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Morgan Arboretum – Earth Day Weekend April 21, 2013

Morgan Arboretum - Earth Day Weekend April 21, 2013

In celebration of Earth Day (April 22, 2013) and in collaboration with Montreal Families, Morgan Arboretum is offering free guided tours through their 245 hectare wildlife reserve on April 21, 2013 from 9am to 4pm.
Make sure to mention the following link: http://www.montrealfamilies.ca/Montreal-Families/April-2013/Fun-ways-to-protect-the-planet/
Morgan Arboretum website: http://www.morganarboretum.org/fma/
Address: 150 ch. des Pins, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Qc

 

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Omega Park – The Bear Necessities (From Your Car!)

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My personal favorite at Omega Park: the stinky snorting wild boars!

Last year around this time, my family had the great opportunity to visit Omega Park. My son wasn’t able to verbally express his excitement but his face clearly showed his joy. I highly recommend Omega Park for families looking for a weekend day trip only 1.5 hours outside of Montreal.

Omega Park is situated in the gorgeous region/municipality of Montebello. Known for the largest log structure ever built, Le Chateau Montebello is stunning and deserving of its own blog post. Beautiful through all the seasons, my personal favorites are spring and fall; the colors of the new and/or dying foliage is spectacular. The air is crisp in the fall and moist and alive in the spring–definitely worth at least a drive through the area!

Omega is a wildlife park that is unique amongst the “safari park” genre in that its animals are all native to the Canadian forests. The park is open year-round and animals can be seen roaming through 1,800 acres of their natural habitat. Filled with trees, rivers, lakes, swamps and rolling hills, the area itself is a fun drive and it’s nice to see the animals in their (simulated) native environment.

I would recommend making this a full-day adventure. The area around Omega Park has tons of places to explore and the park itself can take anywhere from 3-4 hours (longer if all the animals approach the car windows). Also, make sure you bring bags of carrots, apples, celery and other hard veggies. Trust me, the animals will love you and you’ll get plenty of photo opportunities. Make sure to leave the dog at home; they have a strict no pets policy (for good reason!).

3 warnings before your trip: 1. If you are worried that your car might get damaged–it should be fine but you never know–don’t bring your spotless car. Our family van is, well, a family van, so we were never worried about any damage and luckily everything was fine. The animals know their boundaries and they are all slow and meandering–these are wild animals that are very used to human contact. 2. If the thought of a large drooling beast sticking its head into your driver/passenger window scares you–don’t open the window. Start out small: try feeding the deer first. They are…let’s say…a little less daunting than a buffalo head the size of your child. 3. Allergies! If anyone in your family suffers from allergies, I would recommend taking a preventative anti-histamine.

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Feeding the animals at Omega Park

Most animals, with the exception of the bears and wolves, are free-roaming. They are all used to cars and humans and they know the drill: wave the carrot out the window and they will approach. Please make sure to supervise your children while they feed the animals. I know the animals don’t mean to bite but sometimes a tiny hand holding a carrot can’t be seen.

Omega Park also has a bird of prey section that performs live shows in the summer. If you walk along the designated foot-paths, you will reach the mini-farm area. Your kids can pet the goats, sheep, pigs, etc and they offer pony/horse rides for a fee.

A friendly goat at Omega Park's mini farm

A friendly goat at Omega Park’s mini farm

Omega offers two radio stations (English and French) that provide information on the animals in the park. They also have a picnic area or a fast food cafeteria–brown bag it for a healthier (and cheaper) lunch. Make sure to check the weather forecast; even though you are in your car on a rainy day, the animals might not be as inclined to come out of the forested areas. Enjoy!

Location: Highway 323 North, Montebello, Québec JOV 1LO

Website: http://www.parc-omega.com/en/

Coupons! http://www.parc-omega.com/coupon1-en.cfm

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Cabane à Sucre Constantin — Sugaring Off in Quebec

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La Cabane à sucre Constantin

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-well-kept secret. The best part of spring–maybe even more than its sign of winter’s end–is the maple syrup! Every year I look forward to the production of “liquid gold” at the local sugar shack or cabane à sucre. My family is a little maple syrup crazy–we pour (ahem, drizzle) it on the traditional pancakes and waffles but we also use it as an alternative to sugar in almost everything possible. Have you ever tried maple syrup-sweetened coffee? Mmmm. Luckily Quebec is the largest producer in the world!

This post should have appeared weeks ago but unfortunately we’ve had shoddy weekend weather.  Quebec has countless sugar shacks around Montreal that participate in the annual sugaring off festivities; we decided to visit Cabane à Sucre Constantin this year. I encourage you to visit soon as they are closing April 28th, 2013. The season usually runs from February to April.

Located only 25 minutes from Montreal, Cabane à Sucre Constantin is in the lively town of St-Eustache. We arrived for the set breakfast at 10am and we were quickly seated and served. The reception/dining hall can accommodate a few hundred people so unless you are 30+ people, reservations are not necessary. It’s a very casual environment and you are seated at long tables beside other families in an open and boisterous room. The decor is dated but it adds to the appeal–it’s a farmhouse that serves traditional sugaring off cuisine!

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Breakfast at La Cabane à sucre Constantin

The food is brought to you but it’s considered all-you-can-eat. You won’t need more than one serving of each course as the food is extremely filling. They start you off with a delicious pea soup–warm and bursting with flavor–and you are then served the main course of eggs, potatoes, ham and beans. I wasn’t a huge fan of the eggs or potatoes (both were tasteless) but the ham and beans were very good. The dessert was a sugar-rush of maple syrup deliciousness!  I think my favorite was the “pouding chômeur” (roughly translated to a pudding for the unemployed or poor man’s pudding); it’s a bread-pudding (which acts like a sponge) completely drenched in maple syrup. They also offer pancakes, soft ice cream and sugar pie. I swear the whole group of people left the dining area high on a sugar buzz.

Included in your meal price, you also have access to a small doll museum, a puppet theater and one “tire sur la neige” maple taffy on a stick. We were too full for the maple taffy so we decided to wander around the grounds. For only $2 per person, you can visit a small but completely packed “zoo” full of exotic–or not–farm animals. My son was in heaven.

All the animals looked really healthy and all of them were clean. My only complaint would be that they stuffed so many animals into such a small area. The animals included parrots, reptiles, many types of birds and rodents and your typical barnyard animals like goats, pigs, sheep, ponies and even llamas. The owners allowed a few of the baby goats to roam freely through the area and my son was overjoyed when he fed them from his hand. Many of the animals seemed to be new mothers so we were lucky to see many babies.

Part of the price of admission included a one-man puppet show. It was very interactive and most of the play was song-based which encouraged audience participation. My son couldn’t keep his eyes off the show. At about 20 minutes, it was the perfect length for short attention spans.

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Puppet show at La Cabane à sucre Constantin

The doll museum was neat. My husband is generally creeped out by dolls–especially old dolls with cracked faces and eyeballs rolling back in their heads–but it was still interesting to see dolls from 3-4 generations ago. Dolls, like all cultural artifacts, reflect the time in which they were made so it was fascinating to see how the dolls evolved through a century filled with war, depression, racism and progress (among so many other factors!).

At the end of our stay, we enjoyed the famous “tire” of maple taffy on snow and the inflated kid’s amusement area. They also offer horse-drawn carriage rides for $3/person, mini 4×4 rides for kids ($4) and a free visit of the grounds by foot.

Overall, I highly recommend Cabane à Sucre Constantin! Even if some of the food was a little bland, there was plenty of great-tasting alternatives. The atmosphere was very family friendly and the staff went out of their way to ensure a fun and safe visit for all.

Location: 1054 Arthur-Sauve Blvd. (Route 148), St-Eustache, Qc, J7R 4K3

Website: http://constantin.ca/

Prices vary according to season and day/time. Check their website for prices: http://constantin.ca/cabane-a-sucre/tarifs-heures-douverture

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To pee or not to pee – Top 10 Road Tripping Tips

Road trippin' toddler style

Road trippin’ toddler style

Ah, the road trip. The summer months are not complete without at least one road trip out of the city. People either relish or dread the idea of spending hours in the car with their children–let’s call them backseat whiners–while navigating the roads and insane border lines.

And speaking of insane: we tested our infant on his first road trip (Burlington, VT) at only 6 weeks old and then decided that we were tough enough to road trip our way down to Washington, DC with our then 2-month old for the Christmas holidays. True story.

Montreal is well-located for some great road trips that can be as long as 6-7 hours (Toronto or New York) or as short as 2-3 hours (Ottawa or Mt. Tremblant). Under 2 hours and we consider it a day-trip.

I often think about the pollution we create with our many car trips; while off-setting those emissions with environmentally friendly alternatives won’t eliminate the toxic fumes at least we’ve made our green contribution.

Here are a few ways we cut our carbon footprint (or offset the car mileage): 1. we own a Flexible Fuel Vehicle 2. my husband bikes to work whenever possible 3. we are committed to continually upgrading our home to increase energy efficiency 4. when available, we buy locally grown food and support local-made businesses 5. once we arrive at our destination, we walk everywhere possible.

Parents often avoid road trips until their kids can be sufficiently entertained by a movie or some other device but I highly recommend starting your kids early and enjoying–rather than shrinking from–the time you have with them.

The following is a list of tips I’ve found are helpful while road tripping:

  1. Make frequent stops. These are not just for small bladders but also for eager minds. Depending on the age of your child, give them goals at every rest stop (how many out-of-state/province plates can they find? can they find their location on the map? etc) or just give them time to stretch their legs.
  2. Give them rest-stop countdowns and divide time into 30 minute chunks. “Are we there yet?” can be significantly reduced by giving them a a target hour/minute range.
  3. Talk. Talk. Talk. Yes, this is what I love most about roadtrips. My husband is forced to shut-down the mobile device and I have his undivided attention. Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss school, friends, and activities with your children. Talk about where you’re going and the things you’ll do once there.
  4. For younger children (not at the talking stage), bring plenty of books and activities to amuse them while on the road. Also, bring their favorite toy/blanket/book/teddy, etc. It’s safe to say that you don’t want to be miles on the road when kiddo asks for his special binky. Diapers are highly recommended for toddlers who are potty-training–just don’t risk it.
  5. Play verbal car games. Count blue cars, play I/Eye-Spy, name countries from A-Z, or ask your kids to invent an imaginary world. Though silly, these games foster communication, critical thinking and ultimately affection.
  6. Catch up on some much-needed sleep! While one parent drives, you can doze off to the lull of the highway. Setting aside a time for quiet relaxation or sleep is essential for your kids, too.
  7. If you don’t suffer from motion sickness, use the time to read. This is something everyone can enjoy and it can be incorporated into quiet time.
  8. Bring plenty of snacks and refreshments. Yes, drinking leads to peeing but it’s important to keep well-hydrated on car trips as the A/C (or heating) can have a very parching effect on the body.
  9. Don’t be shy to turn on the portable DVD player, Ipad, Iphone, etc when your child has turned into a fuss monster or when your kids start squabbling over absolutely nothing and start the pinching-rapidly-escalating-to-punches game. As much as I’m an advocate of roadtrip time being family-togetherness time, I also have a low-tolerance for eardrum-shattering screams from the backseat whiners.
  10. Breathe and smile. You are on vacation! And don’t shoot me for repeating this obvious line: “Enjoy every moment–your kids grow so quickly!”

Sit back and enjoy the ride. In a car, you get to experience the view from a totally different perspective and sometimes the evergreens whizzing by can be a nice time to relax your brain. My secret? I drive so my husband deals with our backseat whiner. 🙂

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Morgan Arboretum — And now for a freebie. In honor of Earth.

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I feel like I’m being a little West Island-centric here but this (free!) activity is too good to ignore.  Morgan Arboretum and Montreal Families Magazine have teamed up to offer free guided tours through the great forests in honor of Earth Day (April 22nd). I had the great privilege to enjoy this forested retreat while studying at John Abbott College and McGill University. The 245 hectare wildlife reserve is situated on McGill’s MacDonald campus in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and is home to a surprisingly large number of birds, mammals and creepy crawlers.

How do we teach the next generation about caring for our Earth? I’m a huge supporter of recycling and composting, buying local whenever possible and generally reducing my carbon footprint–but do our children truly understand why we need to keep our planet healthy? Honestly, leading our day-to-day lives mostly indoors (especially in the winter), it is difficult to understand why Nature needs protecting.

Here is the perfect opportunity to get out, educate and entertain. By mentioning the Montreal Families article (link below), you will be guided through the trails by a naturalist who will explain the forest and answer all your questions. The event will run on Sunday, April 21st from 9am to 4pm.

http://www.montrealfamilies.ca/Montreal-Families/April-2013/Fun-ways-to-protect-the-planet/

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed.

Admittedly, it’s been quite a few years since I visited the Arboretum. When our family plans weekend or day adventures they usually include our whining brute of a dog and so this amazing place has been crossed off the list due to its no dogs policy. I have heard whispers of a limited number of permits sold on a yearly basis that would give you access with your furry friend but I’ve never explored that option.

I’m really excited to revisit the forest after so many years. Now, as a mom, I will blushingly admit that the outskirts of this forest used to be our “hangout” spot so it’ll be nice to see it again through new (old) eyes. Here is a link to the park’s trails:

http://www.morganarboretum.org/Downloads/arbomap_trails.pdf

The man-made bird feeders are a great addition as they make bird-watching really fun and the kids can point out the birds very easily. It’s not rare to see a line-up of bird and wildlife photographers with their super lenses sitting patiently for the elusive owl or hawk to make its presence known. The sugar shacks are open around this time of the year so you might be lucky enough to get a sample of the delicious maple taffy. A few of the shacks also serve light lunches.

Let’s hold our next generation’s tiny hands and show them exactly what we are fighting to keep healthy. Even if it’s just for an hour or two, at least your family will experience the fresh air and hopefully spot some of the wildlife. And if you absolutely can’t get out, I highly recommend some weekend reading: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

Address: 150 ch. des Pins, Ste. Anne de Bellevue

https://maps.google.ca/maps?saddr=Montreal,+QC&daddr=Morgan+Arboretum,+150+Chemin+des+Pins,+Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue,+QC+H9X+3V9&hl=en&sll=45.432056,-73.952175&sspn=0.034874,0.084543&geocode=FT5otgIduKed-ykNt2QcVBrJTDHv7x8hODFOZQ%3BFY0wtQIdrJSX-yklxgRDwznJTDHaeViGu9xx7g&oq=montreal&mra=ls&t=m&z=11

Below you will find a few links about the Morgan Arboretum:

http://www.morganarboretum.org/fma/

http://www.montrealfamilies.ca/Montreal-Families/April-2013/Fun-ways-to-protect-the-planet/

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Let’s burn off the winter calories! Coaticook Gorge

Coaticook Gorge

Coaticook Gorge

Located about 2 hours outside of Montreal, the Coaticook Gorge has a pretty neat claim to fame: the world’s longest suspended footbridge. Are you imaging your walk over a 164 foot gorge on a wobbly (dare-I-say) Quebec-constructed bridge? I’m exaggerating, of course; I get weak in the knees when it comes to heights but I was so distracted by the raw beauty of the gorge that I barely noticed the height. Oh, and don’t worry, it doesn’t wobble! I promise you the kids will love this adventure and it is certainly worth the 2 hour drive.

The park is open year-round but I highly recommend going in the spring when the snow has just about melted away. There won’t be as many crowds and the animals are just coming out of hibernation foraging for food. The paths are very hiker- and biker-friendly (the trails are even horse-friendly). I would caution that strollers are not easily pushed throughout the entire park but a good portion is steady ground and would be suitable for all-terrain strollers. However, I would still recommend a baby carrier for the non-walking tots.

We were lucky enough to see a family of wild deer while we were there and I spotted quite a number of wild birds, small mammals and the odd amphibian. I feel particularly honored by our sightings because our dog (dogs allowed!) usually scares away most little beasts with her panting and general rowdiness.

Open mid-May to mid-October, the park’s campground has everything to suit your needs from rustic tent sites to full-service sites. I haven’t told my husband yet but there is even a rustic hut that accommodates up to 6 people–even in the winter (only $60/day)! It’s on my to-do list for this year. The campground rates are very reasonable.

While the trails are not overly strenuous, I would recommend making a full day of the park. Hike in with a lunch (remember to leave no trace) and enjoy the amazing sights and sounds of nature. Guided tours are available in English and in French but they aren’t necessary to learn about the park’s history. There are plenty of signs and plaques to keep the children entertained and the adults informed.

Finally, I highly recommend dining in one of the many local restaurants for supper. Many of the restaurants are proud supporters of Quebec’s local produce and serve organic meat and veggies. Once the bellies are full, load up the car and breathe a sigh of relief as you enjoy the silent –trust me, the kids will be snoring in no time–drive home.

Address: 400, rue Saint-Marc, Coaticook, Quebec J1A 2T7

https://maps.google.ca/maps?saddr=My+Location+(Montreal,+QC)&daddr=Coaticook,+QC&gl=ca&panel=1&fb=1&dirflg=d&geocode=FT5otgIduKed-ykNt2QcVBrJTDHv7x8hODFOZQ%3BFXavsAId1lu4-yn5021_t1i2TDF27mahLWDdRw&t=m&z=9

A few sites to explore:

http://www.gorgedecoaticook.qc.ca/

http://tourismecoaticook.qc.ca/index_en.asp

http://www.easterntownships.org/activity/678/parc-de-la-gorge-de-coaticook

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The bunnies are gone… Now what? The Ecomuseum!

Ecomuseum Bears

Happy post-Easter and Passover everyone! Sadly, the mall zoos are gone. I always look forward to the Easter weekend mini-farms. Not only do they offer a great opportunity for kids (and adults!) to experience the sounds and sights (and smells) of a hobby farm but they are a great way to meet other families/friends. Lately, I’ve heard rumors of the malls slowly eliminating this yearly ritual because of animal cruelty protesters (or a fear thereof) but I’m of the opinion that they offer a valuable educational tool. If properly cared for I don’t see how a heated mall is any more cruel than an outdoor mini farm. Let’s hope they keep this tradition going!

Now that the mall mini zoos are gone, where can we take our children for a few hours of educational fun? The Ecomuseum Zoo!

http://www.ecomuseum.ca/

Located in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, it might be a little off the beaten path for any non-West Islanders but it is well-worth the drive. They house an amazing variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The staff is highly knowledgeable and extremely friendly. It is a combination of indoor and outdoor animal housings so it’s great on a rainy or a sunny day.

Directions: https://maps.google.ca/maps?saddr=My+Location+(Montreal,+QC)&daddr=ecomuseum&hl=en&sll=45.508272,-73.553467&sspn=1.031705,2.705383&geocode=FT5otgIduKed-ykNt2QcVBrJTDHv7x8hODFOZQ%3BFcsltQIdK_GX-yFUafyFRNVoHintNr2nujnJTDFUafyFRNVoHg&gl=ca&mra=ls&t=m&z=11

The admission rates are comparable to other Montreal-based zoos and attractions. Toddlers (2 and under) are free; Children (3-15) are $9; Adults (16-64) are $15 and Seniors (65 +) are $12. As an added bonus, they offer free parking!

Check their calendar for extra activities. For example, they offer great educational workshops and even overnight “sleep with the animals” events. I’m also seriously considering their birthday hosting options.

Have fun, be safe and give the black bears (Suzie, Marge and Homer) a kiss for me!

Here are some sites that discuss the Ecomuseum:

http://montreal.about.com/od/montrealparks/ss/ecomuseum-zoo-montreal-wildlife-park-nature-museum.htm

http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/What-To-Do/Attractions/zoo-ecomuseum

http://www.yelp.ca/biz/ecomuseum-sainte-anne-de-bellevue

http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g155032-d155259-Reviews-Saint_Lawrence_Valley_Ecomuseum-Montreal_Quebec.html

http://www.bonjourquebec.com/qc-en/attractions-directory/zoo-aquarium-wildlife-observation-centre/ecomuseum-zoo_1570718.html