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 these days 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!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hockey Hall of Fame - Toronto

Ok, first up, confession time:


Even more shocking, neither does my husband!  Interesting fact:  I have been to one hockey game in my life and it was the year the Leafs were in the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings.  My husband has been to one game in his life and it was the same game (not together, I guess I should mention).  Kismet! Anyhoo, my kids have never seen a hockey game!  They have a vague notion of it, they know you play it on skates and there are sticks involved but that is about it.  Since I am Canadian, I apologize.  Having said that I took my kids and a few other kids to the Hockey Hall of Fame one afternoon and despite my complete lack of understanding of anything that was happening around me we had a good time.  

Are goalies freakishly big?  Apparently, if these shin pads are anything to go by.
The Hockey Hall of Fame has lots of exhibits of jerseys and equipment and pictures of (I assume) great hockey players from days gone by, in fact, according to their website they have the largest collection of hockey memorobilia in the world.  For hockey buffs I would imagine that would be pretty interesting.  I will say that they do a pretty good job of including women hockey players and hockey from other parts of the world which I hadn't expected.  
My daughter trying her hand at slap shots.  I think that is what they are called.  Anyway, she actually managed to score a goal so she was happy.  I did not manage to get a goal, sorry!

My kids liked the interactive exhibits the best.  They have a few hockey themed video games that the kids liked to play, plus Foosball (is it still Foosball if it is hockey themed?)  The shootout section was the most popular with all of the kids I took (o.k., and me!).  They liked taking shots at the animated goalie and they liked blocking shots in the goalie simulator. 
Like any good Canadian family we have read The Hockey Sweater, so Maruice Richard is the one hockey player's name she actually recognized.  Well, and Tim Horton's of course.
The dressing room was fun for the kids too.  They liked trying on the giant hockey equipment and goofing around.  The highlight for most kids though will probably be the Stanley Cup.  You can have your picture taken with the Stanley Cup by a professional photographer (for a fee) or you can snap your own for free.  The atmosphere in the room where they keep the Cup is one of hushed reverence, I must say.  As we entered the room I said to the kids who were with me, "O.k., let's go take your picture with the Stanley Cup!" and my daughter turned to me, excited, and said "Sure!  What is the Stanley Cup?"  You could hear the astonished gasps from everyone else in the room down the hall I am sure.  Anyhoo! 
My kids posing with the Stanley Cups.  Yeah sports!

There is a gift shop!  If you have hockey mad kids you can find just about anything hockey related you might desire there. 
My daughter managed to find the one and only non hockey related thing in the gift shop. 
The kids who were with me who like hockey loved the Hockey Hall of Fame but even my kids liked it well enough to spend the afternoon there without complaint so if you have hockey mad kids I suspect it would be a hit.
 
Things to keep in mind:
  • It will cost about between $50 and $60 for a family of four to get into the museum.
  • It is right downtown, by Union Station.  I would recommend taking transit rather than driving.  If you are coming from the suburbs, you can take the GO train. 
  • Getting to the museum is easy enough, getting into the museum is much trickier.  You would think you go in the door that is at the front of the museum that faces the corner of Yonge and Front Streets but you would be wrong.  You actually have to go inside the little plaza a few doors down and wander around until you find someone who can point you in the right direction.  Here is a map of the plaza but trust me it won't help.  You'll find it though, eventually.
  • There are no restaurants or even a coffee shop (no Tim Horton's!) in the Hockey Hall of Fame and you are not allowed to bring in food or drinks.  There are a couple of vending machines but that is it.  There is a Marche restaurant right outside the museum though.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lake Superior Provincial Park - Wawa


Heading to the pictographs! Look at their innocent faces!  Little do they know what lies in wait for them.
 Lake Superior Provincial Park is a large park located on the eastern shore of Lake Superior just south of Wawa.  If it about a 40 minute drive from Pancak Bay Provincial Park.  Even though it is a large park (it takes about 40 minutes just to drive from one end of the park to the other), there are only 227 campsites spread out over three campgrounds.  They also have many backcountry camping sites throughout the park.
A pictograpgh that I risked life and limb to get a picture of.
One of the main attractions at Lake Superior Provincial Park are the Agawa Rock Pictographs.  The hiking trail that leads to the pictographs is short and interesting in its own right but the actual pictographs are the main event.  Their age is in some dispute but they are at least a few hundred years old and they offer a fascinating glimpse into Canadian history.  The Pictograph hike is labelled as moderate on the official website.  Let me tell you, they lie.  A lot.  The part leading up to the lake is fine, a bit rugged if you have any mobility issues but nothing that able bodied kids in good shoes can't handle.  Then you get to the lake and shit gets real. 
Guys?  This is the trail.  I kid you not. 
So, you get to the edge of the lake and you are all, "ooh, look at this rugged beauty, isn't that something, hey where are the pictographs? .... oh!"  Yeah, they are down some stone "steps" and then you just sort of shimmy and slide your way along sloping wet rocks that lead directly into the freezing cold water of Lake Superior.  Well, don't mind if I do!
My kids, clinging to the chain that has been installed along the slippery slope.  You know, for safety.
So, off we go, being the adventurous types.  About halfway along the "trail" the chain that you are supposed to cling to for dear life, just stops.  The trail doesn't end, there are plenty more pictographs further along, just the chain.  I guess after that point you can just... slide to a watery grave when you are done looking at the pictographs?  That would help ease congestion on the trail I guess.
They have installed a rope.  You know, in case you fall in.  Right by the rope and someone is around to pull you out.  May as well have posted a sign that reads "See ya, suckers!"
So, at this point. I am fretting, to put it mildly.  The view is beautiful, the pictographs are exciting and interesting but it is just too nerve racking with small children in tow.  
Me, about halfway down the trail.
So, I retreated to the safety of the rocky coastline with the kids while my husband went to see the rest of the pictographs.
My husband, not actually defacing a great historical site.
Besides the pictographs there are lots of other things to see and do at Lake Superior Provincial Park.  We rented a canoe and toodled around Crescent Lake for an afternoon.  You can canoe on Lake Superior too of course but it was quite windy the day we went and I am not the most experienced canoer (canoeist?) so we opted for the small, calm interior lake.  It was overcast and rainy when we went canoeing so the clouds were low in the sky which meant that we actually canoed right through a couple of clouds which was pretty interesting.
Canoeing on a cloudy lake.
We also tried our hand at fishing. Unsuccessfully, as usual, might I add.  I think my husband repels fish in some way that can't be explained by science.  Some sort of reverse super power.  We did catch a leech though which was oddly exciting to my daughter.  
Fishing on Crescent Lake
We visited Sinclair Cove which is just down a little road from where you rent the canoes.  It was a rocky little inlet that people use to launch boats but my kids loved clambering over the rocks. 
My daughter liked to pretend these were dinosaur eggs.
The Visitor's Centre is great.  When we were there they had a presentation on fungus which is one of my favourite things in the whole world.  
Checking out the fungi display!
The young woman who did the presentation was great.  Very enthusiastic about fungus which  I, for one, appreciate.  
My reaction when I find someone who loves fungus as much as I do.
They have some other displays at the Visitor's Centre as well including a movie about a five day canoe trip down Sand River, located in the park.  My daughter was so riveted by this little movie that she is now planning a five day canoe trip for our family (that will never happen, bless her!)

Old Woman Bay
We also visited Old Woman Bay while we were in the park.  My kids liked collecting shells and rocks along the beach. 
  
Checking out the big goose in Wawa.
Things to keep in mind:
  • If you have a valid Ontario Parks permit you can visit any provincial park.  This is handy in this area because Pancake Bay Provincial Park and Bachawana Provincial Park are both less than an hour away so you can check out any of the parks for the price of one.
  • Lake Superior Provincial Park rivals Algonquin Park in terms of size but with far fewer camp sites.
  • Lake Superior is cold. Seriously, not chilly, cold!  Don't count on being able to swim for any length of time even in the summer.
  • If you leave the park and head north thinking you will find a restaurant you will be disappointed.  The closest restaurants or grocery stores or anything really are in Wawa which is about an hour drive away.  They do have the giant goose though, so what the heck, eh?  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pancake Bay Provincial Park - Bachawana Bay

Pancake Bay beach at sunset.
Pancake Bay Provincial Park is located along the eastern coast of Lake Superior about halfway between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa.  It is a medium sized campground with 325 sites but it feels like a smaller park because of the way it is laid out.  The campsites are laid out in a long narrow strip parallel to the beach which means that you are never more than about a three minute walk from the beach.  Our campsite was about smack dab in the middle of the park so that also meant that we were not far from the comfort stations, amphitheatre, picnic pavilion, office or hiking trails. 
A swim in the chilly water.
The main attraction at the park is the lake which is huge, clear, and cold.  We were there in August and it was still so cold that my kids were usually the only people in the water.  They loved it but they couldn't last long before they had to come out and warm up on the beach.  The beach has beautiful white sand and beach grass and the whole area is ringed by trees, so this was no hardship.  My kids loved playing in the sand and going for walks along the beach.  Lake Superior really is quite a thing to behold.
Going for a nice walk along the beach... with complete strangers.
When we were there during the week, the park was half empty and quiet. This created a laid back atmosphere that was very enjoyable.  How laid back?  You could show up at the beach and the only other people there would be a group of long haired hippies strumming guitars.  So laid back that my kids wandered off with said hippies for a nice walk along the beach and it wasn't until they had been gone twenty minutes that it dawned on me that I didn't have a clue who those people were.  I swear, I was not stoned.  I obviously failed to heed the wise words of Jack Donaghy
A painting class on the beach.
Besides the beach the best thing about Pancake Bay Provincial Park is the programs for kids.  While we were there they had a movie night at the amphitheatre, an ask a naturalist event, a painting class, a star gazing party and a Saturday morning kids session where they learned about voyageurs (Pancake Bay was a frequent stop for the voyageurs back in the day). 
The star gazing outing on the beach.  Note to self, figure out how to use the night setting on my new camera.
When I asked my kids what they liked the best about our vacation (we went to Science North, Dynamic Earth, Killbear, Pancake Bay, Lake Superior Provincial Park and the Bushplane Museum), my youngest daughter picked the kids programs at Pancake Bay.  So, shout out to Mara and the other two young women who ran the programs (whose names I suddenly forget -  Caitlin?  Candace?  sorry!) UPDATE!  Her name is Celeste.  I think
Eating slightly sandy pancakes. 
There were two other community events at the park while we were there; a pancake breakfast and a fish fry. The servings at the fish fry were enormous (and delicious). Now, if you say to me that there are pancakes for breakfast and I don't have to cook them, this will be my reaction.

Needless to say, we were at the pancake breakfast with bells on.  My kids loved this, but a word of warning, the pancakes were ever so slightly sandy.  So, then I was like...

Friends, it was a roller coaster ride of emotions for me that morning because I think we can all agree that getting my hopes up (PANCAKES!) and then dashing them cruelly (more like SANDCAKES!) is not cool. 
On the very wet hiking trail.
Moving on!  There is also a great hiking trail in the park that takes you through forests and fens.  It turns out that I love fens.  Who knew?  You learn something new about yourself every day.  It is about 4 km and takes about 90 minutes with kids.  When we were there it was very wet and full of mosquitoes.  You really want to cover up/douse yourself in bug spray before heading in but it is worth it.  There is also a longer trail just across the highway which will take you to a lookout over the spot where the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk. 

Making voyageur sashes with...Chelsea? Cameron?  Apparently the voyageurs were a jaunty bunch.  
Things to keep in mind:
  • The park is right by the beach but it is also right by the highway.  You can't see it as there is a stretch of trees between the park and the highway but you can hear it. 
  • There is a good number of showers and laundry facilities in the park, especially if you are there during the week when it is half empty. 
  • There is no store where you can buy food in the park (you can buy firewood and souvenirs at the park office) but there is a big store about .5 km up the road.  You can buy some (overpriced) grocery items as well as gifts, ice cream, stamps and phone cards. 
  • There is a dog beach which is actually quite lovely.
  • If you have a valid Ontario Parks permit you can actually visit any provincial park which is actually handy in this area because there Bachawana Bay Provincial Park is just a short way down the road in one direction and Lake Superior Provincial Park is about 40 minutes up the road in the other direction.  The drive to Lake Superior Provincial Park from Pancake Bay is gorgeous and worth the time in its own right.
  • There is no bike trail per se in the park but the road around the camp ground is paved and not busy (at least not when we were there) and everyone seems to treat it like a de facto bike trail and drive accordingly.  My kids rode all over the camp ground with all of the other kids in the park and never had a problem.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum - Hamilton

The CF-104 Starfighter outside the museum.  Those small shadows beneath it are my kids!

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is located right by the Hamilton airport and houses dozens of old airplanes that kids (and, um, moms) can climb into and goof around in.  There is also a proper museum with artifacts and information about Canada's military history.  I went with my kids and my dad and it is hard to say who enjoyed it more.  The museum is small enough that little (or old) legs won't get too tired wandering around and you can see it all in an afternoon but big enough that is lots to look at and do.  There are lots of volunteers on hand to tell visitors about the planes and answer questions.
Preparing for take off.  It took about 10 minutes for her to figure out how to get the plane off the runway. 

In addition to the old planes that kids can check out, they also have flight simulators.  My older daughter liked these a lot, in fact she had to be dragged away from them but my younger daughter (who is six) couldn't quite get the hang of it.  She didn't seem to mind that her plane could only do loops though.  It wasn't busy when we went so my kids noodled around on these for quite a while but they do ask that you limit your time on them to about 15 minutes or so if they are busy.

Watching the Avro Lancaster rev its engines. 
There is an outdoor area where they sometimes take the planes to test the engines and various other mechanical type things that remain mysterious to me.  While we were there they had the Avro Lancaster out with the engines running.  My kids got a kick out this even though it was "noisy" as they put it. 
Taking a turn at the controls.
All in all, I liked this museum better than the Bushplane Museum in Sault Ste. Marie.  They are about the same size and cater to the same sort of crowd but the Warplane Museum was better run and organized.  My kids liked both museums so make of that what you will.  You can find the directions and a map here.
Checking out the Avro Lancaster from the soundproof cafeteria whilst enjoying some posicles. 
 Things to keep in mind:
  • The museum is open year round, seven days a week from 9:00 - 5:00
  • It costs about $40 for a family of four to visit the museum.
  • Parking is free
  • The museum has memberships and you can even book flights on some of the old timey air crafts. 
  • They also have day camps and brownie and scout sleepovers and will provide programming that will allow the kids to earn badges.   Kids in the day camps get to go on a flight in one of the old airplanes.  I would like to go to day camp is what I am saying.  
  • They do have a gift shop which my kids liked.  They each picked out a little airplane to take home. 
  • They do weddings!  I can't explain why I think that is hilarious and delightful but I do!