Montreal with the kids
Have the family with you at the conference? Perfect. There's plenty to do
Mixing conferences and family holidays isn’t always easy. Simple things like finding a restaurant with highchairs or a way to occupy unchaperoned teens while you’re in meetings can become odysseys that shipwreck trips — especially when both parents are attending the convention.
This year, the conference of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the 2011 Family Medicine Forum, takes place in Montreal from November 3 to 5 at the Palais des congrès in the city’s downtown core. Organizers expect many participants to arrive with family. While the dense urban mix can sometimes seem as daunting as its late-fall climate (daily highs average 5ºC; weather ranges from beautifully crisp days to snow flurries), Montreal’s downtown is safe, welcoming, and full of character.
There’s also a wealth of things to do with kids, much of it quickly reached on foot or by public transport from the area around the convention centre. Unless you want to go further afield, a rental car is not a necessity. Apart from the extensive bus and subway network (le Métro), hailing one of Montreal’s ubiquitous taxis on the street is much easier than trying to negotiate the city’s hectic traffic and byzantine parking regulations (taxi fares across downtown rarely climb above $12).
From the Palais des congrès, it’s a 10-minute walk north to rue Sainte-Catherine, Montreal’s main shopping and entertainment drag. One block east of the convention centre is Chinatown, full of restaurants and the lower end of boulevard Saint-Laurent, which divides the city into east and west. The Palais des congrès also has its own Métro stop (Place-d’Armes) and is linked to 4000 hotel rooms through the subterranean walkways of the “underground city,” the 20 kilometres of retail complexes built beneath downtown.
Immediately behind the convention centre is Old Montreal, a historic area of cobble-stoned streets first settled by French colonists in the 1600s. Filled with picturesque centuries-old churches and buildings, many of which now house trendy boutiques and bistros, the eminently walkable district extends south to the St. Lawrence River and scenic Old Port. Out in the river is Île Sainte-Hélène, the site of Expo 67. It now contains La Ronde (tel: 514-397-2000; laronde.com; Métro Jean-Drapeau) an amusement park still open in November.
Two of Montreal’s biggest attractions for kids are the Biodôme (4777 Avenue Pierre-de Coubertin; Métro Pie-IX; tel: 514-868-3000; espacepourlavie.ca; adults $16.50; kids $8.25) at the former Olympic Village six kilometres from downtown, and the Montreal Science Centre (333 de la Commune Street Ouest; Métro Champs-de-Mars; tel: 888-558-4423; montrealsciencecentre.com; adults $11.50, teens $10.50, kids $8.50) at the Old Port, a 15-minute walk from the Palais des congrès. The Biodôme is essentially an indoor zoo containing extravagantly landscaped simulations of ecosystems along with representative animal species. There’s also an Insectarium with an enormous collection of live insects, as well as a Botanical Gardens (4101 rue Sherbrooke Est; Métro Pie-IX; tel: 514-872-1400; ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin; adults $16.50; kids $8.25), hosting both a pumpkin carving exhibition and festival of Chinese lanterns through November 7th. The Montreal Science Centre on the Old Port’s waterfront boasts a wealth of high-tech presentations aimed at ages 2 through 18. It has an IMAX movie theatre and many exhibitions — through November the main attraction is Dinosaurs Unearthed, starring the world’s most realistic animatronic dinosaur replicas. Next door is Shed 16 Labyrinth (Quai de l'Horloge; Métro Champs-de-Mars; tel: 514-499-0099; labyrintheduhangar16.com; adults $15, teens $14, kids $8.50), a warehouse-sized indoor maze lit solely by black light. The labyrinth, divided with fabric partitions, can be scary for children under six.
Park the kids
One way to get a handle on local children’s activities is to check out an invaluable resource, TheKidScoop.com. Just punch in your child’s age, select Centreville or Old Montreal from a list of neighbourhoods, and match the two with choice of activity (every imaginable kind of arts and crafts, performance, sport and dance) to find practical info (location, times, language, costs and reviews). In this way you can discover that babysitting services are offered both by the downtown YMCA (1440 rue Stanley, tel: 514 849-8393; Métro Peel; 9 am to noon; $5/hour) and at Parenthèses (1384 Notre-Dame Ouest; tel: 514 727-3687; parenthesesmontreal.ca; Métro Lucien-L'Allier; $15/hour), a complex in Old Montreal containing a daycare, chocolate shop, Internet café and lounge.
Toddlers to go
If the weather is nice, a horse-drawn carriage ride through Old Montreal is always fun: carriages park opposite the Notre-Dame Basilica (424 rue St-Sulpice; Métro Place-d'Armes; basiliquenddm.org/en). Avid cyclists will find rental bikes, along with child-seats and “baby buggies,” at Montreal on Wheels (27 rue de la Commune Est; tel: 877-866-0633; caroulemontreal.com/en).
A must for any toddler is a visit to Old Montreal’s Plush Factory (503 Place d'Armes; Métro Place-d'Armes; tel: 514-288-2559; universtoutou.com), a store that allows small children to stuff, decorate and clothe the plush toy of their choice in a Willie Wonka-like atmosphere. Downtown, the YMCA (1440 rue Stanley; tel: 514-849-8393; ymcaquebec.org; Métro Peel) offers infant and parent swimming sessions, as well as aquatic “game courses” for toddlers. In the Complexe Desjardins mall on rue Ste-Catherine, the elaborate Christmas Village opens the first week of November.
Family restaurants with high chairs are not uncommon in Montreal. Close by the Palais des congrès is the bustling Hong Kong Restaurant (1023 boulevard St-Laurent; Métro Place d'Armes; tel: 514-861-0251) where friendly waiters often spirit infants away to show them to the cooks. Downtown, the family restaurant chain Chez Cora (1425 rue Stanley; Métro Peel; tel: 514-286-6171; chezcora.com) deserves its reputation for abundant breakfasts and mothering servers. Nearer to McGill University, Ben & Florentine (1215 rue Mansfield; Métro McGill; tel: 514-395-0222; benandflorentine.com) is known for sumptuous lunches. While no longer offering baby food on the menu, this longtime restaurant still welcomes young children.
Entertain little ones
Off the Old Port, the Marché Bonsecours (350 rue St-Paul Est; Métro Champs-de-Mars; tel: 5140-872-7730; marchebonsecours.qc.ca) is one of Montreal’s most colourful indoor markets: children are invariably fascinated by the glass blowers’ demonstrations at Gogo Glass, a workshop/boutique. Down the street, Canadian Maple Delights (84 rue Saint-Paul Est; Métro Place-d'Armes; tel: 514-765-3456; mapledelights.com) makes a huge variety of delicacies from the sap of Quebec’s bois erable: the gelato is particularly delicious. The nearby Cabaret du Roy (363 rue de la Commune; tel: 514-907-9000; oyez.ca; Métro Champs-de-Mars) is a New France-themed fish and game restaurant that features costumed waiters and offers games and prizes.
The Boutique Noël Éternale (461 rue St-Sulpice; Métro Place-d'Armes; tel: 514-285-4945; noeleternel.com), also in Old Montreal, is Santa’s local year-round headquarters; starting November 1, a variety of in-store Christmas activities are offered. Back at the Palais des congrès, the Nutcracker Market, put on by the marketing arm of Les Grand Ballets Canadiens, is scheduled to open in the lobby November 5 (last year’s market opened later than advertised).
Far more active and further flung is Le Petit Gym (100 Chemin Rockland, tel: 514 733-1735; lepetitgym.ca), seven kilometres north of downtown in the Mount-Royal community. Le Petit Gym is entirely designed for children under the age of 12, with equipment and programs to match; no registration is required. Four kilometres from downtown in the Plateau Mont-Royal district is La Tasse Gamine (5658A avenue du Parc, tel: 514 439-9950; latassegamine.com) is an indoor play centre and parents' café featuring two interior play areas.
Budding clowns will enjoy the performers brought in by the circus training-centre, La TOHU (2345 rue Jarry Est; tel: 514 376-8648; tohu.ca), 11 kilometres from downtown. Aspiring thespians will also revel in the antics of Geordie Productions (1455 boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest; tel: 514 845-9810; geordie.ca), Montreal’s premiere English-language children’s theatre group.
Fun for tweens
Suite 88 Chocolatier (1225 boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest, Métro Peel or 3597 rue St-Denis, Métro Mont-Royal; suite88.com), bills itself as a “jeweller” of chocolates and “required stop for well-behaved young ladies and discerning mothers.” Entering the boutique is like stepping into a jewellery store: rows of expensive, exquisite confections beckon and gleam in the lavish interior.
Less rarified but equally engrossing is the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame (1909 avenue des-Canadiens-de-Montreal; Métro Lucien-Lallier; tel: 514-925-7777; temple.canadiens.com) at the Bell Centre where the Habs play. For your own family’s battle of the blades, visit the Atrium Le 1000 (1000 rue de la Gauchetière Ouest; tel: 514-395-0555 ; le1000.com/en/atrium; Métro Bonaventure), a 930-square-metre in-door skating rink. Skate rentals are available; weekend mornings are reserved for skaters under 13.
Nearby, the Montreal Planetarium (1000 rue Saint-Jacques; Métro Bonaventure; tel: 514-872-4530; planetarium.montreal.qc.ca; adults $8, kids $4) has spectacular special effects shows filled with easily digestible science for young stargazers.
More tangible but just as ethereal is Joseph Ponton Costumes (480 rue St-Francois-Xavier; tel: 514-849-3238; pontoncostumes.com; Métro Place-d'Armes) in Old Montreal, established in 1865 and containing over 4000 costumes for children, including period gowns and Marie Antoinette-like princess outfits complete with wigs. They don’t mind kids gingerly poking around: employees dress up to amuse visitors.
Stuff for teens
Rue Ste-Catherine is shopping heaven for teens: the H&M flagship store (1100 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest; Métro Peel) and Urban Outfitters (1250 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest; Métro Peel) are popular stops. A surefire hit with teenagers is Laser Quest (1226 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest; Métro Peel; tel: 514-393-3000; laserquest.com), a five-floor combat maze where the goal is to annihilate the enemy with the aid of a laser pistol. Visitors are divided into teams and wear gear that registers laser “hits”. There is also organized league play — the current under-18 champions are an all-girl squad. Conveniently enough, Montreal’s Apple Store (1321 Ste-Catherine Ouest; Métro Peel) is right across the street.
Out by the Biodôme is Horizon Roc Climbing Centre (2350 rue Dickson; Métro Assomption; tel: 514-899-5000; horizonroc.com), an indoor climbing facility affiliated with Outward Bound that offers 12-metre-high cable bridges, a 25-metre zip line, and more than 2600 square metres of climbing walls. One of the best in Canada, the centre specializes in programs for adolescents.
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