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13 Aug, Saturday
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Montreal Families

Guided Tour: The Insectarium's BuzzGround

Cost (from May 15 to Nov. 1, 2009, for Quebec residents):
Adults $13.95, children 5 to 17, $6.75, children 2 to 4, $2.
Hours (from May 15 to Sept. 7, 2009): 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Address: 4581 Sherbrooke St. E. (view map)
Parking: Costs $10 per day.
Bus/Metro: 185 bus (Sherbrooke), Pie-X or Viau metro station
Telephone: 514-868-3000

Montreal's Insectarium recently invested more than $2 million in its new BuzzGround – a park targeting children age 0 to 5. It definitely helps make the Insectarium/Botanical Gardens complex well worth a visit for young families. Once you've paid admission, you have access to the grounds of both facilities.

Prior to the installation of the park, there wasn't much at the Insectarium of interest to children under age five. Although three- or four-year-olds might manage a quick run-through to look at the crazy bugs on display, there's not enough for them to justify paying $40 for family admission and parking. Similarly, unless the Botanical Gardens has a particular exhibit or child-friendly activity going on, like Butterflies Go Free, it's a pricey outing for young children, who aren't likely to want to stop and smell the roses.

BuzzGround gives young kids a place of their own.

There are some imaginative, educational features that set it apart from a typical playground. Along the entrance walkway, you'll see Plexiglas balls that hold preserved insects native to Quebec. Some of them are disturbingly large and long-legged – definitely better to get a look at them here than in your own backyard! There's also a small butterfly enclosure – kind of a mini, outdoor version of the Butterflies Go Free exhibit.

Smaller kids will love running up and down the man-made hill and mini "anthills". Older ones will get a kick out of the sprawling spider web, and they will all take a turn or two in the spinning cups. Parents will definitely enjoy the various seating areas. The playground itself is beautifully landscaped, but not shaded, so bring hats and sunscreen.

BuzzGround isn't exactly packed with play equipment, but that's OK, because once kids have conquered it (give it 30 minutes to an hour), they're warmed up and ready to explore … or maybe ready to eat. Aside from the playground, here are some other suggestions for what to check out:

  • The playground area includes a shaded patio restaurant with bathrooms. There are highchairs and tables to use if you're organized enough to bring your own food along.
  • Just across from BuzzGround are the beautiful Japanese and Chinese gardens. The kids may get a kick out of seeing Bonsai trees and/or pagodas.
  • A mini red train passes the playground every 20 to 30 minutes, so hop on and get a great overview of the various gardens. The train ride takes about 15 minutes, which is just about enough for small children. It drops you off outside the main Botanical Gardens pavilion, where there is another restaurant with a cafeteria-style setup and beautiful patio.
  • If you have a newborn who needs to be strolled to sleep, the paths throughout the park are beautiful.  This is one of those places where even locals feel like they're on vacation.
  • Both the Insectarium and the Botanical Gardens hold various family events (arts and crafts workshops or cultural shows, for example), so take a look at the schedule to see if there's something that interests you.

Tip: The gift stores at both the Botanical Gardens and the Insectarium both sell tons of toys and children's books. This can be either a plus or a minus. If you don't want to be suckered into buying anything else, don't let the kids go in!

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