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Trip List by DouglasDC8

Toronto with kids

Jun 27, 2006  Two summers ago, my best friend (and single mum) was at a loss for what to do with her 13-year-old son during the holidays. I was planning a trip to Canada with my 18-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter, so I suggested that he could come along as well. In the event, his grandmother also joined us, so we were quite a jolly party. For both of them, it was their first visit to Canada (apart from a brief side trip to Niagara Falls that Gramma had made a few years ago) so it was exciting to be able to show them something of Canada, and especially Toronto.
3.5 of 5 stars based on 10 votes

10 things amonsgt many others to see and do with children in and around Toronto.

  • Category: Best of
  • Traveler type: Culture, Sightseeing, Shopping, Active/Outdoors, Never been before, Repeat visitors
  • Appeals to: Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Budget travelers, Active/adventure, Tourists
  • Seasons: Spring, Summer
  • 1. The CN Tower

    The CN Tower is obviously Toronto's most visible landmark. As the tallest free-standing structure in the world, it could hardly be otherwise. Sadly, this was one site that we only saw from the bottom, as 13-year-old does not have a head for heights, and declined several offers to go up.

    Ironically, the CN Tower wasn't built to be an icon. It's primary purpose was utilitarian, in good old Canadian fashion. It was designed as a bigger, better broadcast tower for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The CBC backed out, but Canadian National Railways, which owned the land, decided to press ahead. When it was finished in April 1975, it was already legendary. It did go on to become a broadcasting tower, but tourism accounts for about 80% of revenue.

    Get there early, especially in the school holidays, to minimise the crowds. The views from all levels are stunning. And if you are sick of looking at it every time you turn around in Toronto, just remember that the top of the CN Tower is the one place in Toronto where you can't see it!

  • 2. Rogers Centre (Skydome)

    The Skydome (now officially called the Rogers Centre) was a much bigger success with 13-year-old, and Gramma too. We treated them to their first ever baseball game, along with my brother, who lives in Toronto and is an ardent baseball fan. He sat next to Gramma to explain what was happening.

    The Toronto Blue Jays have been a fixture in Toronto since they were founded in 1976. They were originally owned by the Labatt's beer company, which brews a beer called Blue. They naturally hoped that the team would become known as the Blues, but everyone calls them the Jays.

    My other brother used to operate what was then a state-of-the-art scoreboard at the Jay's former home, the now-demolished Exhibition Stadium, so I used to get free tickets in the early days. But Exhibition Stadium was always going to be a temporary home, and in 1989, the Skydome opened.

    This was the world's first stadium with a working retractable roof. It's not the prettiest of sights (it has been described as a giant armadillo). But watching the roof open and close is still impressive (it takes 20 minutes). In fact, the day we went, they had been forecasting showers, but the sun decided to shine, so the roof was being opened. It was closed after the game, but we enjoyed watching the Jays in glorious sunshine.

    The stadium seats 53,000, and other teams play there. The artificial surface can be converted for most sports, including cricket! It is also a concert venue. There is a hotel with rooms overlooking the field (at a price) and a Hard Rock Cafe, also overlooking the field.

    Located next to the CN Tower, Skydome also offers guided tours, but the best way to see it is to soak up the ambiance during a match or other event.

  • 3. Ontario Science Centre

    The Ontario Science Centre is one amazing place. I spent so many happy hours here as a child. It's a bit out of the way. Take the Yonge Street subway to Eglington, then the bus east on Eglington to the corner of Don Mills Road, where the Science Centre is. By car, it's just off the Don Valley Expressway.

    There are over 800 exhibits in a building built into a hillside. You go down several levels, with different themes on each. Most of the displays are interactive, and for example you can land a space ship on the moon. There is a human body section, a physics section, and lots of historical displays tracing the great scientific discoveries. All information is presented in layman's terms.

    One big draw is the Omnimax Theatre, featuring a wraparound screen with digital sound.

    The Science Centre is open every day from 10am to 5pm, except Christmas. Entry is $8, which is a bargain for a day's entertainment. There are snack bars throughout and picnic areas (inside and out) where you can eat your own food.

  • 4. Fort York

    Fort York is a great place to learn about the history of Toronto. The city traces its origins to this military post, and the emerging town was originally known as York.

    The Fort is located on Garrison Road, off Fleet Street, and can be reached by the Bathurst (No. 511) streetcar. It's a 20-minute walk from Union Station. It was built on the shores of Lake Ontario to bolster the British presence, but it was never properly finished, partly due to lack of funds, but also because it was really in the wrong place for its purpose.

    It had fallen into disrepair, but was brought back to active duty during the war of 1812, in which the British fought off American attempts to take over the whole continent. Its main contribution to victory was accidental. With American forces advancing, the British decided to blow up the powder magazine. Underestimating the force of the explosion, they killed 10 of their own men. They did, however, also kill 250 Americans, including a general.

    There are free hour-long tours, and you can wander about on your own. There are lots of displays, and kids love forts anyway!

    The fort has different opening hours depending on the season, and is open daily. Admission is $5.

  • 5. Casa Loma

    Casa Loma is Toronto's folly. Located at 1 Austin Terrace, it is just a few minutes walk up the hill from the Dupont subway station.

    This is a huge, turreted mansion built by Toronto tycoon Sir Henry Pellatt between 1911 and 1914. It cost $3 million to build, an enormous sum at the time. However, due to reckless business dealings, he lived there only until 1923, when he was declared bankrupt.

    An audiocassette tour is included. There is a numbered route through the house. When you get to the study, there are two secret passages that can be explored. There are also rumors of ghosts! The tour also includes the garden and stables.

    Casa Loma needs to be seen to be believed. No description can do it justice.

    Casa Loma is open daily 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Last admission: 4:00 p.m.) It is closed Christmas Day. Adult admission is $12, seniors (60 +) $7.50, youths (14 - 17) $7.50 and children (4- 13) $6.75.

  • 6. Ontario Place

    Ontario Place was another big hit of our stay in Toronto. This is another place of which I have fond youthful memories. Unfortunately, it rained on and off during our visit there, but it didn't dampen our spirits, not even Gramma's, even though she found it to be a lot of walking.

    The entrance to Ontario Place is on Lakeshore Blvd West. Take the Bathurst (No. 511) streetcar to the end of the line.

    Ontario Place is built on several "pods" of reclaimed land in Lake Ontario. There is just so much to do here, but the highlight has to be the Imax theatre. There are several shows a day, but the cinema does tend to fill quickly. This is an excellent chance to experience Imax, as the shows are included in the admission price. The park is divided into five areas, each with a specific theme.

    Bring a bathing costume, as many of the activities are water-based, including the Rush River Raft Ride, the Purple Pipeline and the Pink Twister. There are pedal boats to while away time on the lagoons formed by the islands, as well as bumper boats, a Mars simulator ride, and seven different mazes in an indoor and outdoor, multi level labyrinth. There are special areas for smaller children.

    Another highlight is the Molson Amphitheatre, which has top-notch concerts throughout the summer, at additional cost.

    "Play-all-day" passes are $29 for people aged 6-64, with a $5 discount if you buy on line. This includes most activities (there are a few optional extras). You can also buy grounds admission and "pay-as-you-play" tickets. There is a "weather guarantee" whereby if it rains for more than two consecutive hours you get a voucher for a free subsequent visit. It really is excellent value.

    The park is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in July and August, most days in June and weekends in May and September.

  • 7. Centre Island

    The Toronto Islands in general, and Centre Island in particular, make a pleasant break from the city. Reached by regular ferries from the foot of Yonge and Bay Streets (behind the very visible Harbour Westin Hotel), the return fare is $5 for adults, $3 for others.

    The main attraction for children is Centreville, on Centre Island. I remember being taken here as a young child by various aunts and uncles, and I also took my young children here. It is a bit like going back in time, as the rides are slightly old-fashioned, including a ferris wheel, roller coaster and Model T Ford ride. Rides cost a certain number of tickets (60 cents each) or an all-day pass is $20 for anyone over four feet tall, $14 for the small fry. Centreville also boasts " Far Enough Farm", a small farm and petting zoo.

  • 8. Black Creek Pioneer Village

    Black Creek Pioneer Village is a great place to learn about the pioneering history of this part of Canada.

    It's a fair way north of downtown, at Jane Street and Steeles Avenue. By public transport, take the Yonge subway as far north as it goes, Finch station, then the bus (check with the station staff which bus to catch).

    This is a living history museum, with guides dressed in period costumes, who immerse visitors in the pioneer life of the 1860s. The everyday life of the pioneers is portrayed with 35 restored buildings, gardens and working "pioneers". There are blacksmiths, gunsmiths, weavers and spinners. There is a period doctor's surgery, as well as retail shops.

    Daniel and Elizabeth Stong were the original settlers on the land where Black Creek Pioneer Village now stands. They cleared one hundred acres of wilderness, forests of white pine, oak and elm, for farming and built their first home - a small log house. A grain barn, piggery, smoke house and finally, a larger second home were added over the next few years. The Stong farm buildings now form the heart of Black Creek Pioneer Village.

    The village is a hodge-podge of buildings and may not be entirely authentic, but it is still a lot of fun.

    The village is open from May to December, with hours varying seasonally. Admission is $11 for adults and $7 for children.

  • 9. East Side Mario's

    My last two recommendations are eateries. The first is East Side Mario's, a chain, but an excellent one. When we lived there, they had "kids eat free Tuesdays", so we were regulars with our two youngsters. Apart from a menu that has loads of options for fussy children, there are barrels of monkey nuts in the bar area where you wait for your table. You are encouraged to throw the shells on the floor, which my kids loved!

    East Side Mario's is a Canadian chain with over 100 locations across the country, including one in Toronto at 151 Front Street West, not far from Union Station. This is an "American Italian eatery". The Statue of Liberty welcomes diners to a New York Lower East Side environment, complete with a Mulberry and Canal Streets intersection and a "Scalero Brothers" backroom.

    The menu is standard Italian-American fare, including pizza and pasta dishes, as well as chicken parmigiana, roast chicken, steak and ribs. There is a children's menu as well. Everything is cooked from scratch and is delicious. My mother, who is very fussy about her food, approves!

    A great feature is that all entrees come with complimentary unlimited soup or salad and homemade garlic loaf. Indeed, it was at East Side Mario's that above-mentioned 13-year-old decided he really did like salad. There is a choice of house or caesar salad, and they are both excellent. Free refills on soft drinks are included.

  • 10. Shopsy's TV City

    The second restaurant recommendation is Shopsy's TV City, at 284 King Street West. This is a great place for kids, although parents might find it a bit loud. Shopsy's Deli's are a Toronto institution, and this one has been kitted out especially for kids, with Playstations at every table, hooked up to huge monitors. TV overload is definitely the theme, with over 30 monitors showing cartoons spread throughout the restaurant. The menu of course caters to kids, with traditional deli favourites, especially the famous Shopsy hot dog. If you can possibly stand the sensory overload, your kids will love this place. Otherwise, there are several regular Shopsyâs Delis around town where you can sample the fare without the distractions.