Visiting the Montreal Biodome

My family loves weekend road trips. My daughter loves staying in hotels (especially those with pools) and more so, she loves exploring new places – and we love surprising her. So, we recently surprised her with a weekend road trip to Montreal.

The focus of our trip was the Montreal Biodome. My daughter loves animals, nature and loves learning about different habitats, so we knew she would love the Biodome. We had heard it was a great place to bring kids and was the kind of educational, interactive activity that would keep nature-loving kids busy all day.

Montreal Biodome

The Biodome, the Insectarium, the Botanical Garden and the Planetarium make up what is called the Montreal Space for Life, which is the largest natural science complex in Canada. It is situated in Montreal’s 1976 Olympic Park, which my husband and I found fascinating on its own. We spent most of our time trying to figure out which event was held where before looking it up on the Internet.

What is the Biodome?

The Montreal Biodome has four different ecosystems– the Laurentian Maple Forest, a Tropical Rainforest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sub-polar regions. Within each are plants and animals native to each ecosystem. There are also interactive tablets and signage that explains what a particular animal or plant is and how they fit into that particular ecosystem.

Under the St. Lawrence

Under the St. Lawrence

You start your journey through the Biodome by walking through the rainforest, which is quite warm and humid. If you look up you will find sloths sleeping in trees, tamarins and marmosets swinging from branch to branch, and numerous tropical birds singing and flying about. 

The rainforest was my daughter’s favourite ecosystem because it was a “where’s Waldo” of trying to locate the different species that were housed there. There were also a variety of tropical plants and flowers, many of which we were encouraged to touch and smell.

A Capybara calls the Rainforest in Montreal's Biodome home.

A Capybara calls the Rainforest in Montreal's Biodome home.

Following the rainforest you are led into what can be a much chillier eco-system depending on the time of year you visit – the Laurentian Maple Forest. We were at the Biodome in late fall, so this area was the same temperature as outside, which was quite a shock after being in a hot rainforest. The animals here are more familiar to us Eastern Canada folk, but it’s a great place to get up close with some of our local wildlife, such as the porcupine, Canada lynx and the raccoon.  Our favourite part of this area was the river otter that was so curious and playful he constantly wanted to jump and swim and see who was there to watch him. He was adorable and was definitely a memorable part of our day.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence was a fascinating area for those interested in sea life including seeing how big an Atlantic Sturgeon really is! The shore part of this area had birds swooping right over our heads (watch out for bird poop!) and in the underwater area we were able to see sea urchins and jelly fish as though we were at a larger aquarium.

Sea star

Sea star

The area I was most amazed at was the sub-polar region. Although it wasn’t as large as the other areas it had two of my favourite species – Atlantic puffins and penguins. I had never seen a penguin in person before so it was fascinating watching them dive, swim and waddle around.

Sleeping penguin in the sub-polar ecosystem in Montreal's Biodome

Sleeping penguin in the sub-polar ecosystem in Montreal's Biodome

All said and done there are more than 200 hundred species living in the Biodome. I hate seeing animals in captivity and really hope these animals were rescued or bred in captivity… but to be honest, I don’t know. All of the animals do look well cared for and their habitats are clean.

We would definitely go back to the Biodome. My daughter had a great time there and her only wish is that it was bigger. In addition to the ecosystems there is also a room downstairs called the “Naturalia” where kids can learn more about the animals from each ecosystem. My daughter liked this room because there was a skull of a two-tusk narwhal, which apparently is pretty rare.

Puffins

Puffins

The Biodome isn’t open late (which I hope is to give the animals a rest). The price point is reasonable in comparison to other science centres and zoos. Adults are $19.75 each plus tax and children ages 5 to 17 are $10 each plus tax. Residents of Quebec cost a little less and their also family rates available.

In addition to the Biodome, we also went to the Insectarium, which was part of a package price, but was nearly the same price as the Biodome. After being at the Biodome, where we learned so much and saw so much, the Insectarium was a disappointment. It was quite small and the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa houses similar displays of encased bugs and overall, we left feeling as though we didn’t see anything we hadn’t already seen before. After the many interactive and live exhibits at the Biodome, the stationary exhibits at the Insectarium seemed to repeat themselves over and over again. Next time we will visit the Planetarium instead, as we have heard great things about it.

Colourful Bugs at Montreal's Insectarium

Colourful Bugs at Montreal's Insectarium

The Olympic Park was under construction when we went and the weather wasn’t ideal for walking around too much, but all of the Space for Life buildings are within a 10-minute walking distance and you can even go up the Montreal Tower, which is 165 meters, for a birds eye view of Montreal. I would love to go back in the summer and explore the Botanical Gardens as well, which apparently has over 30 impressive outdoor gardens and greenhouses. You could easily spend a day or two exploring Montreal’s Olympic Park.

Tips for an easy trip to the Biodome:

1) Pack a lunch and snacks – there is a café and cafeteria on site, but the prices aren’t great and the food isn’t the most child-friendly (at least it wasn’t when we were there).

2) Bring a twoonie for the locker – if you are travelling in winter, do yourself a favour and put your winter coats, etc. in a paid locker. It will make exploring the rainforest ecosystem a lot more comfortable and enjoyable.

3) Use your GPS and plan your route – we found finding parking confusing, so thank goodness for our GPS! And Google Maps. If you’re a planner and like to know where you are going then don’t forget your GPS (or Siri) – it will make travelling around Montreal much easier, especially during rush hour.

Shine Bright: Christmas Lights Across Canada

Last year we told you to prepare to be dazzled, and we're doing it again this year with the 32nd edition of the Christmas Lights Across Canada program, presented by the Government of Canada in partnership with Manulife.

Christmas-lights-across-Canada

The official Illumination Ceremony will take place tomorrow night (Wednesday December 7th) at 7 p.m. on Parliament Hill. I will be there with the whole family, and we'd love for you to join us. Last year, almost 20,000 people gathered on Parliament Hill to take in the sights and sounds of the magical winter lightscapes multimedia show. The show was followed by a beautiful display of fireworks. The gentle "pop, pop" noises of the pyrotechnics against the snowy backdrop was a highlight for my two girls!

We know it's a busy time of year, so if you can't make it tomorrow night, you can join in LIVE on Facebook. The evening's festivities will broadcast from the Capital Experience Facebook Page

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What IS a magical winter lightscapes multimedia show?

I had no idea what to expect last year - I was thinking something along the lines of the summer multimedia show that plays on Centre block each year. But this show is a bit more engaging for the entire family, from young to old! The fairy tale story follows the exciting journey of Grizzli, Fox and Snowman through imaginary landscapes on their quest for light. The show is inspired by Canada’s nature, climate and culture, and there is so much to take in!

When can I see the show?

The official Illumination Ceremony takes place tomorrow evening, December 7. There will be free Beaver Tails pastries and hot chocolate. And new this year, some live musical performances from the musical show Décembre.

A warning: do NOT promise your kids a Beaver Tail. I made this mistake last year, and when we arrived at 7 p.m., the lineup was about 500 people long (and then they ran out.) If you're hoping for a sweet treat, you'd be best to arrive as early as possible. Or follow our lead, and pack hot chocolate in a thermos and stop off for some Timbits on the way!

If you miss the opening night, the magical winterscapes multimedia show runs every evening until December 25th (presented on loop from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.)

The multimedia show ends early this year, because preparations are underway for a huge New Year's party on the Hill - Canada's 150th anniversary kick-off! You can still check out the Christmas lights until January 7th.

Tips for Going

We drove downtown last year, because it's a long bus ride and we knew the kids would be tired. We had to park about 2km away from the Hill, as there were A LOT of people. Things should quiet down a bit after the Illumination Ceremony, and street parking is free in the evenings.

I'm assuming the snow will stick around tomorrow, so if you plan on attending tomorrow night, make sure kids are bundled up really well. You may want to consider a sled if you have a long trek from the car, but make it a small plastic one that you can easily carry. The snow had turned to a huge sea of mush last year, and it was difficult walking. Prepare your kids for the crowds, or consider attending another night if your child has sensitivities to a lot of people/noise/lights.

christmas-lights

Anything else I should know?

In addition to the show, don't forget all the lights! Go for a walk in Confederation Park to see thousands of holiday lights on display. 

Another cool feature this year will be Prismatica, a major art installation. While attending the multimedia show on the Hill, visitors can walk among the 24 giant colourful prisms installed. See city life in every colour of the spectrum, and turn the prisms to make the colours dance!

Did you see the Christmas Lights Across Canada last year? Will we see you there tomorrow night?

Give the Gift of Learning to Read with Ooka Island

Some kids seem to pick up reading at an early age and are motivated to practice and improve. Other kids? Well, let's just say the process is not so smooth. Reading can be a hard skill to master, and those active little people in your life may be resisting your attempts to get them reading on a regular basis.

This holiday season, you may be tempted to run out to the bookstore and pick a number of books you think your child would like to read. While this sometimes works, there are other (easier!) ways to get their noses stuck in a book.

Ooka Island is an adaptive, game-based learn-to-read program that develops strong early reading skills through 24 levels of educational activities and 85 ebooks. Share your love of reading with a budding bookworm in your life by gifting them a subscription to learn-to-read on Ooka Island

Wait, what? Reading can become a game?

Yes! And a fun game at that! Lara's daughter begs to play this "computer game," and has given us her review of the program:

I like it because I can get a package of little books to read and you can play games. I also like the previews free play because as a reward for reading the books, you get to choose what you play. I also loves the alphabet song and the characters. Two more things I like: when you are rewarded with stickers and money to buy stuff like dogs, shorts, and bears.

Ooka Island makes you a promise: send your child to Ooka Island for 30 minutes, three times a week and they’ll graduate a confident reader in ONE YEAR. That's pretty impressive! Ooka also sends parents weekly progress reports that provide a detailed picture of where their child is excelling or having difficulty in reading. This actionable information empowers parents to maximize their child’s learning and to have meaningful and productive dialogue with teachers. 

How can I give the gift of reading?

Parents, grandparents, and family members will love that instead of buying another toy for the special child in their life, that they can give them the gift of reading with a ticket to Ooka Island, where children become confident, fluent readers.  If you have an emerging reader in your family, click here to give them the gift of reading this Christmas!

Giving the gift of reading is easier than ever. Ooka Island now allows family and loved ones to purchase a gift subscription (3 month or 1 year program) that can be redeemed at anytime by the recipient.  Every ticket to Ooka Island can be printed or sent to the recipient by email. With three gift subscriptions to choose from, Ooka Island is the perfect holiday gift for early readers!


Starter Subscription ($34.99 CDN / $29.99 USD)

Gift a 3 month starter subscription to Ooka Island and jumpstart them into reading. An excellent choice for any child!

1-Year Program ($99.99 CDN / $89.99 USD)

Gift a 12 month subscription and watch them become a confident reader! Recommended to complete program.

1-Year Program + Books* ($149.99 CDN & USD)

Gift little learners their first paperback library with a colorful collection of 11 Ooka books bundled with the 1-Year Program

*Shipping is free.
 

So if you are looking for a gift that will encourage a child's love reading a subscription to Ooka Island is perfect!

And don't forget to enter our Holiday Giveaway, where you get a chance to win a one year subscription to Ooka Island and a set of books!

This post is part of our 2016 Holiday Campaign, with support from Tag Along ToysThe Canadian Museum of NatureSaunders Farm and Ooka Island. Make sure to enter our giveaway!

Give the Gift of Experience: The Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature is known at our house as "the castle." Every time we pass the stately structure on the 417, my girls catch a glimpse and cry "the castle, the castle!"

Although it does not house any royals (of the human kind,) the Museum of Nature takes children on a wild ride through natural history, with world-class galleries featuring dinosaurs, mammals, birds, dazzling minerals and rocks, live invertebrates, and a water gallery with a 19 metre-long blue whale skeleton!

The 100 year-old museum building is 4 stories high, and children love to climb the stairs or ride the giant elevators. Each floor has permanent exhibits, as well as special exhibits that are open for months at a time (one of our favourites was Bugs Outside the Box, and we're excited to check out Reptiles).

In the fossil gallery, travel back in time to meet the dinosaurs

The water gallery holds a skeleton of the largest animal in the world, and is a family favourite.

The beautiful dioramas in the Mammal Gallery create life-like scenes of animals' habitats.

The Bird Gallery is my daughters' favourite

That's where they get to play "veterinarian" to all the sick birds. While they're distracted, I get to sneak over and read a bit about some of my favourite birds.

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Bug-loving kids will love Nature Live, where they can view live insects and participate in scientific activities.

And that's just the beginning! There is the Stone Wall Gallery, Earth Gallery, Canadian Wildlife Photography of the Year, and 3D movies. There are also the super popular adult programs, such as Nature Nocturne (with themes such as Chinese New Year or Halloween), and special brunches on New Year's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Easter.

So if you are looking for an experiential gift for your children (or pssst, grandparents! This makes a great gift for you and the kiddos too!) look no further than a yearly membership to "the castle."

And don't forget!! You have TWO MORE DAYS to enter our Holiday Giveaway, where you get a chance to win a yearly membership to the Canadian Museum of Nature!

This post is part of our 2016 Holiday Campaign, with support from Tag Along ToysThe Canadian Museum of NatureSaunders Farm and Ooka Island. Make sure to enter our giveaway!

Our Favourite Holiday Traditions

Every family has their special way of celebrating the holidays. From favourite movies and songs on the radio, to family gatherings and special presents, traditions help create lasting memories for children.

The Kids in the Capital team is excited to share some of our favourite Christmas traditions with you, and we've invited our holiday campaign sponsors to join in!

Misty

Growing up, my mom would buy my brother and me a children's book each year, and sign the inside with a quote or message. Now I have a huge stack of books that I read to my own children. I cherish these books so much!
Other family traditions included watching the BBC's "A Child's Christmas in Whales" and tracking Santa's progress on the radio.

Lara

"Each child receives a Christmas ornament every year, so they'll have a collection when they move out. Each ornament commemorates things they liked that year."

Tracy

"Every Christmas morning we check outside to see if Santa's reindeers left any hoof prints in the snow... which they always do (and they often look a lot like a horseshoe)." ;)

Here are some holiday traditions from our Holiday Giveaway sponsors: 

Saunders Farm

"While not open to the public anymore, Saunders Farm once housed a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm. Hundreds of guests would visit us each December for a chilly hayride to find their perfect tree, and then enjoy some hot chocolate by the bonfire in our 180-year-old Log Barn. Cutting Christmas trees is our favourite holiday tradition!"

Patti, Tag Along Toys

"We always let our son open one gift the night before Christmas and it is always a new pair of pajamas and a book."
Child reading with parents

Ooka Island

"A favourite holiday tradition is gifting each child in our lives a classic hardcover children's book for Christmas and writing an inscription on the inside along with the date." 

Canadian Museum of Nature

"We love hiding tiny reindeer in the exhibits during the holiday season. Fun for the kids to find!"

The holiday season is full of so many traditions including putting up Christmas lights, baking and, of course, quality family time. The Kids in the Capital team also seemed to share similar traditions, such as opening the gift of pyjamas on Christmas Eve.

What are your family traditions? Leave a comment and let us know!

This post is part of our 2016 Holiday Campaign, with support from Tag Along ToysThe Canadian Museum of NatureSaunders Farm and Ooka Island. Make sure to enter our giveaway!