Fun family activities before summer ends!

17 Aug

As summertime winds down into back-to-school time, I thought I’d review a few family-friendly treats that you might want to explore. Ottawa is an extremely family-friendly destination – major museums have first-rate children’s programming year-round, like Artissimo at the National Gallery of Canada (how’s about seeing your child’s art on the walls of the Gallery?), or the fun interactive round-the-world-trip that is the Canadian Children’s Museum inside the Canadian Museum of Civilization, or the creepy critters of Animalium at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

But let’s take a look at some seasonal summertime attractions that will be behind us before we know it!

This is just one of the mazes at Saunders Farm. Great for burning off excess energy!

Take a ride in the countryside to check out Saunders Farm. You may be familiar with Saunders for their imaginative, creepy Hallowe’en programming in October (and it’s definitely worth a visit then) but don’t miss it in the summer! You and your kids can enjoy the splash pads, take a wagon ride, and burn off energy in the world’s largest collection of hedge mazes.  Bring your own treats, or buy some fresh from the farm — you’ll want to make a day of it. Saunders is located a good 45 minutes or so from downtown Ottawa (about 20 minutes from the west-end suburb of Kanata) — look at their website for directions. Open until September 6 (then open again in October for Hallowe’en season). Don’t just take my word for it, though, check out this great Kids in the Capital blog post from Lynn.

You have until Labour Day (September 6) to try out the brand new Calypso Theme Waterpark, which opened back in June less than a half-hour’s drive east of downtown Ottawa in the small town of Limoges. It boasts 35 waterslides, more than 100 water games and plenty of other activities. From the Zoo Lagoon for toddlers to Canada’s largest wave pool to the Fast Track extreme slide, you’ll find something for every member of your family.

Pirate Adventures' pirate ship is pretty convincing!

Another fun way to enjoy the water is to take a cruise with Pirate Adventures on the Rideau River, near Mooney’s Bay Beach in the south end. Once you’re suited up in your pirate gear, you’ll set sail in your pirate ship for hearty adventures. Uncover the clues of a treasure map, repel a boarding attack, make a villain walk the plank and more! Spend a day the pirate way!

The traditional end-of-summer fling is SuperEx, also known as the Central Canada Exhibition, which runs August 19-29, 2010 at Lansdowne Park in the Glebe neighbourhood downtown. From midway rides to agricultural exhibits to concerts, you’ll have a lot of distractions to keep you and your little ones busy.

The Ceremonial Guard Band is a big part of the Changing the Guard Ceremony.

There are plenty of ways to have fun without spending a dime, too! The Changing the Guard ceremony is awe-inspiring for kids, with the uniforms, the marching, the music and the spectacle of it all. The free ceremony takes place on the lawn in front of Parliament Hill every morning at 10:00, weather permitting, until Friday, August 27.

Tours of Parliament are also free — you can pick up your same-day tickets from the big tent located between Centre Block (the main building, with the Peace Tower and clock) and West Block until September 6. After that, go to the base of the Peace Tower and follow the signs.

And every night at 9:30pm until September 12, weather permitting, you can enjoy the free Sound and Light Show known as Mosaika, where dramatic images are projected onto the façade of the Parliament Buildings. Learn more about Canada through the spirit of its people in this highly entertaining, bilingual show. Bring a lawn chair or blanket, as bleacher seating is limited.

The Lumière Festival is fun for all. Photo credit:

One of my favourite events is the annual Lumière Festival, this year held a bit later than normal, on Saturday,  September 4. The event actually starts well before that, as people are encouraged to sign up for lantern-making workshops. The night itself is magical — little kids dress up as fairies or in other whimsical costumes and carry lanterns. Programming is musical, inventive, humourous — and the setting is beautiful, in Stanley Park in New Edinburgh, which runs along the eastern shore of the Rideau River before it empties into the Ottawa River.

Another fun activity for families is Alcatel Sunday Bikedays, which take place each Sunday (9:00am until 1:00pm) until September 5. Visit RentABike to, well, rent a bike, and then explore some fun areas of town where the streets have been closed to motorized traffic to let cyclists, inline skaters and joggers take over! One of the most popular routes is along Colonel By Drive downtown, overlooking the Rideau Canal.

Some of the balloons at the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival are whimsically shaped!

Also on Labour Day weekend, you can enjoy entertainment each dawn and dusk by just looking up, way up! The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival runs September 3-6, 2010 and if the weather cooperates, you can see dozens and dozens of multi-coloured (and sometimes interestingly shaped) balloons drift by. Activities such as live bands, extreme sports demos, crafts and classic car displays — not to mention rides in some of the balloons — are based in Parc de la baie in Gatineau, Québec (just across the Ottawa River from Ottawa). The prevailing winds usually blow the balloons farther eastward but every few years, the wind shifts and sends the balloons over downtown Ottawa, making everyone a part of the festival!

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