Summer of Awesome – Mini Golf Gardens

It took me years, years to admit that I have a secret love: mini golf. Oh, I try to play it cool, act like it’s no big thing, it’s “for the kids.” But I have to admit that it’s me who loves the putt putt. It’s not even about the competition or the personal challenge of achieving par or the thrill of the hole-in-one. It’s just about the mental challenge of calculating the angles. And also, the little coloured balls.

I’m a junkie.

So I took the kids to check out Mini Golf Gardens, which is an outdoor mini putt place at the corner of Merivale and Colonnade, that’s only open in the summer months (April through October). It’s straight up mini golf here; two courses, each 18 holes, and nothing else. Just you, the putter, and open expanses of fake green grass.


Mini Golf Gardens

Both courses are really pretty, with waterfalls and streams and trees, and also well thought out. It’s not the kind of place with giant windmills and or loop-the-loops for the balls. Instead, the course relies more on wacky bumps, bridges, and barriers to make it interesting. I personally found the two courses to be the perfect combination of challenging and fun. The kids were well able to handle it – my nine-year-old and seven-year-old were able to get par a few times, and finished the courses in about 65 strokes, which is not too shabby.

Mini Golf Gardens

The five-year-old did a lot of stick-handling moves with her putter. We were down with that, too. Meanwhile, I got three holes-in-one. I ROCKED it.

Mini Golf Gardens

It’s a lovely little course, a nice place to spend a morning or afternoon outside, and a good challenge for both kids and adults. It will take you about an hour and a half to do both courses. Plus, I’d recommend stopping halfway through for a visit to the tuck shop, which features ultra-rare banana slushies, along with other drinks and treats. It’s a little exposed in spots, so be sure to wear sunscreen and bring hats.

Mini Golf Gardens is probably not the cheapest miniputt in town – $9 adults, $7.50 for kids under 12. But for a junkie like me, it was well worth it – definitely my favourite of all the courses we’ve done in Ottawa.

We’ll be back. I have like, five other ball colours to get through!

Summer of Awesome – RCMP Stables

Recently my two daughters have become obsessed with horses. They both claim that they want to learn to ride – no doubt they have images in their heads of their hair flowing in the wind as they race towards the sunset, bow and arrow in hand just like Merida in the film Brave.

I have to admit, I am pretty skeptical that their reaction to riding a real-life horse will be quite so dreamy.

So I thought I’d ease them into it by visiting the RCMP Stables. It’s where they train the horses for the Musical Ride, and I was hoping an up-close-and-personal encounter with an enormous, black horse would knock the request for riding lessons right out of ’em.

The stables are in Rockcliffe and are open every day in the summer from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is where they train and house the horses for the famous Musical Ride. During the summer, the 36 horses that are part of the Musical Ride are on tour, but there are still about 60 other horses in the stables – these are horses that have been retired from the ride, or young new horses who are just starting their training.

So the first thing you need to do when you get there is find the entrance, which (memo to the RCMP) is not very clearly marked. Here’s the building:

RCMP Stables Building

The entrance is the one on the far left hand end, behind the giant tree, that has a sign that says, “Lost and Found.” OF COURSE.

The door leads you straight into the gift shop (OF COURSE), and you have to go through the gift shop to get to the museum part. The museum is a few small rooms that talk about the history and function of the RCMP, and the details of the Musical Ride.

We learned about the RMCP’s bomb disposal unit:

Bomb Disposal Unit helmet

The kind of horses that are picked for the ride (must be almost all-black, 16 hands high):

Museum Display

And we saw the carriage that is used for visiting heads of state, including Will and Kate last year on Canada Day:

Will and Kate sat here!

There’s also a video playing with footage of the actual Musical Ride, if you’ve never had a chance to see it.

A tour leaves about once every half hour from the museum section and lasts about 20 minutes. You’ll get a chance to see the Musical Ride practice area:

Musical Ride rehearsal area

(This area is also open to the general public, you can come and watch them practicing which takes place most weekday mornings in the winter – call them for the schedule.)

You’ll see the tack room and the ferrier’s workshop:

Ferrier's Workshop

You’ll see horses (yay!):

RCMP Stables

You’ll learn about how they name the horses (did you know there’s a naming contest every year, in the spring?), how they choose the horses, and how the selected officers learn to ride.

Name Tags from Retired Horses

After the tour, you’re welcome to walk behind the stables where they have a training area. When we were there, two riders were working with a new young horse and we were allowed to watch if we were VERY quiet.

Training Area

Out front, two RCMP officers in full uniform allowed us to get up close and personal with the horses:

RCMP Officers

That was probably the best part. We were able to pet the horses, chat with the officers (SO NICE), and we learned a few extra details, like how they brush-in a maple leaf pattern on the the horses’ backsides before taking them out on rides. Cool.

I liked this visit because it felt like we were really learning something about Canada. We have, unfortunately, never actually seen the Musical Ride itself, so this was a great introduction. However, it was a pretty small place – we were able to cover the whole museum, the tour, and the visit with the officers in about an hour and a half. So it fits nicely in between naptimes, but if your kids are older, you can probably combine this visit with another event.

Also, word of warning: your secret plan to avoid riding lessons may backfire, and the budding love of horses may turn into full blown adoration. DAMMIT.

Summer of Awesome – National Gallery of Canada

Last week I took the kids to the National Gallery to see the Van Gogh exhibit, which is in town only until September. The kids complained LOUDLY and FREQUENTLY about being made to visit the art gallery. I suspect that they saw it as more of a homework/school type outing than something really fun. It probably didn’t help that Gal Smiley did a unit on Van Gogh in art class this year so I kept saying how wonderful it was that she could see some of his work in person, how enriching and what a great opportunity.

No wonder they think Sir Monkeypants is the fun one.

Anyway, we went. And we did have a pretty good time overall.

National Gallery of Canada

Here are some things you will NOT be doing at the National Gallery, if you attend with your young children:

  • sitting and gazing quietly before a favourite work of art, as you contemplate its deeper meaning
  • wandering joyfully through back galleries as you discover new artists to love
  • sharing teachable moments with your children as you open their eyes to the wonderful process that is man’s artistic growth

No, you will not.

However! Fun can still be had, if you keep a few things in mind.

Arrive Late. The museum opens at 10 a.m., but there’s no point in getting there before 11. That’s when the Artissimo program opens. Artissimo is the gallery’s program for kids and it is excellent and fun and awesome, and SO much better than just wandering through the galleries aimlessly with children who would rather be jumping on stuff. It runs only on the weekends during the year but in the summer, the program is open every day.

What makes Artissimo so great? It’s a wide variety of activities meant to engage the younger crowd. First of all, kids aged 3 and up can make their own work of art, using real art paper and a stellar selection of tools. Gal Smiley created this lion picture using watercolour pencils – pencil crayons that create a paint effect when water is added.

Gal Smiley artwork, National Gallery of Canada

To help kids explore the gallery, there’s also two self-guided tours you can take – one about animals in art, one about cool architecture. There’s an audio tour, where you are led to certain artworks and then you play a sound, and try to connect the two. There are costumes where you can dress up and pretend to be people from various pictures.

And best of all, there’s the dolls.

William the Doll, Artissimo Program, National Gallery of Canada

This is William. He’s one of five different gorgeous, painstakingly detailed dolls that are part of the Artissimo program. You can sign out a doll, then search the gallery (with some hints and clues) to find the painting featuring the character. My girls loved this activity, we did every single doll and learned a lot about art in the process. It was the clear highlight.

Visit the Van Gogh exhibit, but have low expectations. The Van Gogh exibit is really, really good. It does not feature his most famous works – no Starry Nights or Sunflowers or self-portraits with missing ears. However, it does include dozens of his other paintings and the way they are laid out clearly traces the paths of his various influences.

I learned a lot about his style, his use of colour, and his favourite themes, and all that despite racing through the exhibit at top speed. My kids complained a LOT during the exhibit – shuffling through rooms of art, surrounded by crowds, was SO BORING they could just DIIIIIIIIE. So we hurried through, but even then they couldn’t avoid picking out a favourite painting or two, and learning a little bit along the way.

Plus, there’s an interactive room near the end where you can create your own work of art on an iPad; do a large magnetic wall puzzle; listen to Van Gogh-era music; and write a letter to Van Gogh and receive an email reply in his own words. The lady running this room (Maddie, I think) was super welcoming to the kids and they really had fun here.

As an added bonus, kids under 12 are free – so it only cost me my own entry fee, $25, which also covered my museum admission.

Follow the rules, Oh my heavens, the National Gallery is a rules-y kind of place. They are BIG on the rules. And you will be warned, repeatedly, to FOLLOW THE RULES.


No backpacks are allowed, no kinds of large bags or anything you would carry on your back or waist. Ladies can bring a handbag if it isn’t too big, and I believe you can get an exception for diaper bags. My kids are big enough now that I don’t need to carry diapers around, but I do like to bring our own snacks due to the food allergy thing, so I often use a backpack – at the gallery, you have to check it. Speaking of snacks, the cafeteria there is a little high class – soups and fancy salads type fare – so if your kids are more of a chicken nuggets and french fries crowd, you may wish to bring your own food (in a checked backpack, of course) or perhaps plan your trip between mealtimes.

No photos of any kind allowed anywhere, except in the open glassed-in tower where the Artissimo program runs. (I may have taken that photo of William the doll, above, in the bathroom. I admit nothing.) If they even see you thinking about taking out your camera, they’re on you.

No getting too close to the art. No touching the art! No breathing on the art. That’s too close. Maybe you shouldn’t even LOOK AT THE ART.


I swear every single security guard in the place came over to us and warned us, in every single room, about stepping back from the art. My kids aren’t even that young – 9, 7, and 5. I can’t imagine the headache involved in trying to explain to your two year old why that line of bricks on the floor is art, and we musn’t touch it, or step on it, or come within three feet of it. GAH.

So be sure to travel light, leave your camera in your handbag, and stay back. FARTHER BACK.

Once we were done with the Van Gogh exhibit and settled into the Artissimo stuff, my kids relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Despite their best efforts, they even learned something, as demonstrated by the quiz I gave them on the ride home.

Told you I’m not the fun one.

Summer! Of! Awesome! 2012!

Summertime is almost upon us, and that means it’s time to Bring the Awesome. Unlike my Year of Epic posts, the Summer of Awesome is less about one-time events, and more about taking time to visit all the great ongoing attractions this city has to offer. I like to think of it as being a tourist in my own town.

It’s not enough, for me at least, just to make the list of places to go and things to see. I also actually schedule everything on our calendar. It’s not set in stone – I can make adjustments if the weather is bad or we’re just too tired. But I find unless I actually write it down, then it’s too easy to spend our days lazing around, playing endless Lego, and eventually, coming to vicious blows and wiping each other out.

Talk about Summer of DOWNER.

Over the past couple of years I have accumulated a huge list of things to do in Ottawa. One family can’t possibly do everything on the list in one season, so we’ll be picking and choosing. We’ve happily been able to visit many of the places on the list, so we’ll be giving them a break this year in favour of new things. Of course, there’s always places that we loved so much, we will be back every year that the kids can stand it. AWESOME.

Just for complete awesomeness, I’m going to list here everything that we’ve done in the past or would like to do in the future, but there’s no way we’ll actually do all this stuff. I’ve put an asterisk next to things that I plan to actually do this year, for Summer of Awesome 2012.

I hope you’ll make your own list – maybe some things from here, maybe some of your own ideas. I love reading about other people’s summer plans so please drop me a line or leave me a comment letting me know what you’re looking forward to this season.

Anyway, here goes:


Scheduled Events

Late June – RCMP Musical Ride
July 1 – Canada Day on Parliament Hill – there’s also annual celebrations in Kanata, Barrhaven, and Orleans
August long weekend – Sparks Street Busker Festival
Mid-Late August – Lumiere Festival
Labour Day weekend – Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival


Classic About Town Attractions

Museum of Civilization
Museum of Nature
* Museum of Science (be sure to go on a day when the steam train is running, which I think are Sundays and Wednesdays, or better yet, go during Railway Weekend, July 21/22; there’s also evening stargazing on July 6 and August 10)
Museum of Agriculture
* Aviation and Space Museum
* National Art Gallery (Artissimo crafts run on Sat and Sun at 11 a.m. over the summer)
War Museum
Currency Museum
* The City Museums – Pinhey’s Point, Billings Bridge Estate, Cumberland Heritage Museum (Pinhey’s Point in particular has kids’ activities and workshops all summer long, which we plan to check out this year)
Mackenzie King Estate
Watson’s Mill
* Parliament Hill Tours (also check out Fortissimo, a massed military band, August 9-11, or Mosaika, an amazing sound and light show running nightly from July 6 through September 3)
Rideau Hall (be sure to catch the simple Changing of the Guard ceremony that happens hourly, or pop by on Friday afternoons for storytime)
* RCMP Stables
NAC – did you know you can tour the NAC every Monday, Wednesday, or Friday at 11 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., for free?


Free (or Nearly Free) Activities About Town

* The Public Library (Just a quick word here: the city’s libraries offer more than just books. There’s a reading club all summer long, where you can earn prizes for reading, but even more than that, almost all branches offer a ton of fun classes, workshops, and activities. I was going to list some here but there are literally SO many, it would take me all day – just for any one given branch! So click here and go find some activities at your local branch – most require preregistration.)
* Splash pad parks
* Hiking in the Greenbelt – I particularly recommend the Stony Swamp Trails, one of which leads to the Wild Bird Care Centre, which you can visit for free any afternoon; or Mud Lake (link leads to Dani’s excellent description of her family’s visit)
* Alcatel-Lucent bike days on the parkway
* Picnic and rock balancing at Bate Island
* Byward Market walk and browse (well, free-ish, if you can stop yourself from buying up ALL THE FOOD); also many other Farmer’s Markets including the Carp Market, Parkdale Market, and Ottawa Farmer’s Market – see a comprehensive list of Ottawa markets over at OttawaStart)
Gatineau park (hiking, biking, camping, beaches, and caves)
* A Company of Fools – Shakespeare in the park for a modern audience
Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame
* Backyard events: water balloons, tea parties, backyard camping, gardening
* Cruise night at Hazeldean Mall, Tuesdays
* Ottawa Beaches
* Ottawa indoor and outdoor pools (okay, not free, but pretty close)
* Strawberry Picking – Cannamore Orchard (also lots of other activities here – make it a day trip!), Dekok Family Berry Farm, Shouldice – Three Locations, Proulx Berry Farm


Fancy Pants Activity Centres and Shops

* Altitude Gym Clip and Climb
Lafleche Adventure Park – including caving and aerial climbing courses
* Ray’s Reptiles
* Saunders Farm
Karters’ Korner
Valleyview Little Animal Farm
La Fleche Caves
Cosmic Adventures
Midway Family Fun Park
* Pinto Valley Ranch
* Capital City Speedway – the best value is the Capital City Summer Slam, held the first or second weekend in September – a whole day’s worth of races plus monster trucks, WOOT
Putting Edge
* Mini Golf Gardens
Skyzone Ottawa
Merivale Bowling
Ottawa Fat Cats Baseball Game (possibly in their last season)
Ottawa Fury Soccer Game (read about our super fun trip to see the Fury here)
* Chinatown Day Trip featuring The Daily Grind Cafe (sells gluten-free, vegan treats which my allergic kid an actually eat – very exciting!), Global Homeware, Kowloon Market, Bubblicity – see Andrea from the fishbowl‘s great post on how to do Chinatown right
* Movies – oh how I miss AMC’s $1 summer movies, now cancelled. GAH. However, it’s still cheap if you hit the AMC before noon (tickets are half price)
Urban Quest (great for slightly older kids or teenagers)
Haunted Walk of Ottawa
Boat Tours: Pirate Adventures, Paul’s Boat Lines
Creative Places: Gotta Paint, 4Cats, The Mud Oven, Sassy Bead Company
* Dairy Queen – we usually go once to mark the beginning of summer; our super allergic kid gets a slushy; there’s also great treats to be had at Menchies, Kiwi Kraze, or for the super allergic, coconut ice cream at Thimblecakes Cafes (now in Barrhaven)
* Destination Shopping Spots: Chapters Kanata or Indigo Barrhaven, The Comic Book Shoppe, Kaleidescope Kids, Playvalue, Toys on Fire


Day Trips/Out of Town

(obviously there’s endless possibilities here, but these are some we have tried and loved, or would like to try)
* Mont Cascades or Calypso water parks
Papanack Zoo
Parc Omega
Granby Zoo
Camp Fortune
* Camping weekend at a provincial park
* Biodome
1000 islands boat cruise to Boldt Castle – read Allison’s review of it here
Upper Canada Village
Wakefield Steam Train (closed this year; hoping to reopen a limited part of the track in 2014)
Toronto activities: Canada’s Wonderland, Museum of Science, Zoo, Centre Island, CN Tower, Casa Loma
Niagara Falls: including Maid of the Mist and Marineland