Marvelous toys made in Canada
Walking into a neighbourhood toy store, it’s hard to know where to look first. All of the carefully hand-picked toys on the shelves make you wish you were a kid again. There are colourful boxes and packaging clamouring for attention. So, if you don’t know where to start when choosing gifts for the kids in your life, consider taking a look at some of the fantastic toys made in Canada. Not only has this lineup of playthings garnered an impressive number of awards, but you will also have the satisfaction of buying products manufactured chez nous.
Professor Noggin’s Card Games ($11)
These trivia card games are appropriate for kids 7 and up and can be played with two to eight players. Produced by Canadian company Outset Media and manufactured in Montreal, the games cover various topics including the human body, geography, pets, explorers and mythical creatures. Players can show off their knowledge and still pick up some interesting facts along the way. A French edition of the series is available under the name Professeure Caboche. The series has won a three-star rating from the Canada Toy Testing Council and is likely to be used and enjoyed for many years.
Hunt and Seek ($18)
This bright and attractive game, made by Quebec company Editions Gladius, is perfect for the preschooler set (ages 2-4). A combination of I Spy and Where’s Waldo, Hunt and Seek challenges kids to find pictures in colourful and crowded familiar scenes, such as the park, a grocery store or a schoolyard. Each player picks a card, with an illustration of the clue (and name printed below), and they then get to examine the scene in question. A perfect game for car trips and travel, Hunt and Seek also helps kids develop important pre-reading skills like matching and labelling.
Lotto: The Friendly Farm ($18)
Also by Editions Gladius, Lotto is another wonderful award-winning game for preschoolers. This farm-themed matching game is basically bingo with pictures instead of numbers, and it offers evolving levels of difficulty, to ensure the game is played and enjoyed as kids get older. Kids get their own bingo-type boards, and pick cards one at a time to see who can find a match on their own board. The first to get a line of matches wins the round.
Grid Stones ($20)
This interesting and attractive pattern matching game requires a fair bit of strategy and visualization from players, and may be particularly appealing to chess aficionados. The game features a grid-type board. Players pick a card that no one else can see, and they use each turn to place or remove round glass beads on the squares to reproduce the pattern on their card. The trick is that their opponent is also doing the same thing with their own pattern, and players may well be working at cross-purposes. The first player to recreate the pattern on their card wins the round. Up to seven players can join each game, and the age range is listed as 7 to 77. Grid Stones was designed and created by Canadians and is licensed through a Montreal company called Danawares.
Bloco Foam Construction Toys ($13 to $35)
These Quebec-made foam toys are truly a local success story, having won awards from both the Canada Toy Testing Council and Protegez-Vous. Company owner Nathalie Barcelo keeps production local wherever possible, despite the extra cost this has meant for the company.
The Bloco sets include high density foam shapes with specialized plastic connectors that allow children to link pieces together to create creatures such as marine animals, dinosaurs, dragons and wild cats. Kids can build the illustrated creatures or create fantastical creatures of their own. Kits are available for ages 6 to 12, with a few for 5-years-olds. The toys help build fine motor skills but younger children may need some adult help to link the plastic pieces. Unlike many construction toys, Bloco also features pink and purple horse and unicorns sets designed for specific appeal to girls.
Explore! Photo Safari Geography Game ($25)
Patrix Communciations, a Quebec-owned company, manufactures, prints and assembles 98 per cent of their games in Montreal in their on-going bid to offer families locally-made toys. A Canadian Toy testing Council Best Bets award winner, Explore! Photo Safari features a large illustrated playing board and a set of animal cards. Kids need to match the animals to their habitats using one of three increasingly difficult levels of clues. Kids ages 4 to 6 can use visual clues while kids ages 7 to 9 get descriptive clues. Players ages 9 and up get only geographical clues. As an added bonus, the entire game is bilingual.
Mad Math Dice Game ($24)
Patrix Communications also produces this Oppenheim Toy Award winning, bilingual math game, which teaches multiplication and addition through play. It is suitable for ages 6 and up. Unlike many educational games, Mad Math (and Explore! Photo Safari) follow owner Patrick Ouvrard’s basic rule that the game must, first and foremost, be enjoyable to play over and over. “If kids get into the challenge, they will concentrate; if they concentrate, then they will learn,” he says.
Pupil Musician ($40)
This unusual game for kids ages 8 and up teaches players how to read music through play. When you buy the game, you also get access to their accompanying Pupil Musician website for a year, which features a library of music lessons and animated demonstrations. Although the game is bilingual, it should be noted that the English on the website is poor, and kids may need an adult to help them. A bilingual English-Spanish version of the game is also available. Once kids progress through this first game, a Pupil Musician Extra add-on introduces increasing levels of difficulty.
Tutti Frutti modelling clay (various prices)
This non-toxic scented modelling clay is manufactured in Canada by Repentigny company Bojeux. The non-sticky, re-hydratable clay comes in more than 30 scents, and has an accompanying line of playsets. Kids ages 3 and up will particularly appreciate the Dohbodies, a family of characters and their garden, undersea world and fire brigade, including a “roll and press” truck and other accessories. Tutti Frutti clay is also available at some pharmacy chains.