Montgomery's Inn was built in 1830. It is worth visiting just for the fact that there are not many historical buildings in and around Toronto. Montgomery's Inn once served as a shelter, community hub and restaurant right up until 1850 when one of the original owners, Margaret Montgomery died. Now it is a great place to go with the kids to get a glimpse at a yesteryear when life was not entirely dependent on technology. Visitors can take self-guided tours for a low price, walking through the open-hearth kitchen and the sitting area. It is like stepping through the pages of a Jane Austin novel, which is a shocking contrast to the very modern city that surrounds.
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Montgomery's Inn stands out as a great place to listen to classical music, eat organic food and marvel as what a difference 180 years has made.
Courtney's expert tip: Try to visit Montgomery's Inn on a Wednesday, when they have their year-long farmer's market from 2-6pm. The wood-fired handmade bread is made in the outdoor oven and it sells out incredibly quickly. Work hard at getting a loaf.
Taking your kids to the historic home of one of Toronto's first architects may seem laughable. Have we met your children? Gazing at watercolours is hardly a hobby of theirs. However, we are almost as interested in the environs of this historical site as we are the kid-friendly activities within it. Besides the requisite birthday parties and day camps, there are a ton of seasonal activities attached to this home, including Easter egg hunts in Toronto's verdant High Park. John and Jemima Thomas, the original owners of the house, decreed that the park remain free for the enjoyment of "the citizens in Toronto." Even though your kids may have a free ride, it is good for them to recognize that it is historical kindness that leads to low dollar experiences.
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Lots of space for your little rascals to run amuck, with just enough culture to help them to one day become responsible citizens.
Courtney's expert tip: Social media is the way to go to make sure that there is a kid's friendly activity on the agenda the weekend you are visiting. If not, there is a whole lot of incredible green space for your free-range children to roam.
At first glance, ceramics might not seem like your kid's idea of a good time. However, workshops provide the tactile pleasure of clay for all ages. Squishy, slippery clay running through your kids' fingers may spark appreciation for the extensive ceramic art, from pottery to porcelain. Although this art is delicate, the collection impressively showcases work from the Mayan and pre-Columbian period without many cracks. The work is now well protected from butterfingers, and the striking design of the building has won architectural awards. It is a first-rate experience in a small space, with a great cafe to take a hot chocolate break in the middle of your day.
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: A stupendous array of modern and ancient styles of ceramic art right in the centre of the city. Kid and adult friendly.
Courtney's expert tip: Family Days occur every Sunday, and the programming is free with admission. From scavenger hunts to painting and clay workshops, it is a great deal for those days when the kids are going a little stir crazy.
Your kids already spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to tie their shoes. Take a couple of hours with them to stare at shoes together. If you need to convince your tweens, the words "Justin Bieber's shoes" should do the trick. Adults can be wistfully entertained by John Lennon's Chelsea style ankle boots, or Marilyn Monroe's sexy red stilettos. On weekends, small children are encouraged to try on shoes and participate in shoe-themed arts and crafts. Your princess lover will be enthralled by the fairy-tale inspired area in "All About Shoes." We know that clothing makes the man, but it may instead be the shoes that can take the glory.
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: This modern five-story building is North America's largest shoe museum and there is something for everyone.
Courtney's expert tip: In the summer, the Bata Shoe museum has a great daycare and day camp program. Seeing your barely walking toddler wobble around in a replica of Dorothy's ruby slippers is worth the price of admission. Save your ticket, as it has a Reciprocal Admissions program with three other Toronto museums.
Step into another world in the 19th century by visiting Black Creek Pioneer Village. This heritage museum is a welcome alternative to screaming at the kids "Get some fresh air!" You can collectively breathe in a simpler time. There are 35 restored buildings from the 1860s, showcasing dying arts such as milling, quilting and hearth cooking. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker prove how modern life may be busier than ever, but in may ways, we have it good. Every week there are kid's programs that involve tours, baking, and during the holidays, even chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Literally.
A hall of fame as much as a museum, The Hockey Hall of Fame is a must for any lover of hockey (or lover of Canada, for that matter). There is nothing quite as cool for a player as being "hall called" and the 400 inducted members are a thrill to see. Visiting this museum will help to clarify the die-hard passion of Torontonians over their beloved (but often poorly performing) Maple Leafs. Like a sports magazine come to life, there are exhibits about players, statistics and some NHL trophies, including the Stanley Cup (with a replica Stanley cup available for a photo opportunity). There is also a replica of the Montreal Canadiens' locker room and a space to practice your slapshot. Enjoy taking lots of pictures: it is encouraged!
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Very hockey, very Canadian and very kid-friendly. There are many exhibits to help to stoke your hockey addiction.
Courtney's expert tip: If you are visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame, take the TTC and get off at Union station. The area is usually under a great deal of construction and finding parking will be close to impossible.
Come with your family to Family Sundays, which happen most Sundays from 1-4pm. From collaborative painting workshops to bilingual French/English weekends, it is a great way to help your kids to develop an artistic side. Tweens and teens will love the "Free after Three" program, which is as it sounds with weekly workshops from breakdancing to Aerosol Art (if you want to actively encourage graffiti).The Art Gallery of Ontario, with its high ceilings, light spaces and spiral staircases would be enough art even without the paintings on the walls. However, the art is indeed amazing, from the exhibitions to the galleries. The Group of Seven are a must see. The gallery also impresses with its wide range of programming, from free tango lessons to weekly art classes of all styles.
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The ongoing Kids' Gallery opened in December 2013 and wholeheartedly encourages exploration, imagination and creation.
Courtney's expert tip: If you are a Toronto resident, pick up the Sun Life Museum + Arts pass using your library card at your local library. Check the library website for availability but scoring one could let 2 adults and 5 children in for free.
The Royal Ontario Museum is not to be missed, and you also literally cannot miss it. The main entrance reopened in 2007; a stunning piece of architecture resembling a crystal by David Libeskind. It reinvented the previously tired facade of the ROM (as the museum is often abbreviated) and put a fresh face on this house of ancient artifacts. Inside, the spacious grounds include featured exhibitions of world-renouned art, dinosaur bones that will dwarf your tallest friend and even a Ming tomb. Kids are welcomed with open arms with a "Hands-on Gallery of Biodiversity" on Level 2. Parents can finally stop saying "Don't touch that!" and kids will eat through some of their energy by crawling in and out of a fox's den. Do also make sure to take the little ones to the Bat Cave, which has a simulated natural habitat with a dramatization of bats.
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The ROM will interest even the most tech driven child and will provide a passport to the world in one day.
Courtney's expert tip: The Saturday morning club and drop in programs will keep the kids entertained and inspired. Every couple of months, the ROM has a sleepover which has everything from a screening of "Night at the Museum" to PJ Karaoke. It is the ultimate museum experience for kids.
We may classify The Children's Discovery Centre as more child-friendly than family-friendly, but happy kids mean a smoother bedtime and a sooner happy hour. This children's museum has been designed by a team of early childhood development professionals, meaning that learning sneaks into fun activities. The activities are designed for the young in mind (between 0 and 6) with 20,000 square feet of space where kids can dress up, paint, sing, read and more. Currently a grassroots project, they are searching for a permanent home but will be open in this location until July 2016 at the earliest.
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: An indoor educational play centre that will prime kids 0-6 for life in the museum world.
Courtney's expert tip: They are closed Monday-Wednesday, but it is possible to book the space for one heck of a birthday party or school visit.
Visiting the Ontario Science Centre is a great way to connect with your inner Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Even kids who don't seem keen on science will be enthralled by over 800 interactive exhibits. This museum of science is designed to spark curiosity and even spark you with high-voltage electricity (pain free) to make your hair stand on end. Visit a simulated rain forest, examine a real human brain and take a visit to the Moon and Mars. During the week, the Science Centre can be busy with a lot of school trips, but it is definitely a great time for the kids, who are even taught to make their own short films by taking scenes of objects. Bring the kid who likes to ask the question "Why?" He or she will get a whole lot of answers.
Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The hands-on approach of the Ontario Science Centre will please kids of all ages, making science feel like an extension of playing.
Courtney's expert tip: The Science Centre is quite far from Toronto's city centre, so be sure to allocate a lot of time to make it worth your while. If you plan on going to an Imax film, make sure to get the admission + movie bundle, which can save you up to $7.