The award for most flagrant misuse of an exclamation point can only go to “Back to School!”, a phrase coined by advertising execs who have managed to forget the bittersweet, oblique pain these last two weeks of summer inflict on school-age kids. So why not give the kids one last hurrah in Montreal this summer before the school bell tolls: get to know nature, play in the park, ride a roller coaster, swim, eat and enjoy these final summer days to the max…
(adventures in edutainment) Perhaps the biggest coup of the modern science museum was cornering the market on hands-on exhibitions – I mean, is there anything at the Montreal Science Centre that you’re not allowed to touch? Well, maybe the light switches. Among the many permanent science and tech fun and games at the centre right now is the Indiana Jones exhibition, a fact-meets-fiction adventure in archaeology. And rest your tired feet at the IMAX cinema, currently showing the intense Rescue 3D, an insiders’ view of rescue operations in humanitarian crisis situations, and, perhaps more suited to younger viewers, Born to Be Wild, a film that follows endangered animals in their natural habitat and what is being done to keep these species alive and well.
(natural wonders) Taking the kids to the park to burn off some of that endless kid-energy is a no-brainer, whether you’re on vacation or not – many of Montreal’s parks offer more than the standard swings and teeter-totters, however. Take the metro to Pie IX station for one-stop-family-fun at the Montreal Biodome, Botanical Gardens and Insectarium – tour various ecosystems, learn about biodiversity with hands-on exhibitions and contribute to a more environmentally sustainable future. Or take the metro over to Jean Drapeau Park and spend the day at the Biosphere, a fascinating eco-museum housed in a massive geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller.
(fun fair) Nothing says pre-teen summer fun and freedom like being allowed to call two hot dogs and a head-sized ball of cotton candy a “meal” and then getting to ride the rollercoaster four times in a row. Because, hey, maybe the most important part of being a kid is learning from your mistakes. Amusement park La Ronde is like a safe zone for minor mistake-making and major fun. Of course, height requirements might mean you’ll have to opt for La Ronde’s more adorable rides like the Joyeux Moussaillons and Marais Enchanté, instead of scaring yourself and the kids silly on thrill rides like Goliath, Monstre, Super Manège and Ednor-L’attaque. All of which are AWESOME.
(water wings) It may be the end of the summer, but the weather’s still warm and sunny – perfect for family afternoons at the pool. The swimming pools and diving platforms at Jean Drapeau Park are perfect for swimmers of all ages and abilities. In town, north of the Plateau neighbourhood, the large pool at Jarry Park (the original home to Montreal Expos baseball) is free and open until August 26, and the smaller outdoor pool at picturesque Sir-Wildfred-Laurier Park (at Laurier and de Brebeuf) is open until August 28.
(hidden places and spaces) Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal’s museum of archaeology and history, is the kind of place that can make a person, even a kid, forget that museums were ever boring. During all of August, also known as Archaeology Month, the museum gives Family Exploration Tours for kids aged 7-12: learn about Montreal’s origins with a storytelling rat leading the way through the collection and underground caverns. In the last weekend of August, travel through time at Pointe-à-Callière’s 18th-Century Public Market, with farmers, craftspeople and entertainers evoking the spirit of 1750, plus tours for kids interested in the real-life work of archaeologists.
(feed the children) It’s not necessarily a truism that all kids love junk food – I’ve seen kids choose carrots and kale over french fries – but when on vacation, junk food often seems like the cheap and easy solution to the family-friendly meal problem. Thankfully, Quebec culture caters to the sweet-toothed and carb-craving – no need to hit up the big-brand fast-food joints here. Of course Montreal certainly has many a gourmet bistro and hip-and-healthy restaurant, but there’s no denying that this town is also a mecca for Quebecois no-nonsense versions of hot dogs (steamies at La Fleur, fries and poutine of all kinds at La Banquise), burgers and veggie burgers (there are many good ones, and I’m not opening that particular debate up here, but check out La Paryse as an option), and ice cream (with new joints popping around every corner it seems.)