Toronto: A Galaxy of Family Fun
Round trip from Carriage Ridge Resort = approximately 260 kilometers (161 miles)
Estimated time: 8-15 hours
Hint: Before blast off, take a look at aToronto highways and streets map to become familiarized with the Toronto metro area.
From Carriage Ridge Resort, pack the family in the car and head west on Highland Dr. to Landscape Dr. Turn left at Line 3 N (2 km), right at Bass Lake SDRD W. Left at Line 3 N, (9.5km) to HWY-11 S (5.7 km) to HWY–400 S/Toronto (82.4km).
In the Toronto metro area? Start watching for Exit 21 ON THE LEFT —for HWY-401/W. Merge onto HWY-401 Collectors W for 3.2km, and then merge onto HWY-401 Express W (2.9 km). Take exit 352 for RTE-427 S/HWY-427 S toward Q.E.W. (1.8km). Merge onto HWY-427 S (5.8km). Take Gardiner Expwy exit, merge onto Gardiner Expwy (12.3km) and take exit toward Spadina Ave (.6km). Merge onto HWY-2 E/Lake Shore Blvd W, turn left at Spadina Ave. and then right at Bremner Blvd. You should be at the CN Tower in downtown Toronto.
Families can save some bucks by purchasing a Toronto City Pass with entrance to six of Toronto’s favorite family attractions. Sixteen million tourists visit Toronto every year for a reason. The Pass includes the Hockey Hall of Fame, CN Tower, The Royal Ontario Art Museum, Casa Loma, the Ontario Science Center and the indoor-outdoor Toronto Zoo. The Pass comes with a map of the Toronto area and the city’s underground/over ground enclosed passages.) Here’s an overview of the City Pass attractions to see if this option is for you. Otherwise, keep reading. There’s a hefty list of independent family adventures following the overview:
- The Hockey Hall of Fame is open 362 days a year and is located in the center of downtown at the corner of Yonge & Front Sts in Brookfield Place, a short walk from the CN Tower and other attractions. Home of the Stanley Cup, displaying the largest collection of hockey memorabilia in the world.
- The CN Tower at 553.3 meters is officially the world's tallest building so, please, “see the world” from great heights from the building’s exterior glass-floored observation deck, located 342 meters above ground. Or, for the truly adventurous, ascend to the Space Deck (at 447 meters, the world's tallest observation deck—with a 160-kilometre view). Grab a bite at the 360 Degrees Restaurant and Horizons Bar to make the entire experience all that much more dizzying. Closed Mondays.
- Enjoy Salon Sundays at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) weekend family program. Families swarm to ROM’s amazing Bat Cave display and the Galleries of Birds and Reptiles. Or, climb the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal staircase (in ROM’s new wing opened June 2007) after visiting Spirit House on Level 1 for a unique experience of sound and silence. (416-586-8000).
- Casa Loma, located at One Austin Terrace at the corner of Davenport Rd./Spadina Ave. is not to be missed. Home of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt, a prominent Toronto financier, industrialist and military man and unabashed romantic, takes “a man’s home is his castle” to new heights. He only enjoyed his castle for 10 years, but it became history in the making after it took 300 men working nearly 3 years to build. Visitors can tour decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables, and an incredibly beautiful 5-acre estate garden (open May through October). Expect crowds, the Casa is popular. Open daily. (416-923-1171).
- At the Ontario Science Centre delight as you experience new Agents of Change programming at the “grand daddy” of North American Science Centers. Opened in 1969, and initially known around the world for it’s “hands on” approach to science, the Science Centre has endured the test of time and now introduces visitors not only to the sciences but also stimulates notions of what it means to be creative, innovative and take risks. Designed by Raymond Moriyama, the facility beautifully follows the natural contours of the Don River Ravine, into which it descends. (1 888-696-1110).
- The Toronto Zoo is Canada's premier Zoo—and one of the largest in the world. Known for its interactive education and conservation activities, set in the beautiful Rouge Valley, the Toronto Zoo is a total family affair. With its 7 gift shops, zany themed restaurants, convenient snack bars, and family center—it’s a hit. Enjoy lunch amidst 5000 animals (representing over 460 species). Easily traverse over 10km of walking trails; family oriented exhibits and wildlife displays are provocative and fun. Enjoy the Kid’s Zoo, Waterslide Theatre or get drenched at Splash Island. Exceptional visitor accommodations/access; there’s even air-conditioned pet babysitting and a Family Center. (416-392-5929) Meadowvale Road, Scarborough, north of Highway 401 (Exit #389 eastbound and westbound).
OK. So you want to carve your own day trip. No problem.
Welcome to Riverdale Farm — perfect for toddlers and younger kids — an authentic, 7.5-acre farm complete with farm animals, located right in the heart of Cabbagetown, a unique downtown community. The Shop at the Farm carries fine gifts, books, decorations, handicrafts, toys, cards, preserves, paintings, sculptures, soap, and many more keepsake items. Admission is free; open daily. There’s parking on neighboring city streets only (416-392-6794).
The Toronto Islands were not always islands but actually a series of continuously moving sandbars originating from the Scarborough Bluffs and carried westward by Lake Ontario currents. By the early 1800s, the longest of these bars extended nearly 9 kilometers south-west from Woodbine Avenue, through Ashbridge's Bay and the marshes of the lower Don River, forming a natural harbour between the lake and the mainland.
At that time, there was a popular carriage path through the island dunes, from York to Gibraltar Point (at the western tip of the peninsula). The path also followed the shoreline east to Scarborough Bluffs. Of course, for centuries native people had visited these amazing dune islands seeking rest and relaxation for themselves. The carriage path eventually became Lake Shore Avenue.
It is no wonder the west side of the island, initially known as West Point, rapidly became a resort destination for the citizens of Toronto; the area’s first summer-cottage community was found here. In 1878, John Hanlan built a hotel at the north-west tip, which became known Hanlan's Point. A bridge across the Don River was eventually constructed and enables people from the city to reach Lake Shore Avenue plus aided settlement east of the river. In 1956, the City of Toronto transferred responsibility for the Toronto Islands so it could be developed as a regional park. Many projects were undertaken including a public marina, an amusement area and petting zoo, Naturalized areas and wildlife reserves were defined and established as well. While much has changed and evolved since then, this incredible and unique eco-system is worth the visit, and the views!
This Islands picnic park has pedestrian and bike trails; families can rent bikes, visit the Gibraltar Point Light House or visit two supervised beaches (July& August only). There are wading pools, tennis courts, softball diamonds and volleyball courts. Public boat moorings are available and there are convenient washrooms, picnic areas and even a first aid station. The Franklin Children’s Garden is now open on Centre Island. Inspired by the Franklin the Turtle book series, the garden is a special place to learn and discover. Toddlers and kids can dig and learn about plants or hear stories, walk in vine tunnels, discover the wetlands—where they’ll meet a few frogs, turtles and birds—The entire family should scamper up the Snail Trail to the highest point on the Toronto Islands.
The Island Lighthouse on Toronto Island is the oldest landmark in Toronto. At a very early date (maybe as early as 1808) it was realized that a lighthouse on the peninsula was essential to the safety of the vessels sailing Lake Ontario. The first light was a fixed white lamp that burned sperm whale oil. When a tower was raised at the lighthouse in 1832, an improved white light was also installed. After 1863, coal oil was used in lieu of sperm whale oil (900 gallons of oil were burned annually). Then, in 1878, a new white revolving light was installed—one of the best and most powerful in North American waters. In the winter of 1916-1917, the first electric light appeared; it was fixed and flashed on and off covering 240 degrees with powerful reflectors. In the spring of 1945, the present light was installed. History buffs may be interested in the “ mystery of Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.” The lighthouse has had its days of tragedy especially January 2nd, 1815, when the lighthouse keeper, Radan Muller, died in circumstances which remain unclear to this day. Was he murdered? And, if so, by whom?
Toronto Islands can be reached via ferry across Toronto’s Inner Harbor; the ferries are double deck, double end ships. The upper decks are open and the lower decks enclosed. For Toronto Island Ferry information, call 416-392-8193. Franklin Children's Garden questions, call Access Toronto: 416-338-0338. In Toronto take Queens Quay W to Bay St., turn right to park. From the ferry terminal, take the ferry over to Hanlan's Point; it's about a mile walk to the lighthouse. Paths go to the left. There’s island maps at the Ferry Terminal).
Downsview Park & Toronto Aerospace Museum
Families come to Downsview Park to play. Dads and granddads come to see airplanes. There are so many educational, social and recreational things to do— including the Sports Action Complex alive with indoor beach volleyball, soccer, paintball, skateboarding, HoopDome (basketball) and GrandPrix Kartways’ green go-karting mania.
The most popular aircraft in Canada during the inter-war years was the open cockpit, British-built de Havilland DH 60 Moth biplane. The Ontario government ordered 18 for forest fire patrols beginning in 1927; The Moth was also crucial in the establishment of The de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. at Downsview, spawning one of Canada's greatest aircraft manufacturers. The original 1929 factory where the DH 60 Moths were assembled is preserved at Downsview Park— and is now home for the Toronto Aerospace Museum.
This Museum contains an array of artifacts and full-size aircraft chronicling aviation and aerospace in the Toronto area. Aviators and enthusiasts will enjoy seeing sport aircraft and trainers, piston engines and Toronto-made jet engines plus rare flight training simulators used in the 1940-50’s. Recognized in 1987 as two of Canada’s top 10 engineering achievements of the previous 100 years, the famous de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver bush-plane, and the Alouette 1 satellite were both born within the four walls of the museum building. There’s ongoing construction of a full-size replica of the magnificent Avro CF-105 Arrow supersonic interceptor that first flew at Toronto's Malton Airport in 1958. Visitors can take a guided tour of TAM's historic building, the original de Havilland factories, and the former RCAF Station, Downsview air force base. For more than 50 years, Downsview was an air force base, home for Canada's oldest air force squadron. Downsview Park is a unique urban recreational green space, a safe and peaceful place, developed according to the principles of environmental, economic and social sustainability, for Canadians to enjoy in all seasons. The park reflects Canada's mosaic past, present and future accomplishments. www.pdp.ca. Call 416-952-2227 for Downsview Park information. Driving: Take HWY 409 to HWY 401 E, exit at Keele St. Take Keele Street North to Sheppard Ave., turn right. The entrance to the park is one block east at John Drury Drive. If you would like to go to the Toronto Aerospace Museum or the Hangar Sports Complex, continue along Carl Hall Road across the railroad tracks. The museum is on the right and the Hangar is just a right turn away, around the corner from the TAM building.
Hit the slopes…yes, in Toronto. There’s downhill skiing and snowboarding facilities right in the city. The Ski & Snowboard Centres offer a range of rentals/programs to suit all ages and abilities. Take advantage of convenient snowboard and downhill ski rentals, snow schools and hi-tech snowmaking! Give night skiing a try for an out of the ordinary family experience. Both facilities feature a variety of family programs and discount ski times. Get a Snow Pass at the ticket window. Children/students up to 18 yrs. old ski/snowboard free between 4-8 p.m. when accompanied by a paying adult (adults $10, 4-8pm).
In North Toronto:
Earl Bales Ski and Snowboard Center: 4169 Bathurst Street, inside Earl Bales Park, one light south of Sheppard Avenue West/ North Toronto. 416-395-7931 or 416-33 TO SKI! * The Earl Bales site features a double chair lift & rope tow, snack bar and night skiing.
In West Toronto:
Centennial Park Ski & Snowboard Centre features day and night skiing, with a T-bar and Magic Carpet: 256 Centennial Park Road, one block west of the corner Renforth Drive and Rathburn Road. 416-394-8753 or call 416-33 TO SKI!
Open Mon-Fri: 10am-9:30pm; Sat. 9am-9pm; Sun. 9am-6pm. Must be 18 to rent equipment, restrictions apply; must sign Liability release waiver; $300 security deposit.
49 artificial outdoor ice rinks are operated across the city for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. Seasonal opening and closing dates, and operating schedules vary at each site according to the rink classification and other factors such as location, weather conditions, and capacity. To find out operating schedules for all rinks call 416-338-RINK (7465).
Prefer wheels? Shred Central is Toronto’s only indoor skate park—and it comes “with attitude.” This downtown park, with an interesting “underground” history of its own, is now designed to give kids and adults a much-needed place to skate, hang out and listen to good music when the weather outside is too snowy for wheels. Shred Central is a bit small and BMX /Roller Blade free. They say it helps keep accidents low and ramps in fare condition. Facilities include a 22-ft. wide half pipe with extension, a Vert Wall, Hubba ledge w/Euro and six stair— plus more. Closed Mondays; girls skate free and no one under 18 skates without a signed parental waiver form. Period. Must be at least 7 yrs. (416) 923-9842
Natural History Excursions
Discovery Walks is a City of Toronto program featuring self-guided walks that link city ravines, parks, gardens, beaches and neighborhoods. The program is in development so as it unfolds expect continued placement of interpretive signage on the paths and walkways. This helps strollers more fully experience an area’s specific heritage and unique environments. Here’s a list of the Toronto’s Discovery Walks:
- West Humber River Valley Discovery Walk
- Central Ravines, Belt Line & Gardens
- Don Valley Hills & Dales
- Downtown Toronto
- Eastern Ravine & Beaches
- Garrison Creek
- Humber River, Old Mill & Marshes
- Northern Ravines & Gardens
- Uptown Toronto
- Western Ravines & Beaches
Toronto is enjoying a cultural renaissance with its unprecedented building and architectural transformation of close to a dozen major arts and cultural institutions.
The buzz for 2008/09 is the ongoing Royal Ontario Museum expansion and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal Galleries being fully installed by Spring 2008. ROM’s Frank Gehry, Transformation AGO project also opens in 2008. The $254 million expansion will increase exhibition space 47%, while setting the highest standards for art display, programming, conservation, storage, creation and research.
The Spadina Museum: Historic House & Gardens near Casa Loma chronicles four generations of the wealthy Austin family living in a Victorian country estate that morphs into an Edwardian city mansion. This gem of a museum has exquisite furniture and décor reflecting Toronto’s robust 19th and 20th century art scene. Guided tours are offered. You’ll marvel at Spandia’s collection of Oriental carpets—one of the most common decorative features in Toronto homes from 1880-1940. Spandia’s web exhibit Romance Underfoot chronicles these rugs and their role in the larger context of social life in Toronto during these years. Explore one of Toronto's finest, restored Victorian gardens and participate in Spadina's special events including Doors Open Toronto and Music in the Orchard programs. Event Hotline: 416-338-3888. 416-392-6910. At the top of the Baldwin Steps/Spadina Ave. & Davenport Rd.
When the Prince of Wales opened Union Station August 6, 1927 he was quoted as saying "You build your stations like we build our cathedrals!" He was issued the first ticket to Alberta (for a “whopping” $71.20!) and he received a gold key that unlocked the station. On August 11, 1927, Union Station received and dispatched its first passenger trains. The story of the construction of Union Station is a tale in itself; it began in 1914 but because of supply shortages during World War I and the collapse of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1919 delayed completion of the building until 1921. It remained unused for another six years as the city, the Railway Board and the railroad companies haggled over grading separation. In 1924 a plan coalesced and necessary viaduct, bridge, grading, platforms and tracks construction commenced. Architects will drool at the station’s Beaux-Arts style— it was the largest and most opulent station built in Canada at the time, grandly monumental in design. The great Hall features a coffered vault ceiling of Gustavino tiles. The interior walls are of Zumbro stone from Missouri; the floors are Tennessee marble, laid in a herringbone pattern. The exterior walls of the station are Indiana and Queenston limestone. Each of the 22 Bedford limestone columns weights 75 tons and is 40 feet high.
When the Royal York Hotel was built in 1929, it introduced Toronto’s first sub-grade path, linking the hotel and Union Station. This dignified art deco hotel still makes a fine partner for the station. In fact, a walking tour of the area will take you by a bevy of historic buildings, landmarks and institutions. Just a few paces north of the St. Lawrence Market (liveliest on Saturdays, pick and choose from fresh produce in the North Building’s farmers market) (link to recipes?) is the corner of Jarvis Street and King Street East, featuring the richly decorated St. Lawrence Hall, Toronto’s mid-19th century social and cultural center. It has been beautifully restored. Behind the Hall, St. James’ Park, behind it, is an excellent place to pause and watch the world go by. To the west, St. James’ Cathedral, Toronto’s most famous landmark for years, rises more than 300 feet/91.4 meters. On King Street West, south side, beyond the Bay Street intersection, stands the work of Mies van der Rohe, famous for his minimalist approach to architecture. The Toronto Dominion Centre is the group of classic modernist towers in black metal and bronze. From the Gardiner Expressway eastbound take the Yonge/York/Bay exit. Union Station's vehicle entrance is on the east side of York St., just south of Front Street West.)
Look around. Located throughout the City of Toronto, are over 190 City-owned pieces of outdoor public art and historical monuments. Situated in city parks, subway stations, and on the grounds of municipal buildings, these works add both a historic and artistic element to the urban landscape. How many can you find while out and about around Toronto? Who in the family can spot them first? Make a game of it—they’re everywhere!