downtown so parking can be a problem.  Check out this map for the nearest parking lots.  None of them will be free. If you are on the GO train line, it is probably easier to take that since it is walking distance from Union Station.
  • They do sometimes offer discounts for going in the evening but then you only have 2 hours to spend there.  If you have little ones who won't last more than that anyway it is probably worth doing.  You don't need much more time than that to do the whole thing at a normal pace.  They also offer military discounts.  
  • There is a snack bar with a fair number of offerings but the line up was huge when we were there and there are not many tables.  You can find their full menu here.
  • The gift shop features the usual assortment of stuff at the usual prices.  I did manage to find baseball hats that were reasonably priced so that's what we bought as our souvenirs/summer hats.
  • You can rent strollers for $3 if little ones get tired and you want to keep looking at the creatures.
  • It is right next to the CN Tower so if you're coming from out of town you might want to combine the two attractions.  

Friday, January 31, 2014

Black Creek Pioneer Village - Toronto

My kids, checking out the gingerbread village.  They are gobsmacked that you can make things out of gingerbread other than the little lean-tos that we usually manage to make.
Black Creek Pioneer Village was pretty much my favourite place in the whole world when I was a kid.  I don't live in the Toronto area anymore so I hadn't been in years but guys, it was time to take my kids.  I was a little hesitant because I thought it might not have stood the test of time and my kids would find it boring and think I am crazy for raving about it so much. Sort of like reading your kids "Ramona and her Mother" and finding out they don't like it.  I mean, you really have to take a hard look at your life when that happens you know?   Also I was afraid it may turn out to be like the Tar Tunnel incident of 1992.  When I went to England to visit my cousin, her husband insisted on taking us to see the Tar Tunnel in Ironbridge, which was, according to him, the most exciting place in the whole wide world.  So, off we went.  Guys?  It is a tunnel, that has some tar like substance occasionally oozing out of the walls.  That's it.  You do get to wear a little hard hat which is always fun but that is about the extent of the excitement of the Tar Tunnel.  Turns out I needn't have worried since my kids loved it as much as I did. Well, ok, not quite that much but nobody ever could love Black Creek Pioneer Village as much as I did when I was a kid. 
Checking out a Christmas feast in one of the house.
We went on a wet day in December and it was almost deserted which meant that we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.  It also meant that they had the place all done up for Christmas which was always my favourite time of year to visit when I was a kid (yes, I had a favourite time of year to visit Black Creek Pioneer Village, what of it?)
Learning about tinsmithing!

The best thing about Black Creek Pioneer Village is the interpreters.  They are all great and without them it really is just a collection of old buildings which is nice and all but not likely to hold the attention of kids for too long.  Since it was so quiet on the day we were there one woman kept moving from building to building to give little talks about what went on in each one.  That is her in the picture above teaching us about tinsmithing.

Here she is again, teaching us how they used to set broken arms.
They have lots of buildings you can visit including, a doctor`s house, the inn, the mill, the weaver`s, a couple of different houses, blacksmith, tinsmith, general store, etc.  They are all great.  My one daughter liked the weaver`s the best and my younger daughter liked the houses the best. 
Here is our favourite interpreter showing us how to work the loom.

 My favourite when I was a kid was the Print Shop.  There were three reasons for this:
  1. It was cool to see how they used to make newspapers and you got to move the letters around and stuff.
  2. You could buy stuff in the print shop, things like fake old newspapers which were, for some reason, very exciting to me as a kid.
  3. Most importantly, there was a nice old man who used to be the interpreter there at least three of the times I went as a kid.  He used to do magic tricks and twice (TWICE!) I got to keep the magic dime he pulled from behind my ear.  I told my daughter about this and she said "Oh, he sounds like a nice old grandpa type of guy."  I said, "You`re right, he was a nice old grandpa type of guy." To which my daughter replied, "He`s probably dead now."  Well, thank you, little Mary Sunshine!
I am just going to pretend this guy is the old guy`s grandson!

These days there is a new guy working at the print shop and he looks to have a long life ahead of him.  He was very friendly and informative but alas, no magic tricks! 
Petting the horses outside the Inn.
Another big hit is always the horse drawn wagon rides.  I loved them when I was a kid and my kids loved it too!  They only take about 15 minutes or so and they go every half hour.  They had craft workshops and a puppet show in the upstairs of the Inn when we were there.  My kids liked making fancy Victorian Christmas cards.  You can also buy apple cider and cookies (and some other things) down in the Inn.

Old Timey Santa wasn`t sure what a Calico Critter was but he played along!
If you go in December you can even visit Santa. No line ups! 

Ready for their wagon ride.
Things to keep in mind:
  • They aren`t open year round, so check the website to make sure they are open when you want to go.
  • It costs about $60 for a family of four to go (including parking).  If you live in the area it is probably a good idea to get the family membership which is only $95, includes parking and discounts on food, the gift shop and day camps.  I wonder if they let adults go to day camp?
  • They have a brewery!
  • They have lots of special events, so check out their calendar of events to find one that tickles your fancy.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chippewa Falls - Havilland

Hiking along the Falls

Chippewa Falls  is about 35 minutes north of Sault Ste. Marie at pretty much the midpoint of the Trans-Canada Highway.  It is a great place to stop and stretch your legs and have a picnic if you are on a long drive, which you no doubt are, if you are in the area.  Keep your eye out for signs for Chippewa River, if you are heading north you will be past the Falls by the time you notice them if you don't.  There is a parking lot right off the highway and from there it is just a short walk to the Falls.  
Hanging out on the rocks at Chippewa Falls

The trail along the Falls is not long but it is a bit rugged so you will want to wear decent shoes and anyone with mobility issues may find it a bit tricky.  My youngest daughter, who is six, needed some help on a few spots.  The trail extends past the Falls so you don't have to stop there, you can keep going and see some more of the river.  About halfway up the trail my older daughter turned to me and said "why is this place called Chimp Waffles?"  Apparently she had heard Chippewa Falls as Chimp Waffles.  I am not going to lie, I will call this place Chimp Waffles until the day I die, in fact, it took a lot of willpower to not title this post Chimp Waffles. 
Our picnic spot
There is no picnic area per se but there are some nice big rocks you can sit on and eat your sandwiches.  That is what we did. 
One of us caught a fish!

My kids liked Chippewa Falls so much that we went back another day to go fishing. My daughter actually caught a fish! I have mentioned before that we repel fish in some weird unexplained way, so this was something of a miracle.   The spot we had found the first day we were there was occupied by a fisherlady who was kind enough to invite us to join her.  She lived in the area and told us all kinds of stories about growing up in the area.  I can't guarantee that you will stumble upon a kindly and talkative person fishing but you never know!  I am sure she brought us the luck we needed to catch that fish. 

Things to keep in mind:
  • There are rustic but not horrifying bathrooms near the parking lot. 
  • There were kids swimming in the river above the Falls the first time we went there so it can be done, although I wouldn't recommend it for little ones, what with it being a river that leads directly to rushing water over rocks and all.  For all I know, those "kids" were 20 years old.  I am old, they all look like kids to me. 
  • Pancake Bay is only about 20 minutes up the road.  Lake Superior Provincial Park and Bachawana Bay Park are also close by.  The Bushplane Museum is 35 minutes south in Sault Ste. Marie. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gerard India Bazaar/Little India - Toronto

Trying on some colourful outfits.  We bought this one.
My kids love wandering around Toronto.  Bumbling around Kensington Market and Chinatown is pretty much their favourite thing to do so I figured it was time to check out what used to be called Little India when I was growing up but is now officially known as the Gerard India Bazaar.  Gerard India Bazaar sounds like a big market when actually it is a neighbourhood covering about a half a dozen blocks.  It is on Gerard Street between Coxwell and Glenside and it contains at least 100 stores and restaurants specializing in South Asian goods. 
Checking out the fancy saris and other wares in one of the shops along Gerard St. 
I took my oldest daughter and her friend, both of whom are eight years old and they loved it.  Their favourite thing about the neighbourhood was checking out the clothes.  So many beautiful colours and textures.  My daughter is actually not at all interested in clothes or shopping normally but even she loved looking at all of the beautiful outfits.  The shopkeepers were all super friendly and inviting and had no problem with the kids touching things and trying things on.  One shopkeeper even gave each of the girls a set of bangles for free which they were pretty excited about. 
Popping a puri.  Always fun. 

We also tried out some food along the way.  We opted for some basics to get the kids started.  Pakoras, mango lassis, puris and samosas.  The kids didn't like all of the food but they liked trying out the new dishes. 
The public library on Gerard St.

I don't know if I would say that you should drive for hours to get to Gerard India Bazaar, but if you are nearby and have some time to kill it is a fun neighbourhood to wander around in for a few hours. 

Some things to keep in mind:
  • You can get there by TTC.  We took the College/Carlton streetcar.  We were rerouted due to construction but we did eventually get there!  There is also parking available.
  • Since Gerard India Bazaar is a neighbourhood, it is free to wander around.  There are several affordable restaurants and snack bar type places in the neighbourhood so you should have no trouble getting some snacks or a meal while you are there.  There is not much other than Indian food in the neighbourhood though so if you have picky eaters you might want to bring some food for them.  They can always eat naan.
  • Saris and salwar kameezes (I am not actually sure how you pluralize that!) are generally not cheap so you might want to prepare your kid that they likely won't be going home with one or at least not one of the very elaborate ones they see in the windows.  You can find some cute ones on the sale rack though.  We picked up the orange outfit pictured at the top of this post for $10 for the two pieces.  You can also find things like bracelets and other costume jewelery for very cheap ($1 for 12 bangles).
  • There is a great toy store right on the main strip.  It is not Indian, but the kids will love it!