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Family Travel Ink
Canada: Child-Friendly Calgary lays on Kid-glove Treatment
Isn't it every parent's dream to travel with their kids to a "child-friendly" city? One where the munchkins are welcomed, even fussed over. Coloring books are automatically handed out in every restaurant; kid-size toilets and diaper-changing facilities are everywhere. The city offers enough interesting attractions that even the most demanding kid won't pull the "I'm bored" routine. If your plane home is delayed, no problem. The kids can play with Lego blocks or watch movies in their own private lounge. A fantasy?
Well, not really. Ever since the city of Calgary officially declared itself to be "Child Friendly" about six years ago, the traditional Western welcome mat has been rolled out as much for visiting kids as for their parents. It's a matter of teams of teens and pre-teens strolling the city looking at the facilities through the eyes of a child. It's tiresome sitting at a booth waiting for pancakes so give us something to do; we'd like to wash our hands or see that nifty museum exhibit, but we're too short-give us child-height sinks or bring the artifacts down to our level.
Thanks to another program run by the non-profit Child Friendly Calgary group, parents traveling to Calgary for a convention or business trip now have the option of bringing the kids. While mom's at a morning meeting, junior can breakfast with the elephants at the Zoo; while dad's conference calling, sis can be exploring space at the Calgary Science Centre. The whole idea is to motivate the businesses in Calgary to offer child-friendly services and products. The first program of its kind in North America, (modelled after a Scottish experiment), it seems to be working. In a recent booklet of Calgary attractions, some 16 festivals, museums, water parks as well as the airport had received the child-friendly stamp of approval. (Two other Canadian cities, Ottawa and Vancouver, have since copied the
Of course, this city that almost seems to have risen up out of the flat prairie like Topsy in Gone with the Wind, has always welcomed its visitors. Its buildings may be bold, its commerce practices brash, but the city that posed in the movies as Superman's Metropolis, still brims over with friendliness. No more so than during its annual Stampede when for ten days (this year from July 3 to 12) the whole city dresses up in western gear and invites the world for pancake breakfasts, hat-stomping contests, aboriginal dances and lots of "Yahooing" with the traditional white cowboy hat. It's no wonder that this "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" was one of the first events to be declared child-friendly. If you're visiting the city this summer, here are some others to consider:
CALGARY ZOO, BOTANICAL GARDEN AND PREHISTORIC PARK: This number one tourist attraction showing off more than 1400 animals, is considered one of the top zoos in Canada and one of the top ten in North America. In fact, Disney recently lured away its elephant keeper, XX, for its safari herd at the new Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando. For your dinosaur crazy brood, the Prehistoric Park serves up life-size models. When I toured with two of my kids through a few years ago, we really liked the butterfly pavilion. Though weather was grey outside, the habitat was steamy and cozy, teaming with hundreds of flitting butterflies. During the summer, the Zoo offers Safari Sleepovers. After a campfire supper, you can play Lion King by pitching your tent amongst elephants, giraffes and a warthog named Matata. Call (403) 232-9300.
HERITAGE PARK: Canada's largest historical village shows kids what life was like when families got around by horsedrawn wagon, steam train, stern-wheeler boat and trolley. The pre-1915 park also boasts restored antique carnival rides and a daily free pancake breakfast.
1988 WINTER OLYMPIC SITES: It's a stirring sight to see the 90-metre-high ski jumps at Calgary Olympic Park. Even more thrilling to tear down the bobsleigh run at 95 km aboard the Bobsleigh Bullet. The site will provide the setting for the country's first mountain bike park. At the Olympic Hall of Fame, the world's largest sports musuem, ski jump and bobsleigh simulators show what the olympic athletes experience. Or you can rent the movie, Cool Runnings with John Candy (about the Jamaican Bobsleigh team) filmed at the site.
THE GLENBOW MUSEUM:World famous for its collection of native art and artifacts, the museum has instituted a children's area. In the main exhibit halls, activity sheets offer special tasks for kids. My kids were particularly impressed with the real Blackfoot teepee.
VILLAGE SQUARE LEISURE CENTRE: Over 5 acres of indoor attractions such as a wave pool, climbing wall and one of the longest indoor water slides in North America can be enjoyed no matter the weather.
ACCOMMODATIONS: The Westin Hotel with its Kids Club, the Delta Bow Hotel with its Children's Creative Centre and family meal deals, and the Sheraton. Or, the beauty of Calgary is that within about 40 minutes, you're in ranch country. Saddle kids up at one of the family-style ranches (We stayed at the Homeplace Ranch and it was great). The will take kids as young as seven, give them their own horse for the week and provide down-home hospitality.
For information on next year's Stampede (July to ) or any of the activities, contact the Calgary Convention and Visitors Bureau. For Child-Friendly Calgary, call their headquarters at
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