Ottawa Family Fun

An old bloggy friend reached out recently and said he and his family were thinking of visiting Ottawa for the first time this summer, and asked if I had any recommendations for things to see and do. Yes, I might know a thing or two about family activities in Canada’s capital! While I’ve got oodles of blog posts about ideas for family adventures for those who live in Ottawa, I don’t think I’ve ever written a tourist’s guide for families that visit Ottawa.

Ottawa is a beautiful city to visit in any season, but this summer promises to be especially full of fun with the Canada 150 celebrations, and the Ottawa 2017 agenda.

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There are a few things I’d recommend for anyone and everyone who visits Ottawa. There are obvious choices, like the Parliament Buildings (take the free tour and don’t miss the Parliamentary Library!) and the Peace Tower. The Byward Market is always good for a wander, and I’ve yet to meet a kid who would say no to a Beavertail, or a visit to Sugar Mountain. I also think the Diefenbunker, Canada’s quirky cold war museum and living time capsule should be at the top of any visitor’s must-see list.

Diefenbunker-14

If you like the Diefenbunker, you’ll also be intrigued by Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum. In fact, we have no shortage of excellent museums in Ottawa, and each will appeal to different visitors. Families with young children should make time for the always intriguing Museum of Nature and the Children’s Museum in the Museum of History, formerly known as the Museum of Civilization. The National Gallery of Canada is exactly as amazing as you’d expect it to be, but we were surprised by how accessible and fun their Artissimo children’s programming is. Don’t forget to visit our famous Maman, the 10m (30 ft) bronze spider sculpture who guards the National Gallery courtyard.

Ottawa Family Fun: Artissimo at the National Gallery

If you like history, I’d highly recommend Parks Canada’s excellent (and affordable) Voyageur Canoe tours on the Rideau Canal. You’ll choose between one and two hour guided tours and learn about the history of Ottawa and Canada as they are tied to the building of our iconic Rideau Canal, all while paddling along in a huge voyageur-style canoe. While you’re there, be sure to stop in at the Bytown Museum at the lock station beside the Chateau Laurier for a little bit more history of Ottawa, formerly known as Bytown, and the Canal. Speaking of the Canal, it’s worth a visit to one of the city’s lock stations to see the Parks Canada employees turning the cranks to open and close the locks by hand, just like they’re been doing for the past 170+ years. If paddling isn’t your style, another Ottawa activity that’s been on our bucket list for a while is the Haunted Walks. I hear they are quirky, entertaining and generally awesome.

Voyageur canoe tour

If you’re looking for outdoor adventures during your stay in Canada’s Capital, I hear that the zip-lining park at Camp Fortune is amazing. (It’s on our to-do list for this year!) Waterpark lovers will not be disappointed by the waterslides at Mont Cascades (on the Quebec side) or Calypso water park. Based on our experiences, I’d probably recommend the more expensive and slightly further from downtown Calypso for families with very young children, but we have preferred the smaller and less busy Mont Cascades the past few years.

Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy Canada’s flora and fauna at Parc Omega, about 45 minutes from downtown. During the drive-through tour you can see many animals native to Canada, including deer and elk, foxes and coyotes, wolves, bison, bears and many more, all in natural habitats. For something more domestic in the heart of the city, the animal barns at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum are always a hit with the littlest animal lovers. A little further out in the suburbs is Valleyview Animal Farm, also great for the youngest kiddies.

The grey wolves of Parc Omega

Through the summer there are two excellent FREE daily spectacles on Parliament Hill. Every morning (late June through late August) at 10 am, you can see the Changing of the Guard, immediately preceded by a short march up Elgin Street from the Cartier Drill Hall. Every evening through the summer, you can also see the Northern Lights sound and light show on Parliament Hill. I’ve heard it is excellent. And free, did I mention free?! Also free on Parliament Hill, every Wednesday at noon there is a huge yoga class on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings. Just bring your yoga mat and show up to claim your space, weather permitting.

Yoga on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Speaking of free and quirky, the unusual and beautiful rock scupltures by John Ceprano on the Ottawa River are worth a visit, too. If the weather is warm, wade out onto the limestone flats in the shallow water and make your own!

rocks

Oh my goodness, there is so much more! History buffs will also enjoy Rideau Hall, home to the Governor General, and its extensive grounds perfect for picnics and wandering. Of course there is my neighbour and muse, the stately Watson’s Mill in Manotick. And don’t forget the Cumberland Heritage Museum and its throwback to life in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, with dozens of true-to-the-era reproduction buildings – including a working sawmill and blacksmith forge – heritage breed farm animals, people in costume, vintage tractor-pulled wagon rides, and more.

Watson's Mill

Phew, that’s a long list. Ottawa is a great place to visit with families! If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my archives where I’ve been blogging for years about Ottawa’s hidden treasures and fun family activities. There’s so much more to say – this may have to become a series. Consider me your bloggy ambassador to Ottawa!

Peace Tower tour

Ottawa friends, how did I do with this list? Did I miss anything important? What’s at the top of your list of recommendations for tourists to our beautiful city?


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Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions! Welcome to the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

Can you believe we’ve been doing this post for eleven years? I’m a bit later posting this year’s list, and I can hardly believe that parade season is starting tomorrow! Here’s all the info I could scare up about the 2016 Santa Claus and Christmas parade line-up, in chronological order:

Photo of Santa Claus at the Christmas parade 2013

[click to continue…]


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One of our favourite seasonal markers is our annual trip to a local orchard to pick apples. It looks like it’s been a great growing season, and when we visited last weekend, the boughs were heavy with ripe Lobos, Paula Reds and MacIntosh apples.

Apples (2 of 5)

Apples (1 of 5)

Apples (4 of 5)

Apples (3 of 5)

As usual, we picked more than we could ever eat. Beloved has pie crust dough chilling in the fridge to make delicious use of the extras!

Apples (5 of 5)

Though apple-picking is definitely an autumnal activity and I feel like summer has not yet released us from her sweaty embrace, we were all shocked to consider that in just a few more weeks we’ll be picking pumpkins, and picking a Christmas tree just another few weeks after that.

Time keep flying by quicker and quicker, doesn’t it?

Tristan and Simon, apple-picking in 2005!!

Ancient history: Tristan and Simon, apple-picking in 2005!!


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So, Pokemon Go. Right? It’s insanely popular. It’s taken over the conversation online, but what’s really stunning is to go to a local park or landmark and see how it really is EVERYWHERE. I have never seen anything like it.

As mom to three boys, I know a little bit about Charmander and Squirtle and Ash Ketchum and the tree professors that comprise the Pokemon universe. A little bit. Like, all the words to the theme song, the world’s most unshakeable earworm. Each boy has been a Pokemon fan to one degree or another, and so I’ve been in the room when every episode ever produced of the TV show and several of the films have been playing (though admittedly, I’ve become quite adept at filtering them out) and we have Pokemon stuffies, boardgames, Pokeballs, t-shirts and of course, trading cards.

Our first Pokemon

Our first Pokemon


My 14 year old has been steadfast in his appreciation of all things Pokemon, and has come full circle as his friends embraced the game, moved on and told him Pokemon was for babies, and watched with a smirk as the entire population came tumbling back to the Pokemon world that he never left.

All that to say, I was predisposed to like Pokemon Go. When a friend offered me his credentials to sign in to the US iTunes store a full week before the game was available in Canada (the night before we left for PEI), I downloaded the game immediately.

Best. Mom. Ever.

We chased Pokemon around Watson’s Mill that first night. It was bloody hot and after one sweaty loop, I was done, but the two eldest begged permission to take my phone and walk a few blocks more, to check the local library and other Pokestops. The next day, we chased Pokemon across Quebec and into New Brunswick. At every stop, the boys begged to use my phone to explore the local Pokestops. We found them on the beach, in our rental cottage, and across PEI.

This one from downtown Charlottetown is probably my favourite:

The Father of Confederation and a Zubat

The Father of Confederation and a Zubat

So we’ve been part of the craze from the beginning, and we enjoyed having it as part of our summer vacation trip. It has only been in the past week or so, though, that it has started to seep in just how massive this game is right now. The kids come home from criss-crossing the village with reports of bands of players coming together, from kids to grown adults, to compare recent acquisitions and tips for nearby stops. They collaborate with lures, drawing more Pokemon to the group. And all of this in our sleepy little village on a weekday morning!

That was my first inkling that maybe this whole Pokemon Go thing was even more than the hyperbole had expressed. And then we went downtown. We’d met up with friends to check out Buskerfest and Ribest on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and on our way from one to the other we walked through Confederation Park. I have been immersed in the madness that is Pokemon Go right from the start, and I was still amazed by the sheer number of people obviously playing the game. Look at the crowds behind our gang – I’d say easily 3/4 of the people in the crowded park are on their phones, playing Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go

I had to tip my hat to the ingenuity of this entrepreneur, selling actual Pokemon team hats and team badges. Again, look at the people on the fringes – almost all of them are playing.

Pokemon Go entrepreneur

It’s seriously crazy! I have never seen anything like it.

The only thing that’s more fascinating to me than how madly popular it is might be the volume of vitriol being hurled at the game. Haters gonna hate, right? Aside from the fact of its ubiquitousness, I really can’t see why so many people have such a hate on for the game. I’m sure it’s quite obvious by now that I love it. I think it’s clever, weirdly insidious, and awesome. Here’s five reasons why this (nearly) 47 year old mom thinks Pokemon Go is the best video game ever.

1. It gets the kids out and moving

The whole basis of the game is to go out and explore. You can only “hatch” some of the Pokemon eggs you find by walking 2, 5 or 10 km. Kids show up on our porch at breakfast time to collect one (or two) of the boys to go out Poke-hunting on their bikes. They zoom across the village together, and if they keep their speed below 20 km/hr, the game gives them credit for distanced traveled to hatch their Poke-eggs.

2. It’s social and collaborative

While there is an element of competition, the game is mostly collaborative. You can only “battle” at designated gyms, and even if you lose and your Pokemon gets killed, you can revive it. Mostly, though, it’s collaborative: several people can catch the same Pokemon, so you can let your friends know when there is a good one nearby and you can all catch it. You can actually hear a ripple of excitement in a large gathering when one of the more rare Pokemon appears. People naturally congregate and collaborate, with strangers chatting amiably about their experiences and acquisitions, and it’s amazing to see youngsters tutoring adults on various aspects of the game.

3. Any age can play

As a mother to a teenager, a tween and an eight year old, I can tell you that it’s a challenge to find an activity that’s equally appealing to all of them. The older kids may play with a higher degree of finesse, but the game is very easy to play from the first time you open the app. Anyone who has mastered the screen swipe can spin a Pokestop to retrieve the items and throw a Pokeball to catch a Pokemon, and for the youngest players (or the most Poke-obtuse parental ones!) that’s more than enough to get full enjoyment out of the game.

Pokemon Go Lucas

4. It’s free!

It’s a free download, and while there are in-app upgrades and items available for purchase with real dollars, you don’t have to use a credit card to set up or play the app. (I’d be careful to make sure you don’t have any disposable income in your iTunes account if your kids aren’t reliable enough to not accidentally make in-app purchases.) You do need a data plan, and while the game is a notorious battery hog, we don’t find it consumes too much data. I’ve read it consumes approximately 30 MB for an hour of active play.

5. It’s fascinating

I’ve read stories about people with mental health issues leaving their homes and making contact with people for the first time in years because of the game. The guy in line in front of us at ribfest had walked 67 km since downloading the app. Parents can play with kids, kids want to roam and explore, and the community is generally genial and friendly. It’s surprisingly neat to see photos of local landmarks integrated into the game (on the back of Google maps technology), and there has never been an uptake of technology on this scale before. It’s wicked cool to watch and be a part of it.

What do you think? If you hate it, care to share why? Are you or your kids playing? What’s the most fun thing you’ve seen?

Edit to add: almost forgot! If you want to see the phenomenon live in action, the Agriculture Museum at the Central Experimental Farm is holding Pokemon lure party next Saturday, August 6. It’s free if you show you have the app installed on your device!


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Yay, it’s officially summer! I’ve got a short list of five great activities I’d like to do this summer with the boys, and I thought I’d share in case you needed a little inspiration for planning your Ottawa family fun in the next couple of weeks. It’s a sort of a Bucket List of Ottawa Family Fun. If we get most of these checked off, it will have been a summer of awesome adventures. And surprisingly, most of these are things we’ve never tried before.

1. Go zip-lining at Camp Fortune

I loved this idea from the first time I heard about it, and I loved it even more when I got discounted coupons through Groupon earlier this summer. “Visit Camp Fortune for an adventurous zip lining and aerial park excursion. Glide through the trees from stand to stand through one of two courses available. Trekking through the ropes course will include climbing ladders and bridges, while enjoying the beautiful scenery.” Fun, right?

2. Check out the balanced rock sculptures on the Ottawa River

I’ve been meaning to do this for years, if not decades. It’s surprising how few people know about the amazing balanced rock sculptures created by John Ceprano at the Remic rapids on the Ottawa River. I think the boys will be fascinated by them.

3. Go canoeing and/or kayaking

We rented kayaks at the end of last summer at Chapman Mills, and despite the fact that one of our party went swimming unexpectedly, we still had a good time. This may be the summer we try stand-up paddling!

Paddling

4. Learn to Geocache

I know there isn’t a lot to “learn” with Geocaching, but despite having it on my radar for years and knowing the boys would love the idea of treasure hunting, I’ve still never actually gotten started with this fun family activity. I finally downloaded the Geocaching app to my iPhone this week and was amazed by the sheer number of caches even in our immediate neighbourhood.

5. Visit the dinosaurs at Prehistoric World

This is another one I’ve had on my radar for years, and we really need to get out there while Lucas is still in his dino-fascinated phase. Prehistoric World is a small park near Morrisburg with meandering paths featuring over 50 life-sized and apparently mostly scientifically accurate dinosaur sculptures. This would be a great side trip to pair with our other favourite Morrisburg adventure, McHaffie’s flea market.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, I’ve got a dedicated category full of blog posts about fun family adventures in Ottawa. What’s on YOUR Ottawa summer fun to-do list?


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I‘m trying to remember when they opened the new and improved Landsdowne Park. Was it summer 2015? Maybe summer 2014? Regardless, we haven’t had the chance to make our way down there until this past weekend. I have to say, we were impressed. It’s a beautiful, bright and spacious area, and we felt like tourists in our own city poking around it yesterday afternoon.

We went down specifically for the farmer’s market, and it’s definitely one of the best in the city. I was surprised, though, that on a blazingly sunny Sunday afternoon on a long holiday weekend that there weren’t more people. I was braced for crowds, especially after having brought the boys downtown on Friday for their first Canada Day festival in Ottawa (north of the Queensway twice in one weekend!) but it felt more like a Tuesday morning with the amount of people around.

We poked about the shops for a bit, managing to miss entirely the Whole Foods (maybe for the best?), collecting our free sample at Lindt, and then stopped for lunch at South Street Burger. (Five thumbs up.) Our favourite part, though, was definitely the playground and the water feature. Any time you can get an eight-year-old, a tween and a teen all engaged in the same activity, that’s a win. Like most of the families present, we ignored the rather odd differentiation between the art side of the water park and the play side of the water park, and all three kids played WITH the art.

Then Lucas noticed the giant roll of hill off in the distance, across a wide open and completely empty green space. “Can I run up the hill?” he asked, eyes bright. Of course! And with that, a sibling gauntlet was thrown, and all three charged up the hill.

I couldn’t resist using the rolling shape of the hill and the, um, whatever that weird structure is, to frame up a photograph. Picture me at the bottom of the hill, yelling up to my agreeable subjects. “Tristan, move left one step. Great! Simon, two steps left. That’s it! Now – band pose!”

Boys at play at Lansdowne park

Yes, a photographer’s kids know a handful of poses by name. What, yours don’t?

Simon and I had earlier been discussing a new summer challenge we’re undertaking together. One minute of planking every day for the entire summer, with the idea of working up to two minutes of planking every day for, well, forever.

Here’s Simon getting started.

Boys at play at Lansdowne park

I’m seeing the birth of a photography-fitness mash-up here. How many interesting places can we photograph Simon doing a plank this summer?

We had a lovely, low-key day exploring Lansdowne park with the family on a sunny, summer Sunday that also happened to be our 17th wedding anniversary. (Happy Anniversary, my sweet Beloved!)

Have you spent any time there? What did you think?


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Awesome Ottawa family fun: Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature

12 June 2016 Ottawa Family Fun

Did you know the Giganotosaurus, a giant meat-eating dinosaur from the southern hemisphere, was even bigger (and probably meaner!) than the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the so-called “king of the dinosaurs”? The T. Rex lived in North America about 65 million years ago, but the 13m Giganotosaurus roamed near what is now Argentina 95 to 100 million […]

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Photos of the day: Diefenbunker revisited

15 February 2016 Ottawa Family Fun

We had family in town this weekend and it was just too cold to convince everyone outside for a Winterlude adventure, so we opted for one of Ottawa’s quirkiest family adventures: a visit to the Diefenbunker in Carp. We first visited the Diefenbunker almost exactly two years ago; I remember it was another bitterly cold […]

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Photos of the day: An amazing birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

8 February 2016 Lucas

We’ve had a LOT of birthday party experience over the years, from bowling to trampolines to movies to art to Lego. Our new favourite party by far, though, is one hosted at the Ottawa Humane Society. We all love animals, but Lucas has shown a real affinity for them. When he did a school project […]

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10th anniversary edition: The 2015 Christmas parade post

8 November 2015 Ottawa Family Fun

Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions! 2015 marks TEN YEARS since I’ve been collating and publishing all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario and West Quebec. I feel a little bit like Costco selling its Christmas trees in July by putting up a blog post about Christmas […]

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