Want to know what you can do in Canada with kids? Which hasn’t already been said a dozen times across every travel guide in existence? We’ve fished out one or two goodies which are a little different…
1. The Canadian Potato Museum.
Don’t judge it, ‘til you’ve spud it
Because kids love hot chips, every family should visit the acclaimed Canadian Potato Museum in O'Leary. Now, we realise it might not sound like the most enchanting day out (say, isn’t Disneyland in the USA?) but don’t dismiss it just yet. The spud museum boasts a potato so large, it spans four metres by two metres, and yes, it may be made out of fibreglass, but try walking past that beast and not wanting a selfie with its giant spuddy skin. The museum also claims to exhibit the largest number of potato artefacts in the world (and we’re inclined to believe them), complete with a huge collection of farming machinery, and most intriguingly, 14 miniature coffins holding 14 deceased potatoes. If you didn’t already know that the humble potato is subject to over 260 viruses, bacteria, fungis and infections, then you will after visiting The Canadian Potato Museum. It’s a miracle any of them even make it to your dinner plate.
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The Potato Café* makes for a charming conclusion to the Potato Museum, with a menu rich in mash, fries, potato soup and various baked tats. Look out for the potato fudge, which is quite ingeniously crafted from icing sugar, milk chocolate chips, vanilla, butter and yes, you guessed it, potato.
*Open mid-May to mid-October, but the café only opens from mid-June to mid-September.
2. Year-round ice-skating in Montréal
Ice-skating at Montréal's outdoor Old Port Bonsecours Basin is almost a rite of passage for any visitor to Canada's coolest city, but with such a short winter skating season (December through to March), what if you arrive outside these months, and still want to show off your skills in the rink? Fear not, blade runners, if you’re too impatient to wait for Montréal's outdoor skating rinks to open, the indoor ice rink at Atrium Le 1000 offers year-round ice-skating under the protection of a dazzling all-glass ceiling. Located in the lobby of Montréal’s tallest building, enjoy natural light as you glide on the ice and slink your way around the rink to the lively DJ beats. Rink features also include a nearby food court, and for those aged 12 and under, a session for pint-sized skaters every weekend from 11am to 12:30pm.
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Centrally located at 1000 de la Gauchetière Street, Atrium Le 1000 is also conveniently located for families staying in the heart of the city.
3. Horse riding in The Rockies
Back in the Canadian day, the ranchlands of Calgary and the mountain passes of The Rockies were originally explored by horesback outfitters. It seems fitting then, that you and your family should don your chaps, throw on some cowboy boots and discover the same scenery by long-legged steed. You can choose from half-day and full-day tours, and after an initial introduction to your mare and her mates, you’ll be on your merry way. From alpine terrain to rushing rivers and verdant foothills, you’ll take a guided tour through The Rockie’s most picture-perfect pastures. Between the alpine meadows and glacial lakes, your lungs will feel cleansed by the crisp Canadian air. Even by NZ standards, there’s a purity in these mountains that even we can’t match. Children adore the abundant wildlife and the fun of being atop a soft-footed horse. They are all experienced, child-friendly and always mellow, so you can rest assured your kids are perfectly safe.
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Take warm layers and rain jacket for unpredictable Rocky Mountain weather, as well as sensible footwear such as trainers or boots.
4. Treehouse glamping with a sway
If you have slightly older kids in your clan (and by that we mean sixteen or older), the Free Spirit Spheres glamping experience on Vancouver Island is a must. Designed to mimic over-sized seeds and spider webs (in keeping with the rainforest in which they hover) the huge wooden orbs are elevated above the ground and secured by a latticework of Polysteel ropes. Guests must take the spiral staircase and short suspension bridge to access one of the three globes, and once inside will find their home for the night. Complete with fold-out tables and mirrors, curved loft beds and benches, as well as heaters, electricity and WiFi, it’s the ultimate treehouse hideaway. Dinners can be prepared in the shared kitchen – a short walk from the cylinders – and if you get caught short in the night, you’ll have to climb five metres down to the communal bathrooms. But who cares? Isn't it every child's dream to live in a treehouse? And if we're truly honest, every adult's too?
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For now, no one under 16 is permitted to stay at Free Spirit Sphere, but if you have a childhood fantasy to live out, this is the place to do it.
5. Whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River
If you have adrenalin junkies in your tribe, Canada’s Ottawa region is one of the top whitewater destinations in the world. Just an hour west of the capital itself, you’ll find the riverbanks of the Ottawa River speckled with several highly acclaimed whitewater rafting companies. With so many to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find a thrill to suit your preferred level of adventure, with some catering solely for families. Perfect for first-timers, groups and children, the Middle Channel of the river is usually the most gentle, with just enough plummets and swiftly moving water to keep everyone’s heart pumping. Combined with plenty of downtime to swim, paddle and explore the beautiful riverside, you can spend between four to six hours rafting Ottawa River’s fun-packed waters. And the best news? After a full day of adrenaline surges, your kids will be on the biggest come-down by 7pm - and fast asleep by eight. Hallelujah.
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If your kids aren’t too keen on whitewater excitement, Ottawa Rivers also offers multiple opportunities to kayak and canoe.
6. Family sized portions of poutine
Remember when we said kids love hot chips? Well, they won’t be able to get enough of Canada’s signature dish – poutine. Originating in Pointe Gatineau, Quebec, the word Poutine is French for “a mess”, and when you look at this slap-dashed dish of French frites, gravy and cheese curd, you won’t be compelled to argue. Quintessential Canadian comfort food, it may not be pretty but it is finger-licking good. The freshness of the curds is most important, allowing the cheese to turn soft without completely melting and when you pour over the steaming hot gravy; voila, you have a meal that is nowhere near healthy, but one hundred percent heavenly.
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Now enjoyed throughout the country, if you’re in Vancouver, pop by Fritz European Fry House on 718 Davie Street. Recommended by Vancouvians, they arguably serve the best poutine in the city. Choose from small, medium, large, jumbo… or if your stomach can handle it, a bucket sized portion of gluttony.
7. Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat
With an over-sized enclosure and an icy large lake, the three polar bears who reside at Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat have ample space to spread out and take a chill. The centre rescues orphaned polar bears and cares for those who wouldn’t survive in the wild, with scientists and researchers on-site to learn more about these big beautiful beasts. Children love watching the polar bears as they lollop across the rocks and grass, but mostly they love admiring the bears swim past the underwater viewing window. The habitat’s A-list stars are incredibly tame so they often saunter past the glass panels; you’ll be mere inches from their big bear paws. Away from the enclosure, there are informative presentations and an equally fascinating heritage village, complete with an historic fire station, house and barber, amongst other buildings. Stop at the café for a coffee and then the gift shop for a polar bear keepsake.
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If you’re visiting in winter, it’s likely the ground will be covered in a blanket of thick snow. And of course, this is when the polar bears are really in their element.