Family Travel: Touring Montreal, Quebec in the Fall

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel. During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.


Leonard Cohen Mural Montreal.jpg

You know a city is cool when there is a huge mural of Leonard Cohen in the downtown. Of course, I am talking about Montreal. 

We saw the giant mural of Leonard as we headed towards the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I tried to explain the greatness of Leonard to our eleven-year-old son, David. I cited songs like Suzanne and Hallelujah but to no avail. At least, my wife Sandy and I have similar tastes in music. 

Egyptian Mummy Montreal.jpg

David was much more interested to check out the Egyptian mummies at the museum. The temporary exhibition features six mummies from the collections of the British Museum. The British Museum has always had the policy of not unwrapping any of the Egyptian mummies since it would cause extensive damage. Through the enhancement of CT scanner technology, it is now possible to do a 3D scan of the mummies revealing their internal organs. 

Aside from the interesting technology, there were numerous artifacts on display from the time period of the mummies. There were also videos to provide a context of what life would have been like in Egypt during this time. By the end of the exhibit, a person feels like they have a far better understanding of Egyptian mummies and ancient Egypt.

One thing I love about Montreal is that it is possible to get a cup of coffee and desserts outside of the major chains. We discovered a local place, Cafe Vasco da Gama close to the museum. We enjoyed a warm coffee and delicious Portuguese dessert on the street terrace. For a moment, I felt like I was in Lisbon, Portugal rather than Canada. 

It was time to check into our hotel. We love the Residence Inn by Marriott Montreal Downtown for a number of reasons. First is the location. The hotel is located right on Peel Street and is about a two-minute walk to the metro. We can park our car and then walk or take the metro everywhere. Also, the rooms have an in-suite kitchen and fridge which can help save on food costs. Finally, the staff have always been very friendly and have even encouraged my sometimes broken French. 

Chinese Lantern Festival.jpg

Being Montreal, the night was still young. We hopped on the metro over to Parc Jean Drapeau. The park is home to a new space called Espace 67. The area serves as a location for many of the large festivals in Montreal. We had come to check out Feux Follets. A simple description of Feux Follets would be to call it a Chinese Lantern festival but it was so much more than that.

We arrived on-site and were greeted by Chinese drummers. There was a huge variety of illuminated structures ranging from pandas to a huge Chinese pagoda. We also enjoyed a Chinese cultural show that featured song and dance. Some of the entertainment was more high-tech including an illuminated drone show that was set to music. 

Lantern Pandas Montreal .jpg

The highlight of the entire night was projections set against a huge water fountain in the middle of a lake. I have never seen anything like it. Images of lions and tigers danced across the water. It would be cool to see something like that in Ottawa perhaps at Dow’s Lake or the Ottawa River. 

Our night on the town was still not done as we headed back into downtown Montreal and visited Juliette & Chocolat The resto features everything crepes and chocolate. David chose a crepe that had hazelnut ice cream, Nutella, meringue and whipped cream. Needless to say, it was delicious. I was also impressed that he was able to sleep afterwards after ingesting so much sugar.

The next day, we started off with a huge buffet breakfast at the hotel. I saw a few tall young guys sporting the colours of my former alma mater, the University of Saskatchewan. They were members of the U of S basketball team and were in a match against Concordia. I am not sure the results of the match but I am sure the breakfast helped. 

After such a busy schedule the day before, we planned a more relaxed day. The only thing on the schedule was to visit a store that sold reptiles, Magazoo. David has loved reptiles since he has been three and that interest has not gone away. We took the metro to east Montreal and arrived at the store. The staff were very friendly and shared David’s love for reptiles. We also learned there is a large reptile show in Montreal every February so we are already planning our return trip. 

The best place to find out about the latest attractions and events in Montreal is at www.mtl.org.

As mentioned, we always stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Montreal Downtown. For more information, visit, www.marriott.com/montreal.

Disclosure: Stephen’s hotel and attractions were covered but all views are his own.

Family Travel: Brockville, Ontario

KITC would like to welcome back, guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival.  During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


For one weekend this summer, Brockville felt like it was one of the largest ocean ports in the world. Our family visited the Tall Ships Festival over the Labour Day weekend. 

We arrived at the Brockville Marina and things were already hopping at eleven in the morning. The festival gave a chance for people to get on board a Tall Ship. There must have been eight or nine tall ships in port. We walked around and picked climbed aboard a replica ship of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria. The amount of detail was amazing. It felt like we were stepping back five hundred years in history. 

Family Travel: Brockville Tall Ships Festival

Another highlight of the festival was seeing the continual comings and goings of the Tall Ships. At any point in the day, there was at least one or two majestically sailing on the St. Lawrence River. 

Our son, David, loved seeing the ships and also enjoyed seeing all the exhibits on display. We met John Casselman who was a retired Aquatic Biology professor from Queen’s University. He shared with us the different aquatic life found in the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes. David was fascinated as he would like to get into Marine Biology as a profession.

This was a perfect segue way for a visit to the Aquatarium. The Aquatarium features exhibits about both the historical and biological aspects of the St. Lawrence river. Naturally, David headed to the exhibits focused on biology. We first found the aquatic touch tank. I was somewhat tentative to touch all the creatures as I thought they may be slimy. David reached right in and did not give me a choice placing them in my hand as well. 

Our next stop was to see the river otters. It was fun to watch them diving and playing in the water. We would also like to return when they are being fed. 

The final display we checked out was one featuring various reptiles of the St. Lawrence. David was quickly able to identify all the different turtles and snakes. He gave me more facts about each reptile than I will ever remember. I guess he does have a future in biology.

Sadly, we did not explore all the exhibits as the Aquatarium was closing and we wanted to see more of the festival. We will definitely be making a return trip. 

Once leaving the Aquatarium, we went back down to the river and visited a display about the Canadian Coast Guard. One of the options was to take a ride on a small inflatable coast guard boat. We hopped on the boat and were cruising around the St. Lawrence. There were only nine of us on the boat so it gave us a chance to talk with the captain and another employee of the coast guard. Taking twists and turns on the boat, I felt like Relic from the TV show, The Beachcombers (ask your parents or maybe even your grandparents!).

Family Travel: Brockville



It was near the end of the day so of course we were hungry. I am sure there are many fine restaurants in Brockville but we always eat at Don’s Fish and Chips. It is hands down the best fish and chips we have ever tasted. 

With our fish and chips in hand our final stop was to the Bluenose II. Of course, we had to get a photo beside the huge dime with the Bluenose on the front. It seemed like the perfect way to wrap up the Tall Ships Festival with delicious seafood and experiencing Canadian naval history.

Family Travel: Brockville

There are plenty of other things to do in Brockville. The town is chock-a-block full of charming heritage buildings. A must is also the restored Brockville Railway Tunnel. It is possible to walk through the tunnel which is enhanced by beautiful LED lights and ambient music. Besides, it is free so life doesn’t get better.

For all events and attractions in Brockville, visit www.brockvilletourism.com.

Family Travel: Buffalo, New York

KITC would like to welcome back, guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival.  During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


Buffalo New York is a great place to visit with a family. You might think there is a typo in this sentence or it was April Fool’s day when I wrote this article. There is no typo and we are about six months away from April Fools. Buffalo may not be top of mind like Orlando or Hawaii but our family had an awesome trip to the city. Here are a few things we did. 

Family Travel: Buffalo NY

Buffalo Bisons Baseball Game - The Buffalo Bisons are the Triple AAA affiliate for the Toronto Blue Jays. In short, that means you get to see the future stars before they get inflated salaries and egos to match. We took in a game with the Bisons taking on the Syracuse Mets. 

Family Travel: Buffalo

We got to see Bo Bichette, who is now a major star for the Toronto Blue Jays. Aside from the baseball, there were plenty of other things to keep our interest. David spent much of his time trying to get on the stadium tv and succeeded. I had fun watching a drink vendor who wore the classic Saturday Night Live Conehead and had a jersey with Conehead on the back. 

The fans were some of the best I have ever met at a sports event. They were into the action and very friendly when I mentioned we were from Ottawa. The stadium is located downtown and even though it was constructed in 1987, it has a classic old-school feel. 

Buffalo Riverworks - Buffalo Riverworks are grain silos that have been converted into an entertainment complex. Activities include ziplining, a ropes course, brew pub and even an indoor roller-skating rink. Being from Saskatchewan, I never imagined grain silos could have so many different uses. 

Family Travel: Buffalo Riverside

David opted to try the zipline course which went between the grain silos. David tried all four ziplines. He ended up not making it all the way across two ziplines as he does not weigh a lot. The guides were great at assisting David. At no point was he in danger. The last zipline was quite comical as he was perched about ten feet over the crowd and everyone cheered when David made it to the end.

David’s thirst for adventure was temporarily quenched so we checked out the interior of Riverworks. There was a teen roller derby tournament going on. There were teams from various areas including Ontario. The space also featured a very popular brewpub. We did not try the food but it looked delicious.

Family Travel: Buffalo Riverside Roller Derby

There is also a ropes course, climbing wall and a skating rink in the winter. Definitely the coolest grain silo I have ever visited. 

Buffalo Canalside - Much of the resurgence of Buffalo can be credited to the development of the Buffalo waterfront. The day we visited the area known as canalside, there were fitness classes going on, a music festival and salsa lessons. There are plenty of restaurants in the area and a Tim Horton’s that even has a small exhibit about the Buffalo Sabres hockey team! 

Family Travel: Buffalo Canalside

There are also numerous family attractions including river cruises, a children’s museum and the Buffalo Naval and Military Park. David, Sandy and I enjoyed seeing the World War II naval ships and even a submarine. 

Martin House Complex and Buffalo Zoo - I have included both attractions since they are within easy walking distance of each other. The Martin House is a must see for an architecture fan. The complex was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright who is considered one of the leading American architects of the 20th Century. Both the exterior and interior of the buildings were stunning. We took the one hour tour which proved to be just right for David. Longer tours are offered and there are a number of other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the Buffalo area.

The Buffalo Zoo is only about a ten minute walk from the Martin House. The zoo is well worth a visit and has all the animals you might expect including lions, giraffes and gorillas. David’s favourite area was the amphibian and reptile center. The zoo is located in Delaware Park which would be a perfect place for a picnic before or after the zoo.

Where to eat - It would be remiss to visit Buffalo without trying chicken wings. I quickly learned that Bufallonians take their wings seriously. Ask for the best place and opinions will vary. It is generally accepted that the Anchor Bar was the birthplace of wings. The day we visited, the lineup was quite long so we picked Gabriel’s Gate restaurant. I can say the wings were the best I ever had. The sauce was evenly applied and the wings themselves were juicy. Nothing like the frozen ones I have tried from the grocery. 

Family Travel: Buffalo

We had a very comfortable stay at the Embassy Suites Buffalo. The hotel was located right downtown so was close to everything. Breakfast was also included. I can recommend the omelettes!

For more information about Buffalo, visit, www.visitbuffaloniagara.com

Disclosure: Stephen was comped for hotel and attractions for the purposes of this review, but all views are his own.

Family Travel: A Day Trip to Smiths Falls, Ontario

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


When I first moved to Ottawa in 2000, the town of Smiths Falls meant one thing to me - Hershey chocolate. The Hershey factory was then open in Smiths Falls. Every time family or friends would visit, it seemed like we were doing the factory tour and buying chocolate at their store. Unfortunately, the factory closed down in 2008 so my visits to the town diminished. 

The second wave of visits came when our son, David, went through his Thomas the Train phase. Smiths Falls is home to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario. We visited the museum numerous times including special events where David got to go for a train ride. This was exciting stuff, especially to four-year-old David who believed in Thomas almost as much as Santa Claus.

Now that David is eleven, we had not recently been back to the town but were looking for a day trip destination from Ottawa when my parents were visiting. Being only about an hour drive from our house, Smiths Falls was a perfect choice. We started the day off at the Heritage House museum. My Dad is a history buff so he enjoyed reading all about the house which was built in the 1860s. There was also a market day going on meaning local vendors and artisans were selling their products. A guitarist from the area provided the relaxing background music. 

Heritage House - Smiths Falls, Ontario

Heritage House - Smiths Falls, Ontario

Just a one minute drive from Heritage House was the Old Slys lock station on the Rideau Canal. I always love visiting the lock stations and would like to visit them all one day. It is amazing this piece of engineering from the 1830s is still in use today. We met a couple of workers as they cranked the lock open for an incoming boat. 

Rideau Canal Locks - Smiths Falls

Rideau Canal Locks - Smiths Falls

It was now time for some lunch. In the past few years, many new restaurants have opened in Smiths Falls. We heard the sandwiches at Cafe Whim were delicious so decided to check it out. We immediately felt at home as our server was very friendly. As promised, the sandwiches were huge and tasty. We all picked different sandwiches which allowed for sharing. 

Having had a hearty meal, the plan was to work some of it off. We headed to the local beach and made a cool discovery. There was a new water trampoline in the swimming area. David quickly changed and swam out to the trampoline. He jumped on the trampoline and slid down the mini-slide. After about fifteen minutes, one of the other kids playing yelled out “snake!” This word might frighten some kids but our son loves snakes. It was a northern water snake and did not pose a danger to any of the kids. I was only afraid that David might hop into the water and try to catch the snake a la Crocodile Dundee. 

The second part of David’s great adventure was to check out the beach and shallower swimming area. He soon discovered that there were crayfish at the bottom of the lake. It was not very deep so he decided to go swimming for the crayfish. We spent about the next forty minutes as David had the time of his life diving for crayfish. In total, he was able to catch and release two crayfish. My wife, Sandy, was not totally into the crayfish experience but she did take some awesome photos.

Swimming Area - Rideau Canal locks

I felt like the water trampoline added a lot. It felt like something you might see at the beach in the Riviera Maya. The shallow swim area was also perfect for younger children. The bottom was a bit rocky so swim shoes might be the way to go. 

We took a quick shower and were ready to see more of the town. We were still full from our hearty lunch so just needed a light snack. It was about 32 degrees Celsius outside so of course, the perfect choice was ice cream. We found an ice cream shop within walking distance, Sweet Scoops. The ice cream cones were affordably priced but more important were delicious. We did make an involuntary contribution to the sidewalk as our cones melted under the heat. It only gave us that much more reason to devour them quickly. 

Sweet Scoops, Smiths Falls

Sweet Scoops, Smiths Falls

For our last activity, we took in the Outerbridge Clockwork Mysteries show at the Station Theatre. The show features the magic of Ted Outerbridge and his partner Marion. Ted Outerbridge is one of the top illusionists in Canada so we felt fortunate to see him in such an intimate venue. 

The show was fast-paced and entertaining. Many of the tricks left us with our jaws dropped wondering how he did it. At one point, David wanted Sandy and I to give up our wedding rings for one of the tricks. I politely declined David’s offer to the magician as I tightly held my ring. Of course, all rings were safely returned to the participants.

Station Theatre, Smiths Falls

Station Theatre, Smiths Falls

Ted and Marion have recently moved to Smiths Falls which gave the performance a community feeling. People from out of town did not feel like they were crashing the event. More like they were joining the party. 

Ted performed his final trick of the evening and it was time for us to head back to Ottawa. The transformation of Smiths Falls has been incredible. I always liked the city but did not think of it as a top tourist destination. Additions like the water trampoline, family-friendly entertainment, and new restaurants have opened my eyes. We are planning to make a return visit later this summer and Hershey kisses have nothing to do with it. 

For more information about tourist attractions and the latest events, visit www.smithsfalls.ca.



KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


Some people say that Canadian history is boring. Perhaps they have never done the Haunted Walk Experience at the Mackenzie King Estate.

Two years ago, my wife, Sandy and our son, David, did a haunted walk tour around downtown Ottawa. Haunted walk are the tour guides who wear the black capes and carry the lanterns. We enjoyed our experience as we learned a lot of history about the city and was not too scary for children. 

When I saw they also offered haunted tours at Mackenzie King estate, it was on our summer to-do list!


We arrived at P6 parking lot well ahead of our 8:15 pm meeting time and explored a few of the trails. We were greeted by our black-cloaked tour guides who provided us with flashlights and also suggested applying a coat of bug spray. 

At 8:30 pm, we met our tour guide, Natasha, and we were off to hear ghost stories and explore the grounds of the estate. 


Mackenzie King is one of our most well-known prime ministers. King led us through a good portion of the Great Depression and World War II. He may be equally as well-known for participating in seances and believing in spiritualism. Ripe fodder for a ghost tour. 

The estate is divided up into two distinct areas. The first is Kingswood where Mackenzie King purchased his first property in 1903. Natasha took us to the main cottage and shared a few spooky stories about the cottage. King was particularly close to his mother and was devastated when she passed away. We were allowed to explore inside the rooms with our flashlight. I felt like I was on an episode of Ghost Hunters. 

We proceeded to the second and more grandiose section of the estate, Moorside. King developed this area after he became prime minister. He would receive foreign dignitaries and heads of state at Moorside. Natasha shared more information about King and some of the strange sightings at Moorside. 

We were again allowed to explore inside the building with our flashlights. After hearing some of the stories, David succeeded in scaring me! He snuck up behind me and said, “Hello Father.” I could have sworn it was Mackenzie King himself.

Our last stop was the Abbey Ruins. This was the scariest and most spectacular area of the estate. King was interested in architecture and would save portions of buildings that were being demolished. These included the parliament hill building which had been destroyed in the 1916 fire. We were treated to a clear sky where we could see the stars and moon. Natasha shared her creepiest stories and we all gripped our flashlights a little bit tighter. And they say Canadian history is boring. 


If you go - it is advised to bring mosquito spray as a good portion of the tour is outside in the evening so that means bugs. Also, coming to Mackenzie King Estate is not too difficult as all the parkways are open. Once the tour is done the main parkways are closed so this means taking back roads back to the highway. It may be helpful to have a GPS or a good map. As mentioned, the tour was not crazy scary and would be suitable for an older child, especially if he/she is into history. 

For more information and schedules visit, www.hauntedwalk.com

Full disclosure, Stephen’s tickets for various attractions were covered for the purposes of this blog post, but all opinions are his own.

Family Travel: Dynamic Earth, Sudbury, Ontario

I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, and although I didn't appreciate it as much at the time, it is a beautiful city with lots of things to do for families. A five-hour drive from Ottawa's west end, Sudbury offers families a plethora of beaches including Moonlight Beach, Bell Park, and Windy Lake and makes for a great long weekend destination.

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I now visit Sudbury twice a year, every spring and fall, to spend time with my grandfather. My most recent trip up was with my mom and my ten-year-old daughter. We all thought spring is the perfect time of year to check out one of Sudbury’s most popular tourist destinations, Dynamic Earth.

Of course, there is also Science North, which is known for its Bed of Nails, resident beaver and porcupine, flying squirrels, as well as many other interactive nature and science-related exhibitions. I hope to explore Science North again more when I return in the fall!

In the meantime, if you have never heard of the Bed of Nails before, check out this fun promotional video from Science North:

Dynamic Earth

This trip, we decided to visit Dynamic Earth. I hadn't been "down in the mines" since I was a kid and I was excited to share the Underground Tour experience with my daughter. When you arrive at Dynamic Earth, you are assigned a start time, which is typically every hour on the half hour. We got there 45 minutes before our underground tour started, so we took advantage of the additional exhibitions that are included with admission.

It was a beautiful day so we, of course, took the opportunity to snap pictures of the infamous Big Nickel that stands on the top of the hill at Dynamic Earth. The Big Nickel is a replica of the 1951 Canadian nickel and has been a selfie hotspot since before selfies were a thing! According to the Dynamic Earth website it, “symbolizes the wealth that Sudbury has contributed to the Canadian economy through nickel production.” I love that access to the nickel is barrier-free, which means anyone can walk or use a wheelchair to get up close with the Big Nickel. You may have heard that there were once other large coin monuments that shared space with the Big Nickel… you can learn what happened to them by visiting the Big Nickel, but I still believe the rumour that they rolled away. ;)

The always accessible Big Nickel

The always accessible Big Nickel

After visiting the Big Nickel, my daughter explored the Outdoor Science Park. This park is unlike any other! It features science and mining themed play structures, vehicles and slides safe and fun for kids of all ages. My daughter lived sliding down the “molten slag” slide towards a real slag pot and climbing the net climbing structure.

When we finally ventured back inside, we spent time learning about colour minerals on the mineral wall and playing in the mine training centre downstairs that featured virtual operating equipment such as a rock breaker, excavator and mining drone.  

Dynamic Earth Sudbury Activities.jpg

Of course, the real attraction was the underground tour. The tour starts by taking a big glass-windowed elevator down seven storeys. The guided group tour takes you through their demonstration mines through the ages. During the approximately hour-long underground tour, you learn the evolution of mining in the Sudbury region from the turn of the century to modern mining and also includes a mock-dynamite explosion. It's unlike any other tour I have been on, and I found it very interesting to learn about what went on under the ground all those years of living there. Also, you can purchase a postcard at the gift shop before heading down and mail it in their underground mailbox – a fun way to let others know how much fun you’re having! It’s a very realistic experience and makes you appreciate the dark and damp conditions miners continue to work in every day!

Dynamic Earth Underground Tour.jpg

If you’re planning a family trip to Sudbury, Ontario make sure to include Dynamic Earth! Here are some tips to make the most out of your time there: 

  • Pick up your underground tour pass for the next available tour time as soon as you arrive (you may be tempted to visit the Big Nickel first, but depending on when you arrive there will be plenty of time to do that!).

  • The temperature underground is approximately 13C (55F), so make sure you are dressed for cool and damp conditions by bringing a jacket and wearing running shoes.

  • I recommend the underground tour for children aged three and up, but there are strollers available underground!

  • It is dark when you first get in the elevator and when you first arrive underground. Make sure little ones are prepared by letting them know it will be dark, but also that there will be lights and that they are safe.

  • There are flashing lights.

  • There is a café on site if you want a quick bite to eat as well as numerous bathrooms.

  • Dynamic Earth is typically closed from October to March each year.

  • The Big Nickel is free to visit any time of the year!

For more information on Dynamic Earth, visit: https://sciencenorth.ca/dynamic-earth/.


Disclaimer: I received passes to Dynamic Earth for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are my own.