After months of online classes, your children will appreciate getting out and learning about history firsthand.
Every summer, families look for things to see and do with their children but this year they might be even more eager to try something new. After a long winter of working and schooling from home, many families across Ontario are craving a change of scenery. In response, historic towns and villages, resorts, and museums are opening their doors with new and exciting opportunities for children and their families to discover the rich culture and heritage that’s close to home.
The ‘drive through’ is back
The drive-through is back and it’s better than ever. A popular new activity is the Haunted Ghost Drive-Thru at Pickering Museum Village in Pickering, Ont. From the comfort and safety of their vehicle, kids get to meet audio tour guide Nellie, who takes guests back through time with a few haunted surprises along the way.
Young fans of Anne of Green Gables can visit Uxbridge, one of Ontario’s oldest towns. A new mobile-friendly tour makes it possible to trace Lucy Maud Montgomery’s steps to the historic train station site in Uxbridge, where the author used to board for her frequent trips to Toronto. Aspiring actors can even try out their favourite scene of Road to Avonlea, the TV series based on the books and filmed in the outdoor surroundings of Uxbridge.
Susan Boyle, director of marketing with Central Counties Tourism, says families are staying closer together this summer and it’s heartwarming to see. “Our website traffic is up 50 per cent and people are clearly looking for family-oriented activities,” she says.
In the Town of St. Marys, Ont., the drive-through meets augmented reality thanks to a new partnership with Driftscape. Using the Driftscape app, visitors can experience virtually the unique limestone architecture and learn about St Marys’ history as one of Ontario’s oldest towns.
“It’s great to see children actually taking ownership of their community and educating their parents about historical facts and stories they’re discovering,” says Amy Cubberley, curator and archivist with the Town of St. Marys.
TIME Travel together
“We’re definitely seeing more multigenerational families and people from around the GTA who are re-discovering Niagara-on-the-Lake,” says Eduardo Lafforgue, president and chief executive officer of Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce. “For me, what’s most exciting is seeing locals be a tourist in their own town.”
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., is a treasure trove of historic villages and museums and also offers a live re-enactment at Fort George, a military post that defended Upper Canada against American attacks.
Visitors step straight into the War of 1812 and the Battle of Queenston Heights, and can see soldiers in redcoats fire muskets and view the fort, blockhouses, historic gunpowder magazine and cannons at a distance.
“My grandkids love the experience; we’ve taken them many times,” Lafforgue says. “They actually believe the characters are real.”
History buffs will also want to explore the many places that Niagara Falls, Ont., has to offer, including the newly renovated Niagara Falls History Museum, which houses a vast collection that showcases the region’s past. Old Fort Erie also offers a look back at a fort under siege at this War of 1812 National Historic Site.
The McFarland House, a historic home dating back to 1800, offers costumed tour guides as does the Laura Secord Homestead, the home of the War of 1812 heroine.
The Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum allows visitors to discover 500 years of print technology inside the restored home of publisher and Toronto’s first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie. Canada’s largest working printing museum, it holds the oldest printing press in Canada and one of the few original wooden presses left in the world.
Heading farther west in the province, children can go back in time as well in London, Ont., at the Fanshawe Pioneer Village.
“Kids have a natural ability to want to explore and discover,” says Natalie Wakabayashi, director of culture and entertainment tourism with London Tourism.
At the pioneer village, young people can discover what it was like to be a settler in the 19th century and learn how to use the tools of the day and perform indoor and outdoor chores. They can see what it’s like to be a student in a one-room schoolhouse and have fun playing games.
Calling all artists
Creative kids will get a thrill learning how to paint like the artists of the world-famous Group of Seven. Virtually, they can participate in the En Plein Air Competition, which is organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and supported by Central Counties Tourism. It allows them to create their works in natural sites easily accessible from home or they can make their art at the museum grounds in Kleinburg, Ont., now that it is open. Families can learn about the Group of Seven painters, visit the cemetery where the famous artists are buried, view sculptures and enjoy exploring the many trails with a picnic lunch.
With so many resorts reopening across Ontario, there are plenty of opportunities for children to become “artists in residence”.
Grace Sammut, executive director of Resorts of Ontario, says many cottage resorts and larger all-inclusive resorts are offering everything from do-it-yourself arts and crafts kits for families to creative workshops with staff guiding from a safe distance.
“Our resorts are in the countryside, on lakes, and around forests. They offer people living in more densely populated areas a place to restore their senses,” Sammut says. “We have taken it slowly. We want to reassure everyone who visits one of our many beautiful Ontario resorts that you’re safe in our hands.”
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