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    by KATE POCOCK
    Family Travel Ink

Roamin’ Holidays for Summertime Fun


As the days grow longer, summer beckons with warm weather, blue skies and plans to chill out on vacation with the kids. Most parents think sand, surf and time on a beach. But there is so much more to do in Canada than fight over buckets and shovels at a crowded shore. We’ve come across some great ideas to get families out of that vacation rut of same place, same week at the lake. Why not hunt for dinosaurs in Alberta or whales in Quebec, explore the free attractions in Canada’s largest city or fall asleep under tall pines in a yurt? Best of all, the price is right -- Canadian dollars -- and the memories will last far longer time when that last vacation loonie has been spent.

City Fling

Taking the kids to Canada’s big city must mean big prices, right? Not necessarily. Last summer, when a niece and nephew came to stay with us, we had time but not much money. So we set out to discover Toronto on a budget, visiting attractions that were free or pay-what-you can, touring the city on streetcars and ferries (instead of expensive tour buses), exploring kid-friendly neighbourhoods such as Chinatown and having enough left over to splurge with discounted rush seats to a Broadway-style musical matinée. If you only had three days to paint the town red, here’s how to do it without doing likewise to the bank account.

Friday: Check out the Children’s Own Museum designed to delight kids up to eight; it’s pay what you can on Friday afternoons after 1 p.m. You’ll have a hard time dragging the kids away from pretending to be veterinarians in their own pint-size animal hospital, painting murals or acting in their own play dressed as kings and princesses but it’s convenient to have the Royal Ontario Museum next door, home to the ever-popular Egyptian mummies, dinosaurs and kids’ Discovery Room. Admission is free on Friday evenings from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Have a time out on the green lawns of U of T just behind.

If you’ve got young teens, they may enjoy the free evening Shakespeare plays at several city parks.

Saturday: Buy tickets for a Saturday or Sunday show at T.O. Tix, the half-price booth in the basement of the Eaton Centre. It’s open Mon to Sat. Then head to St. Lawrence Hall and Market to buy cheese, salami and bread for a picnic on the Toronto Islands, either Ward Island where there’s a lovely natural beach or Centre Island where the Centreville Amusement Park costs about $55 for an all-day family pass. Most of the rides will appeal to younger kids, although pre-teens will enjoy the mini golf and log splash ride.

Sunday: It’s time to hit the Beach —yes Toronto has a beach with a xx km boardwalk—where the kids can let off steam or make castles in the sand. Or visit High Park, Toronto’s biggest city park with a small zoo, a pond to sail boats, a hill slide and hiking trails. When the tummies are rumbling, head for Chinatown where families congregate for dim sum in one of the many restaurants. Afternoon could be a Blue Jays baseball game or a hands-on session at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s special children’s program Off-the-Wall. It’s pay-what-you-can (suggested donation $5). Harbourfront Centre on Lake Ontario also has great kid’s workshops on Sunday afternoon and interesting peeks into the crafts workshops (watch a glass blower or jewelry maker).

Other great free stuff if you have time—Riverdale Farm, a working farm in the middle of the city especially enjoyed by preschoolers, the Toronto Police Museum or the Museum for Textiles hands-on Fibrespace Gallery (pay-what-you-can on Wednesday 5 to 8 p.m. or $5 for adults at other times, kids under 12 free). Families may also want to join tours of City Hall, the CBC broadcasting building or the Toronto Stock Exchange, no charge. If you want to visit the new African Savanna at the Toronto Zoo ( a good drive from downtown), the last hour of the day is free.

Whitewater Adventure

How about Elvis riding with you down the rapids of the Ottawa River on a raft? Or, getting absolutely soaked while bodysurfing through rolling waves on a family float? That’s the kind of the fun planned for families this summer about an hour and a half west of Ottawa where the whitewater is considered to be the best north of the xx. It all started in 1975 when expert kayakers rediscovered a section of the river known for its sand beaches, waterfalls, wildlife and of course, its frothing whitewater. Before long, kids accompanied some of the rafting trips and now it’s common to see small helmets and small paddles tackling the river.

An obvious question: What if a child accidentally topples out of a raft? “That’s part of the excitement,” says Sarah Russell of Owl Rafting, who assures parents that the trained guides are ready for unexpected spills and that only kids over 90 pounds ride the big rafts. Those weighing between 50 and 90 pounds are guided expertly down the sides of the river on float trips to avoid whitewater. Wilderness Tours next door lets everybody paddle, even the floaters, and offers a camp-like plethora of post-raft activities from beach volleyball to pedal boats. This year, Elvis will be making an appearance on the rafts as well as bungee jumping. The fees start at about $35 for kids ages seven to 12 and $55 for adults, lunch included; overnight accommodation in tents or cabins is also available. Bring sunscreen, running shoes, bathing suits and plan to get wet!

Camping Out

It sounds exotic to sleep in a yurt, a eight-sided domed tent-like structure mounted on a wooden floor. But come to several Ontario parks this summer and you’ll be able to experience this new camping lodging. “It’s heaven,” laughed one mom sunning herself outside her unique accommodation under the trees at MacGregor Point Provincial Park on the Lake Huron shore. “I don’t think I’ll ever go back to tents.” Roomy enough for two sets of bunks and a futon couch, a table and chairs and small appliances, the structure also comes with electric heat, lights and hooks for hanging clothes. All you need to lug is sleeping bags and food. “We’ve been surprised at how they’ve been booked right through the winter,” said John Travers at Algonquin Provincial Park, home to eight new yurts.

The new sleepover digs are not the only attractions at these parks, however. At the Pinery, kids can stay up to howl for coyotes or listen for owls on a night hike; at MacGregor Point, catch snakes, frogs or toads to add to the live display in the visitor centre. Bicycle along the Old Railway Bike Trail at Algonquin or follow one of the Thursday night August wolf howls; at Silent Lake, fish for bass or the famous lake trout or meet at the Old Station in Bancroft on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. for mineral hunting with a geologist in the nearby abandoned mine sites ($15 per family). The yurts rent for about $55 per night or $350 for a week. But even if you’re not a yurt squirt, most of the parks offer visitor programs for any family who buys a day-use pass as they drive through the gate. At about $10, it’s one of the best family bargains available.

Digging for Dinosaurs

Like Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, dinosaur-crazy kids can follow the Dinosaur Trail, a 29-mile loop beginning and ending in the dinosaur hotbed of Drumheller, Alberta. Begin at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, home to the world’s largest collection of complete dinosaur skeletons where youngsters can view more than 35 life-size skeletons, some two storeys high. Kids are amazed to find out that they can help with the digging. The museum’s Vacation Day Camps take seven to 12-year-olds for a practice session of unearthing bones at a working site. They also make dinosaur models to take home. Those over 10 who are absolutely hooked, and won’t mind the heat and the dust, can join adults for a full day of digging up bones in the quarry about 20 minutes away. Those under 16 must have an accompanying adult. There’s also a Dig Watch Program, where families can take a guided two-hour tour and watch others do the work. And in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, the setting for moon-like terrain some 88 miles southeast of Drumheller, families can camp out, watch a mid-day live theatre performance or take a two-hour bus trip into the badlands where the digging is ongoing. Reservations a must.

Whale Safari

You can put on that record by Raffi and sing about baby belugas. Or you can travel to Tadoussac, just east of Quebec City on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and see them for yourself. The whale feeding frenzy happens every summer and fall at the mouth of the Saguenay where the cold salty St. Lawrence water meets the fresh warm water of the fjord. Some ten species of whales congregate in the area from May to October, feeding on krill and capelin and exciting the tourists who come to watch them. Smaller children will want to take an excursion on a larger boat where they can run around the deck as a naturalist guide shouts through her megaphone, “Minke at one o’clock, humpback at noon.” Older kids and teenagers will be thrilled to zoom around in a rubber zodiac as the expert watcher on the boat tries to anticipate where the whales will surface.

Although belugas are the only species to have their babies here, whale sightings are pretty much guaranteed, even very close to shore. Depending on the month, families may come across fin whales, porpoises and even the great blue whale, the largest mammal on earth. “I didn’t expect to see the biggest animal in the whole wild world coming down the river,” said one excited mom. “He opened up his very large eye and seemed to look at us. It was a thrill.” The boats are supposed to keep at least 200 metres away from the giant creatures but as one operator said, “If the whale comes close enough to kiss the boat, it’s his choice.” And if it’s too foggy to see them? “Then we hear them,” said one naturalist.

Families may also want to visit the Pointe-Noire Interpretation and Observation Centre to learn more about whales or hike some of the high trails where they might spot whales from the shore. Excursions start at about $35 for adults for a three-hour cruise, $15 for kids and free for under sixes. You’ll find numerous operators (one with an underwater camera) in Tadoussac or Baie-Sainte-Catherine. Ask at the tourism information booth for advice on excursions and the many local hotels and motels. And even in summer, bring warm clothes. One parent knew when she watched a tour guide start wrapping her neck with scarves in the middle of July that it would be cold and windy as soon as they moved into the middle of the river.

The Metropolitan Toronto Convention & Visitors Association is at Queen’s Quay Terminal, 207 Queen’s Quay West. Call 416-203-2500 or 1-800-363-1990 or visit www.toronto.com.

Owl Rafting, Box 29, Forester’s Falls, ON, KOJ 1VO. Call 613-646-2263 or 613-238-7238 (winter) or visit http://fox.nstn.ca~owlmkc or email whitewater@owl-mkc.ca

Wilderness Tours, Box 89, Beachburg, Ontario, ON, KOJ 1CO. Call 613-646-2291 or 1-800-267-9166 or visit wt@wildernesstours.com or email wt@wildernesstours.com

Ontario Provincial Parks: Call 1-888-ONT-PARK (668-7275), a 24-hour toll-free number or book on the new reservation website ($9 charge) www.OntarioParks.com. Information for Algonquin Provincial Park (705-633-5572), MacGregor point (519-389-9056), the Pinery (519-243-2220), Silent Lake (613-339-2807).

Dinosaurs: Drumheller is 90 miles northeast of Calgary and 180 miles south of Edmonton. The Royal Tyrrell Museum, P.O. Box 7500, Drumheller, Alberta, T0J 0Y0. Call 1-888-440-4240 or 403-823-7707 or email info@tyrrellmuseum.com.

A family admission pass for one or two adults and children ages 7 to 17 costs $19. The Dino Mites Dino Camp for four- to six-year-olds is $5, Vacation Day Camp for seven to 12-year-olds is $25 for the afternoon. The Day Digs are $85 for 16 and over and $55 for those ten to 16; Dig Watch 2000 costs $12 for adults, $8 for seven to 17 and free for kids under six. A family Dig Watch pass is $30.

Whale Safari

You can put on that record by Raffi and sing about baby belugas. Or you can travel to Tadoussac, just east of Quebec City on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and see them for yourself. The whale feeding frenzy happens every summer and fall at the mouth of the Saguenay where the cold salty St. Lawrence water meets the fresh warm water of the fjord. Some ten species of whales congregate in the area from May to October, feeding on krill and capelin and exciting the tourists who come to watch them. Smaller children will want to take an excursion on a larger boat where they can run around the deck as a naturalist guide shouts through her megaphone, “Minke at one o’clock, humpback at noon.” Older kids and teenagers will be thrilled to zoom around in a rubber zodiac as the expert watcher on the boat tries to anticipate where the whales will surface.

Although belugas are the only species to have their babies here, whale sightings are pretty much guaranteed, even very close to shore. Depending on the month, families may come across fin whales, porpoises and even the great blue whale, the largest mammal on earth. “I didn’t expect to see the biggest animal in the whole wild world coming down the river,” said one excited mom. “He opened up his very large eye and seemed to look at us. It was a thrill.” The boats are supposed to keep at least 200 metres away from the giant creatures but as one operator said, “If the whale comes close enough to kiss the boat, it’s his choice.” And if it’s too foggy to see them? “Then we hear them,” said one naturalist.

Families may also want to visit the Pointe-Noire Interpretation and Observation Centre to learn more about whales or hike some of the high trails where they might spot whales from the shore. Excursions start at about $35 for adults for a three-hour cruise, $15 for kids and free for under sixes. You’ll find numerous operators (one with an underwater camera) in Tadoussac or Baie-Sainte-Catherine. Ask at the tourism information booth for advice on excursions and the many local hotels and motels. And even in summer, bring warm clothes. One parent knew when she watched a tour guide start wrapping her neck with scarves in the middle of July that it would be cold and windy as soon as they moved into the middle of the river.

Whales: For information on Croisières AML, Famille Dufour Cruises, Croisières 2001 inc. and other companies, call the Charlevoix tourist office 1-800-667-2276 or 418-665-4454 or visit www.tourisme-charlevoix.com. To get up-to-date whale sightings in the area, visit www.whales-online.net, updated by GREMM, Group for Research and Education of Marine Mammals, based in the area.

 

 

 

 

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