With our dollar flatter than a steamrollered rag doll, it's time to tell your kids that Disneyland doesn't exist. Instead, plot a road trip to Canada's best child-friendly historic sites, as selected by my panel of regional family travel experts.
"B.C. has amazing historical attractions," says Vancouver's Claudia Laroye (thetravellingmom.ca). "For starters, kids can enjoy the historic buildings at Fort Steele (fortsteele.ca) – while riding a vintage railway, taking horse and buggy trips and watching pioneer life and livestock."
Gold-panning and underground train tours are the lures at the province's Britannia Mine Museum (britanniaminemuseum.ca), she adds, while near-Prince-Rupert's North Pacific Cannery (northpacificcannery.ca) is like stepping back in time. Need more? "The Kettle Valley Steam Railway (kettlevalleyrail.org) ride includes observation games to keep kids entertained."
In Alberta, Melissa Vroon's (familyfuncanada.com) must-do attractions also have hop-aboard trains. But there's more than steam-shrouded locomotion to Calgary's Heritage Park (heritagepark.ca) and Edmonton's Fort Edmonton Park (fortedmontonpark.ca).
"Heritage Park's big hits for kids include an old-fashioned candy shop and a vintage merry-go-round and Ferris wheel. On hot days, we also love cruising the Glenmore Reservoir on their steamboat," she says, adding the Atlas Coal Mine (atlascoalmine.ab.ca) to her regional endorsements.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan? Jenn Smith Nelson (travelandhappiness.com) says families should beeline to near-Winnipeg's Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site (parkscanada.gc.ca/garry). "In summer, visiting kids are 'hired' as junior labourers to pick vegetables, make tepees and take part in police drills. They love the novelty of doing new things and feel a sense of accomplishment for helping out."
Alternatively, 19th-century Métis family life is illuminated at Saskatchewan's Batoche National Historic Site (pc.gc.ca/batoche) where role playing includes "feeding chickens and pumping water," Nelson says, adding that visitors to the province's Wanuskewin Heritage Park (wanuskewin.com) can also practice the dancing and children's games of the Northern Plains people.
The life of early European settlers – from cooking to fire-starting – is experientially explored at Ontario's Saint-Marie Among the Hurons (saintemarieamongthehurons.on.ca), says Oakville, Ont.'s, Lisa Goodmurphy (gonewiththefamily.com), who also explains why Upper Canada Village (uppercanadavillage.com) is on her roster of kid-friendly living history sites.
"There are lots of activities and you can get decked-out in 1860s clothes to tour the historic buildings in costume," she says, adding that Sudbury's Dynamic Earth (sciencenorth.ca/dynamic-earth) is a good child-friendly Ontario alternative.
Montreal's Tanya Toledano (montrealmom.com) favours Quebec's Exporail: the Canadian Railway Museum (exporail.org) plus her city's evocative Château Ramezay Historic Site and Museum of Montréal (chateauramezay.qc.ca).
Then there's Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay (sepaq.com/pq/sag). "We wished we'd had more time there," she says, enthusing over the hikes and zodiac ride that highlight the area's natural history. "There was also a tour where the guide brings you back to the fur trade era, discussing the practices of the 'coureurs de bois' while you paddle."
Finally, Nova Scotia's Shelley Cameron-McCarron has some East Coast blockbusters to recommend. "My kids love Cape Breton Island's Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site (fortress-oflouisbourg.ca) and the Anne of Green Gables Heritage Place (parkscanada.gc.ca/greengables) in Cavendish, PEI."
"With each Louisbourg trip, they're more enamoured with life in 1744 New France. Drums, musket fire and roasting pork aromas permeate the air and you can sample soldiers' bread rations, talk with a smithy and eat with a spoon – the only utensil available – in the lower-class restaurant."
And while fictional Anne of Green Gables pops off the page in PEI, writer Lucy Maud Montgomery's personal life is equally engaging. "I was surprised how much my children retained of the author's own story. Of course, it's also traditional for them to buy a raspberry cordial in the snack shop here."
Older kids in tow? Cameron-McCarron's final tip is a candlelit Halifax Citadel (regimental.com) ghost tour. "Walking along cobbled alleys and thick tunnels, you hear about apparitions and unexplained happenings. Our guide told us: 'It looks abandoned at night but it's never unoccupied.'"
OUR READERS WRITE
- Barkerville [B.C.] where cool history is re-enacted throughout the old-time town – including gold panning, a candy store, a theatre and cafés. @LesliCKellow
- Stretches the definition of “historic” but our kids loved Alexander Keith’s brewery tour in Halifax. Also, we are not bad parents. @DeanAles_UofA
- Annapolis Royal, N.S.: Champlain spent a winter at Port Royal in 1604 and the recreated site is a great place to visit. Also Fort Anne and the whole surrounding area. Joan Francuz
- Fort Edmonton has so much to see. We rode the old Ferris wheel, played a Métis game called Tesaway, petted horses and chatted to knowledgeable staff – we also walked tons! @moprentice
- I’ll vote for Steveston’s Gulf of Georgia Cannery museum [B.C.]. It’s kinda spooky, has great models and is also educational. @hiredBelly
- Have to include Vancouver’s Police Museum with its CSI Kids Camp and movies in the morgue. @sthomas
- Vancouver’s UBC Museum of Anthropology is fantastic. And important. Also if families can get to Haida Gwaii, it’s amazing. @WendyHartley
- The historic Atlas Coal Mine and Fort Whoop-Up in the Canadian Badlands [Alberta] are great for families! @CanadianBadland
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