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Family Travel Ink
Adventure: Canada's Top Picks for Active Family Vacations
O.K. I confess - I'm guilty. When it comes to planning vacations with the kids, Winnipeg, Shediac, or Head-Smashed in Buffalo Jump don't automatically come to mind. Like many Canadians, I think Florida beaches, capital cities, or adventure train travel in a foreign tongue. This year, the Canadian Tourism Commission is trying to change this state of mind by inviting Canadians to rediscover their own country. After talking to families who have criss-crossed the land with their kids and questioning the provincial tourist offices, I now know that there are terrific beaches, family-friendly cities and more-than-enough adventure potential right under our own noses. Here's a sampling of places that should intrigue you and your kids:
Bay Bulls, Newfoundland: Energetic families head to Gros Morne National Park where the hiking is supreme (and where an indoor pool can save rainy days). But those staying in the St. John's area will also be keen to lurch out onto the sea in a boat. Look for O'Brien's Bird Island Charters in Bay Bulls harbour, about a 40-minute drive south. Twice daily, brothers Joseph and Loyola O'Brien take groups out on whale and bird-sighting expeditions. Humpbacks and other whales are best seen from mid-June to late July; the bird colonies of puffins, razor-billed auks, murres (duck-size black-and-white birds) and black gulls flock to the seabird sanctuary just offshore. The guided tours include traditional Newfoundland songs sung by the captain himself. Prices after July 1st are $30 for adults, $15 for ages six to 15 and $10 for ages one to five. Call (709) 334-2355 to book tickets. The new Journey's End hotel in St. John's has great views of the harbour. Call (709) 754- Louisbourg, Nova Scotia: A summer-long birthday bash with musket firings, song and dance, and fireworks celebrates the 250th anniversary of Fortress Louisbourg, the walled French settlement on Cape Breton Island. From July 28 to 30, more than 1000 "troops" will reenact the 1745 siege by New England forces. Your kids can participate all summer long in a five-day "Louisbourg Life" program. Dressed in period costume, they'll sing traditional songs, help the artisans, and live life as it was in the 18th-century. Louisbourg, The Phoenix Fortress with colour photos by Chris Reardon and text by A.J.B. Johnston is an excellent introduction to life at the fort for families planning a visit. About 30 minutes away in Sydney is the Delta Hotel with its children's creative centre, 55-ft. waterslide, children's check-in, and two adults/two kids meal deal - grilled chicken, beef, potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob for $24.95. Call 1-800-268-1133.
Cavendish, Prince Edward Island: For millions of tourists, P.E.I. means Anne of Green Gables, the spunky carrot-topped heroine from Lucy Maud Montgomery's famous books. In fact, "Anne" arrives at her green-and-white house July 2. Young readers can tour this setting near the beaches of Cavendish, walk the places in the books such as Anne's Haunted Wood or Lover's Lane, visit the author's birthplace, mail letters from the Green Gables post office, or buy a straw hat complete with braids. The 3rd annual Lucy Maud Festival, August 18 to 20, features ice cream socials and barn dancing. Families can also see the musical of Anne of Green Gables in Charlottetown until Sept. 9. Call 1-800-565-0278. Near the north shore's white sands, there's camping at P.E.I. National Park; reservations are essential. For a treat, lunch at the century-old inn, Dalvay-by-the-Sea, famous for its blueberry grunt dessert. The kids should love this one!
Shediac, New Brunswick: The Shediac Lobster Festival is reviving itself these days. This year it's bigger than ever with lobster-eating contests, a kids costume parade (Grand Prize is a bicycle), outdoor concerts, fireworks, and of course, platefuls of the succulent King of the Sea. Shediac calls itself the "lobster capital of the world;" there's a giant lobster statue in town to remind you. Camping at nearby Parlee Beach Provincial Park offers a safe beach that's shallow, warmer than the Bay of Fundy, and safe for kids. Fisherman's Paradise, open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., has a tempting children's menu. Where else can kids eat lobster roll (a grilled hot dog roll stuffed with lobster) or a plate of fried clams and french fries for $4.95? Phone (506) 532-1122 for information.
Quebec City, Quebec: This tourist-friendly city is bustling with summer events: the world's largest festival of street performers, July 6 to 16, or the Médiévales de Québec from August 9 to 13, when troubadours, warriors, and artisans from the Middle Ages come alive on the streets. Kids are happy to wander the cobbled streets of Old Quebec eating crepes and watching the entertainment along the Boardwalk. A stay at the fairy-like Chateau Frontenac is $199 on Sunday night only for a family of four, continental breakfast included.The Holiday Inn within walking distance of the Old City has the city's largest pool. Call (418) 647-4317.
Southampton, Ontario: When kids visit this beach town on the shores of Lake Huron, they think it's the ocean. On a high wave day in August (when the water's warmed up), it's better than a water park. Even on the calmest days, the Southampton beach is a fine place for families: white sand and lots of it, swings right on the beach, dunes to play "army" in, a boardwalk good for strollers, and a big tree with shade for babies. On rainy days, there's the Bruce County museum with its one-room schoolhouse and three movie theatres in nearby Port Elgin. The tennis club lets families buy week memberships; daily lessons for fives and over are included. Cottages start at $350 per week; call (519) 797-2215 for a list.
Winnipeg, Manitoba: The "Peg" often gets overlooked as travellers head out to Riding Mountain National Park or other ranch areas, but there's lots for families to do. Create a television broadcast at Canada's newest children's Museum, make noises in the jungle at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, watch money being pressed at the Royal Canadian Mint (open May to August). The Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, the Planetarium and the nearby Lower Fort Garry, Canada's oldest fur-trading fort, are must-sees. On Sundays, the Prairie Dog Central Steam Train makes the 2-hour journey to Grosse Isle and back. Place Louis Riel hotel offers apartment suites with fully-equipped kitchens so you can save on meals. Call (204) 947-3029.
St. Denis, Saskatchewan: If you have would-be cowboys living at your place, the pardners might like to head on out to the Ferme Champêtre Farm in St. Denis, Sask., 40 km east of Saskatoon. This Wild West-style resort serves home-cooked meals in a Saloon; even the youngest ranchers can ride the horses and buggies. Perhaps the Sheriff and his deputies will show up for a kangaroo court. Staff are dressed in cowboy gear and before-you-know it, your kids might be too. Accommodations include bunkhouses or caravans; two new bedrooms with bath run from $50 to $65 per night including breakfast. Call (306) 258-4635.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta: The name of this native community near Lethbridge will intrigue kids. So will the story of how a young brave was crushed to death 150 years ago as his people drove a herd of buffalo over a high sandstone cliff. Today, the museum at this World Heritage Site explains the buffalo junp tradition and the tale of the Plains Indians, particularly the Blackfoot. Kids will enjoy the guided walks, the native drummers, and the storytellers; they'll relish eating buffalo burgers in the café. It's a magical place. There's camping at the nearby Waterton Lakes National Park or if you want to stay in a jigsaw puzzle setting, try the Prince of Wales Hotel. Breathtaking views of mountain, lake, or prairie can be had for as little as $156; Trail rides through the surrounding vistas can be arranged from the front desk. Call (403) 859-2231.
Whistler Resort, British Columbia: This popular ski destination is pushing itself as a year-round family resort and why not? Marked trails for hiking, mountaintop restaurants, gondola rides, and horseback trails for kids over 8 are made for sunny weather. The new Whistler Adventure Club offers 10-pin bowling; there's swimming in the new six-lane pool and windsurfing on the lake. Supervised children's programs start at $25 per day. B.C. Rail offers daily service between North Vancouver and Whistler, a fun way for the family to arrive.With more than 65 condominiums, hotels, bed & breakfasts and campground facilities, there's accommodation for every budget. Call 1-800-944-7853.
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