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Ontario: A family dash to Niagara Falls, Ottawa

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By now it is dark. We head back to the river to see the multi-coloured lights illuminating the Falls and, at 10 p.m., a fireworks display. By 11 we're toast and collapse into our car for the 90-minute drive back to Toronto.

Thirteen hours, one natural wonder, one happy family.

 

Access

For more information on Niagara Falls visit the Niagara Parks website at www.niagaraparks.com .

 

OTTAWA-My children peg the highlight of our morning visit to Parliament Hill as the moment a member of the marching band faints dead away during the changing of the guards ceremony.

Never mind touring the Parliament Buildings. Never mind seeing the senate chambers. Never mind going up the Peace Tower. No, top billing goes to some poor, overdressed piper who succumbs to the August heat.

It's a reminder that, when it comes to visiting Canada's capital with children you never know what will wow them.

There is one sure bet: the Canadian Museum of Civilization. In this treasure chest of experiences we cruise through the Canada Hall with its life-sized townscapes and environments, the First Peoples Hall, and the Canadian Postal Museum-then focus on a few choice bits. The Grand Hall's totem poles impress us, as does a dramatic presentation by Dramamuse, the museum's theatre company. Not surprisingly, a favourite area is the Canadian Children's Museum, where kids stamp their way around the globe with museum-supplied passports.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is another great option, particularly for younger children. Interactive exhibits let visitors get close to the museum's collection of five million specimens, including dinosaurs, exotic (stuffed) animals, creepy critters, precious gems and more. When the staff announce it's closing time my kids protest, "But we haven't seen everything yet!"

I have a similar feeling at the Canadian War Museum. It's easy to be overwhelmed, both because of the sheer size of exhibits (consider that one hall is filled with artillery, tanks and other military vehicles) and because the museum makes the Canadian war experience so compelling and personal. Although much is sombre, there's also humour (my children now understand the Battle of the Plains of Abraham thanks to a video in which two hockey fans-one in a Montreal Canadiens jersey, the other in a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater-explain the action). History class was never so engaging.

And history was never so science-fiction-y as in the Diefenbunker-Canada's Cold War Museum. This four-storey deep, 9,300 square-metre (100,000-square-foot ) underground bunker outside of Ottawa provides a window on a time when the fear of nuclear attack motivated the Canadian government to build this then top-secret shelter. We peer into rooms where the prime minister (John Diefenbaker, hence the bunker's quaint name) would have stayed after a nuclear explosion, listen to emergency radio messages and gaze at Cold War propaganda. My children are particularly taken with the idea of a backyard bomb-shelter.

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