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Winter/ Snow: Winter Adventures in Eastern Canada a Cool Blast of Fun

For parents, wintertime now loomsóendless months of snowsuits, runny noses, wet boots, frozen fingers, cabin fever and snow thatís not even clean enough for kids to eat. Sigh! Itís enough to make us wonder why we live in a land with so many seasonal challenges. As the first snowflakes drop to earth, we can either drift into deep funkóor celebrate the onslaught of snow and ice and convince our children to do likewise.

I always figured that to remain sane between November and March, itís essential to introduce our kids at an early age to easy-to-put-on winter garments (worth extra expense) and outdoor winter pleasures. Borrow some first skate blades for your preschooler, rent ski equipment for your school-age child, pop everyone onto the new lightweight snowshoes and bundle up the family for a horse-drawn sleigh ride or moonlight glide through the trees on cross-country skis. Itís the only way to survive.

Once youíve got the kids (as well as yourself) convinced that Canadian winters are a blast of fun, thereís a huge cold-weather treasure chest of possibilities to discover. Here are just a few activities within driving distance for winter warriors, young and old:

SLEEP IN A GIANT SNOW HOTEL: The Ice Hotel Quebec-Canada, just 20 minutes from Quebec City, has been so popular over the last two seasons that this year, builders are carving out some 40 rooms. Several contain sleeping space for four and fireplaces to warm up the ice room furnitureóand its occupants. Adults and kids can snuggle down in sleeping bags on caribou hides, set up on glowing blocks of ice covered with wooden platforms. Watch movies such as Nanook of the North on the snow screen, attend a wedding in the chapel (when I visited, a couple from Hawaii were saying frosty ďI doísĒ) or have a glass of cider in the ĎAbsolutí vodka bar. Itís expensive (prices start at about $250 per person including drinks and breakfast) but itís one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
You might just want to tour the hotel ($12 adults or $6 ages 6 to 15) and sleep in the resort next door, the Duchesnay Eco-tourism Station, where families can snowshoe, skate, try mushing with a dog team or take a forest survival walk. Prices there start at about $89 per adult, including some meals and cross-country skis, with kids six to 12 half price. Call 418-875-2122 or for the Ice Hotel (opening for guests on New Yearís Day), visit www.icehotel-canada.com.

VISIT NIAGARA FALLS, ON ICE: Some say that wintertime is the most magical time to visit the thundering falls. I would agree. Our kids thought that iced-up Niagara, glittering with lights, was a fairyland. From 5 pm until 11 pm each night, the illuminations turn tacky into a party. Next weekend, Canadaís largest light festival, the annual Festival of Lights (Nov. 23 to Jan. 21) turns on its bulbs. Disney characters such as Minnie, Goofy and Pluto feature in the parades (mostly Friday nights beginning Nov. 22) and the Enchantment of Disney Motion Light Displays. Fireworks top off displays on Nov. 23 and Dec. 31. Call 1-800-563-2557.

ATTEND A FESTIVAL: Two of North Americaís top winter-celebrating cities, Ottawa and Quebec are within easy getaway reach of Toronto. Visit anytime for winter fun, but during Festival time, winter frenzy heats up with dozens of family events. At Winterlude in Ottawa (weekends, Jan. 31 to Feb. 16), kids skate down the longest skating rink in the world, the 7.8 km-long Rideau Canal Skateway. Citizens say that the orange-painted holes in the Canal are actually not flooding holes, but magic doorways for the Ice Hogs who attach children with hugs and kisses. Thereís a snow park for little ones in Hull, dog sledding at Dowís Lake, ice carving for kids and snowshoeing in nearby Gatineau Park. Call 1-800-465-1867. At Quebec Cityís Carnaval (weekends, Jan 31 to Feb 16), join the rollicking snowman Bonhomme for parades, ice fishing, pancake breakfasts and snow rafting down the hills on the Plains of Abraham. This giant festival has definitely turned family-friendly. Donít forget to shoot down the century-old wooden toboggan ride on Dufferin Terrace. Itís old but itís fast and costs only a dollar. Call 1-866-4-CARNAVAL.

COUNT WINTER BIRDS: Winter may be for the birds but junior birders can enjoy the fresh air too during the Christmas Bird Count, a tradition cross the continent since 1900. Today, anyone can volunteer to help list winter birds. Participants pay $5 but kids 18 and under are free. One of the biggest counts takes place at Long Point on Lake Erie but there are dozens of counts happening between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Call 1-888-448-BIRD or visit www.bsc-eoc.org.
Why fly south, when youíre having this much fun? Just remember the hot chocolate, and yes, endless pairs of mitts and gloves.





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