By LAURA PELLERINE
Montreal is a festival city, and explodes with activity year-round. There’s always something family friendly to do, whether it’s biking on the waterfront, learning circus skills, exploring a living-history or science museum or pigging out at the city’s decadant ice-cream parlours, chocolate shops and crêperies.
1. Get a thrill at La Ronde. On Saint Helen’s Island is Canada’s second biggest amusement park. This Six Flags park has more than 40 rides, including 10 roller coasters, a grand carousel, a flume ride and more than a dozen rides suitable for younger children or kids born without the daredevil gene.
2. Explore the Montréal Biodôme. Wander through four ecosystems of the Americas, with over 4,800 animals and 750 plant types—kids will be sure to fall for the playful penguins in the Sub-Antarctic exhibit.
3. Interact with animals at Granby Zoo.One of the country’s largest zoos is home to more than 1,000 animals, from elephants to giraffes, gorillas to tigers. Stop by the stingray touch tank, then feed baby goats at the petting farm and end your visit with a camel ride. In warmer months the zoo has a waterpark and amusement rides included with the entry fee.
4. Visit a sugar shack. A Quebec tradition celebrating the maple syrup season. Hundreds of shacks across the province offer old-fashioned sugar shack feasts, chances to learn about the maple syrup farming process, wagon rides and maple-syrup-on-snow treats. For more info, see our feature:
5. Get back to nature a the Botanical Garden, a collection of 22,000 plant species and cultivars, 10 exhibition greenhouses, a Tree House and 30 themed gardens inspired by countries from around the world.
6. Get spooked on a Ghost Walk. In this hour-and-a-half long tour through Old Montreal, meet “ghosts” at each spooky site who tell tales of their misfortunes and adventures throughout Old Montreal. July 6–Aug. 31.
7. Bug out at the Montréal Insectarium. Those without bug phobias can examine 160,000 living and naturalized insects: see an ant farm, beehives and other homes for creepy crawlers. Entomologists are on site to answer questions.
8. Sip gourmet hot chocolate at Juliette et Chocolat. Indulge a sweet tooth with one of more than thirty varieties of thick and creamy hot chocolate at the Chocolate Bar. Go for the traditional “Grandma’s Style” in dark, milk or white chocolate or get fancy with a single-origin or single-plantation “vintage” like a New Guinean 47% cacao milk chocolate with notes of banana and berries and a salted-caramel finish, or a concoction such as a mix of dark-and-milk hot chocolate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Also on the menu: decadent desserts, crepes and for grown-ups: spiked hot chocolate.
9. Take a learning vacation at the Montreal Science Centre. The Montréal Science Centre makes learning about science fun with multimedia challenges, games, interactive areas and an IMAX theatre. From April 19 through September 16 Star Wars fans can check out props, costumes, models, and artwork from the popular films.
10. Go to the theatre. The Saturday Morning Children’s Series at Centaur Theatre Company presents English-language plays and puppet shows for kids. Coming up: The Silent Princess (Apr 14); Bed Bugs (Apr 21); A Midsummer’s Night Dream (Apr 28).
11. Explore the natural world at the Biosphère environment museum. Created for Expo ‘67 by visionary architect Buckminster Fuller the Biosphère offers opportunities to learn about environmental issues through interactive exhibits. Bonus: Free admission for those under 17.
12. Chill out at the beach. When the weather gets warmer, families can head to a beach five minutes outside of downtown in Parc Jean-Drapeau. Kids can swim, play beach volleyball, jump on a trampoline or rent a kayak.
13. Skate at Atrium Le 1000. This indoor skating rink sits on the first floor of Le 1000 de la Gauchetière—the tallest building in Quebec. It’s open year-round, making it a good escape from the summer heat. Skate rentals on site if you don’t have your own.
14. Take them out to the ball (or hockey) game. Depending on the season, cheer on the city’s hometown hockey or Canadian Football League teams. Hockey’s Canadiens (aka the “Habs”) end their regular season April 6. The “Als,” or Alouettes, kick off their CFL season on June 14 with a game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. See them at the recently renovated 25,000-seat Percival Molson Memorial Stadium.
15. See a show at Place des Arts’ Junior Theatre. The Junior series at Place des Arts offers a wide array of shows that dabble in genres like music, theatre, storytelling, dance, circus arts, song, cinema and puppetry.
16. Get a birds’-eye view at Montreal Tower/Olympic Park. Built for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, the highlight of the “Big O” is the world’s tallest inclined tower offering three observation floors of a spectacular 175-metre-high view of the city. At its base is a multisport facility with seven pools.
17. Play around at Récréathèque. A large playground for kids up to 10 years old that includes a maze, mini train ride and roller coaster, mini golf, bumper cars, paintball, rollerblade rink, arcade and more. Kids will love getting their face painted.
18. Do an amphibious city tour. Amphibus Tours takes sightseers on a tour around the historic streets of Old Montreal before gliding into the St. Lawrence River.
19. Splash around at the Aquadôme. Inside find a 1,200-metre pool with four slides and therapeutic jets.
20. Explore the city in-depth at the Centre d’Histoire de Montréal. Three floors of exhibits at this city museum illustrate the history of Montreal through images, visual effects, personal testimonies and historic artifacts.
21. Relive history at Château Ramezay. A prestigious 18th-century manor—the first building in Québec to be classified as an historic monument—tells the story of Montréal’s pre-contact Amerindian era to the 20th century. Also on site is an 18th-century inspired Governor’s Garden.
22. Do the dinos at the Redpath Museum. Dinosaur-loving kids will eat up the full-size Gorgosaurus libratus skeleton and the Triceratops skull at the Redpath Museum. The Egyptian mummies are also popular, and the museum hosts dinosaur tours and family-oriented discovery workshops.
23. Space out at the Cosmodome. Here kids can learn about the solar system and space exploration, while the attraction’s Space Camp gives youngsters the chance to try astronaut’s training and a simulated space mission.
24. Learn about the Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site. Get to know Canada’s fur trading past at this 1803 stone-built depot, through exhibitions or even a tour in a 12-person rabaska canoe.
25. Clown around at La Tohu. At this performance centre for the circus arts, see circus-arts shows complete with trapeze artists and contortionists and learn about circus via exhibitions on circus history. Kids up to 6 years old will love Petit Bonheurs (May 7–9)—a festival designed to introduce wee ones to theatre, dance, puppets, music and more.
26. Take boat tour at Lachine Canal National Historic Site. The Lachine Canal runs 14.5 kilometres from the Old Port to Lake Saint-Louis. A pathway running alongside the canal allows visitors to explore this body of water either by foot or bicycle—or from mid-May to October, families can take a guided boat tour.
27. Play dress-up at the McCord Museum. Discover historical and cultural artifacts from across Canada, dating back to 1887 that include photographs, art, period costumes, toys, and vintage gowns. Free Family Sundays offer games and themed workshops for all ages. Also, on the last Wednesday of every month touch-and-play boxes are set up throughout the museum.
28. Root for the “Habs” at the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame. This Bell Centre shrine to the city’s beloved hockey team includes artifacts, photos and interactive Q&As with virtual Montreal Canadiens players illustrating the team’s most memorable moments.
29. Get an eduction at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Museum. Discover a unique perspective on the story of the Holocaust—from Montréal survivors. On display are rescued personal articles like yellow stars worn in France, the Netherlands and in Croatia and hidden objects from inside the camps.
30. Get a breath of fresh air at Mount Royal Park. Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer behind New York City’s Central Park, was the brains behind this 200-hectare park. This is a great place to hike, mountain bike, toss a Frisbee or rent a paddleboat and explore Beaver Lake.
31. Engage young artistes at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal. Ogle contemporary drawings, paintings, engravings, sculptures, photography and other edgy mediums, at this museum celebrating Québec creativity.
32. See family films at the NFB Cinema. Choose from over 12,000 productions to view at the National Film Board of Canada’s CineRobotheque. Staff will recommend appropriate films for every age group, and each family member can create a custom screening program for free. If a particular film has captured the heart of your family, many are available for purchase.
33. Pedal around. At Ça Roule Montréal/Montreal on Wheels, you can rent a tandem bike, kid’s bike, kid’s bike attachment or trailer and follow the waterfront bike paths mapped out by the company, or take a guided bike tour.
34. Get wet and wild on the Lachine rapids. Just outside the city, Rafting Montreal runs high-adrenaline rafting and jet-boat tours down the Saint Lawrence (May–October). Family and adventure packages with qualified bilingual guides take you through rapids ranging from class II to V.
35. Spend a day at the Quays of the Old Port of Montreal. This 2.7-kilometre park along the waters of the Saint Lawrence River is a tourist hot spot: find cruises and excursions, paddle boating, quadricycling, a maze, water spa, exhibits, shows and restaurants.
36. Free fall with Sky Venture. Get hearts pumping and defy the laws of gravity with this vertical wind tunnel that reproduces the free-fall portion of a parachute jump. Safe for kiddies aged four years and over.
37. Play princess on a horse-drawn carriage ride. Explore the cobblestone beauty of Old Montreal aboard a horse-driven carriage, or calèche. Calèche Tours leave from place Jacques Cartier, de la Commune street, Place d’Armes and sometimes even from the top of Mount Royal. Tours typically take between 30 to 60 minutes and are available in English or French. $45 for 30 min., $75 for 1 hour. Daily, 9 am–11 pm.
38. Declare war at Laser Quest. This live-action laser tag game inside a five-level maze pumps in music and fog to set the scene.
39. Get cultured. Introduce your kids to the world of art. The Musée des Beaux Arts’ collection ranges with items from ancient Roman and Egyptian artifacts and sculptures to contemporary paintings. Even better, admission to view its large permanent exhibits is free.
40. Take an ice cream break. Stop in for a treat at one of the city’s most popular ice cream parlours, Le Glacier Bilboquet. Founded in 1983, this local staple now has seven locations and offers artisanal crème glacéand sorbets in creative flavours like Brou Ha! Ha! (vanilla with brownies, caramel, praline bits and pieces of chocolate-covered toffee) and King Kong Cocktail (banana with milk chocolate chunks) plus some simpler options like mint chocolate chip (with real mint, of course) and maple.
41. Ollie, flip and grind. At Le Taz Roulodome & Skatepark, one of the largest indoor sports centres in Canada, speed demons can try inline skating, skateboarding and BMX. Plus, the facility’s varied tracks mean all skill levels will feel comfortable.
42. Flock to family-friendly festivals. Montreal’s got a lot of festivals, but some of the best for families are the Montreal International Fireworks Competition (June and July); the Montreal Complèment Cirque (July) featuring circus artists from around the world; La Fête des Enfants de Montréal (August), with concerts, dance shows, and creative workshops designed for kids 12 and under; and the Montreal Jazz Festival (June and July), which provides a music-themed play area and Petite Ecole du Jazz shows with performances designed for kids and by kids.
43. See one of the greatest shows on earth. The mega-spectacular that is Cirque du Soleil is always a crowd- and kid-pleaser. The newest production, Amaluna, is themed after a mysterious island governed by goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon. Prepare for seemingly impossible stunts and extravagantly beautiful costumes.
44. Join the bagel battle. Taste-test Montreal’s famous bagels from the city’s two major competitors, Fairmont or St. Viateur and decide who gets the crown in the battle for bagel supremacy. Montreal bagels are known for their sweetness. St. Viateur’s flavours stick to the classics: sesame seed, plain and poppy seed, while Fairmont also branches out into blueberry, chocolate chip and cinnamon raisin.
45. Spot “Champagne” squirrels at Parc La Fontaine. This 40-hectare park has two linked ponds, wading pool and fountain, and an open-air theatre where you may catch a performance or two in the summertime. Keep your eyes peeled for the quasi-albino “Champagne” squirrels that roam among the huge poplars.
46. Go on a toy-shopping extravaganza in Le Plateau and Mile End. Le Plateau-Mont Royal and Mile End are fun shopping destinations for parents and kids alike. While Mom scopes out Montreal-designed dresses, kids can revel in unique toy selections from boutiques like Boutique Citrouille and Franc Jeu (4152 St. Denis St.; 514-849-9253) or check out specialty jigsaw puzzles and hundreds of games at Le Valet D’Couer.
47. Do the downward-facing dog. Bond while doing energetic breathing techniques and postures with your kids at Kids Butterfly Yoga Studio. Each class ends with a relaxation pose allowing parents and children to chill out together.
48. Explore Chinatown. Explore Montreal’s Chinese and Italian heritage while wandering through shops, kiosks and restaurants in these culturally diverse areas. Chinese immigrants are thought to have settled along Rue de la Gauchetière and lower St. Laurent Blvd as early as 1860.
49. Go for the Grand Prix weekend. See drivers from around the world race laps on the 4.361-kilometre Gilles Villeneuve Circuit in June.
50. Take in a celestial sound and light show. Built between 1824 and 1829, the Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica captivates hundreds of thousands of admirers every year. Paintings, sculptures, glittering gold leaf and dazzling stained-glass windows illustrate biblical passages. Coolest thing for kids might be the evening’s sound and light show that tells the story of Montréal and the creation of the church.
Extra credit: Mark your calendar for the new Rio Tinto Alcan Montreal Planetarium. The opening of the city’s new planetarium may be a year away (spring 2013), but it’s bound to be one of the hottest tickets in town for families, with two theatres and some of the newest space-show technology on the planet.