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03 Feb, Friday
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Montreal Families

Toronto: Major attractions have considerable appeal

I recently went on a four-day trip with my son Max, almost 5, to visit the major attractions in Toronto. The whole trip was sponsored and organized by Tourism Toronto as a way to show various members of the media what the city has to offer families. 

We started with arguably the city’s most famous landmark — the CN Tower. It was built as a telecommunications hub because the city’s growing skyline created problems for radio and television transmission. So engineers had to construct a tower higher than the skyscrapers. With the antenna, the tower stands at 553.33 m. 

I wasn’t so sure there would be too much of interest when we set out. I figured we would just be taking an elevator to an observation deck. But I was wrong. It turns out that the CN Tower has a few other interesting attractions hiding up its sleeve.

There is a 15-minute documentary called the Height of Excellence, which tells the story of tower’s construction. 

There is a motion theatre ride called the Himalamazon, a futuristic story where mankind faces environmental disaster because of years of over-harvesting the forests. But scientists have developed a “Super-Tree” that quickly generates life-giving oxygen. There are some great special effects – you feel the wind blowing through your hair as you join one of these Super-Trees on its journey from seed to harvest, have cold shots of air blown on your legs and get sprayed with water. I loved the thrill but it was all a bit too much for Max; he spent the entire time with his head buried in my lap with his hands covering his ears. 

Starting on July 1, the tower will be home to a new, high definition 3D-Theatre featuring The Ultimate Wave Tahiti. In this film, two world-class surfers seek out the best waves – taking viewers on a thrilling journey through waves and below the ocean to explore the reefs and other living creatures. 

Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

With more than six million objects in its collection, this museum is a wonderful place for adults and kids to explore world culture and natural history. There is a wide-range of things to do and see, you can check out the Egyptian mummies, Chinese temple art and early Canadiana memorabilia. There are also mammoth dinosaur skeletons, a bat cave and several interactive galleries. We spent our time on the Discover Gallery (level 2) as the focus is on hands-on activities – especially great for young kids. Max is a big fan of the show Dinosaur Train, so he loved dressing up as a paleontologist, putting on goggles and digging through sand to find replica dinosaur bones. I was very impressed by the number of volunteers at each station who were more than willing to instruct us on how to get the most out of each activity. There were several live insects that kids could look at through Plexiglas, including Annam Walking Sticks from Vietnam (they camouflaged themselves so well in the twigs that volunteers had to point them out) and hissing cockroaches from Madagascar. There is so much to discover at this museum that I recommend you put aside a fair chunk of time and that you do some research before arriving so you know what you would like to visit. 

Gardiner Museum

This museum is directly across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum. We got to take part in one of its drop-in clay classes. Max wasn’t initially interested (always a bit hesitant about embarking on new adventures) until I explained it was like having fun with Play-Doh. The class started with a demonstration by a professional ceramist, who of course made a fabulous, intricate dragon within minutes. She then offered help and suggestions to the participants as we created our own masterpieces — none of which even remotely resembled hers. Once finished, you can take the piece home to air dry or leave it to be fired up. The drop-in classes are on Wednesdays & Fridays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The cost is $10 for adults ($15 on Wednesdays) and $5 for children under 12. 

Ontario Science Centre

For kids who love Harry Potter, the Ontario Science Centre is the place to be this summer. The Harry Potter Exhibition about the world of this much-loved wizard runs until August 22 and houses several key artifacts, props and costumes from the movie.

We spent most of our time in KidSpark, a discovery playground for children 8 and under. There was a station where you could dress up as a doctor, take someone’s blood pressure and put the organs of the human body back together on a mannequin. We explored a cave looking for lizards and dinosaurs that were imprinted on the walls and Max loved the construction site area where he could hoist foam bricks up and down a pulley. KidSpark is a nice introduction for younger kids to the world of Science Centres.

City Pass offers discounts

Families looking to save a few dollars should consider buying the Toronto City Pass, which will give you access to five major attractions: the Casa Loma, CN Tower, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum, and Toronto Zoo.

The pass costs $59 for adults and $39 for kids between 4 and 12, and is good for nine days. You can purchase it online at www.citypass.com/toronto or at any of the participating attractions.

Where to visit

CN Tower
301 Front St. W • (416) 868-6937

Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen’s Park • (416) 586-8000

Gardiner Museum
111 Queen’s Park • (416) 586-8080

Ontario Science Centre
770 Don Mills Rd. • (416) 696-1000

Where to stay

Westin Harbour Castle Hotel
1 Harbour Sq. • (416) 869-1600
www.starwoodhotels.com/westin (then type in Toronto)

Delta Chelsea
Downtown Toronto, 33 Gerrard St. W.
(800) CHELSEA (243-5732)

Where to eat

Buddha Dog
163 Roncesvalles • (416) 534-2007

Voted as “Canada’s Best Hotdog” by Reader’s Digest, this restaurant was opened in Toronto three years ago by two men who wanted to bring together the best butchers, bakers, farmers, cheese makers and chefs to make an exceptional hot dog. They succeeded – the dogs were great and patrons also have a choice of three cheeses and more than a dozen home-made sauces. Grilled cheeses are available for those who don’t eat meat.

Why the name Buddha Dog? While researching hot dogs, one of the owners came across a joke: “What did Buddha say to the hot dog vendor?” “Make me one with everything!”

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