Victoria, BC is a city some call the “Barbados of Canada” due to its mild temperatures and low rainfall relative to the rest of BC and Canada. It’s also a great city in which to raise a family. Because one of Victoria’s major industries is tourism, there are lots of great family-friendly attractions for children, including the natural wonders of Vancouver Island which are practically at your doorstep. Whether you’re a resident or a tourist yourself, here are the top 12 Family Things To Do in Victoria:
The real holiday lifesavers are the smaller shops with tons of heart and authentic finds. Local is good. And eco-friendly, online stores with big hearts are even better. Meet Thrive.
Leaving my airport hotel this morning, there was a sign that left me breathless. ‘It’s not only about the destination, but about the journey.’ As I approach a milestone year, this message hit me as a powerful explanation of the first 40 years of my life. Recently the family and I travelled to Big White Ski Resort, near Kelowna, British Columbia. Their typical champagne powder is such a given that it is often taken for granted. I have a secret suspicion that in fact, the staff have so little worry about snow conditions that management have been able to use their extra time and passion to focus entirely on customer experience. Our room at Trapper’s Crossing included a loft with bunks for the kids and a private hot tub on the deck. The kitchens make a huge difference for families and the grocery store across the street is much better stocked than most resort stores. The moose stencilled on each wall and requisite wooden skis and snowshoes as part of the décor made the kids squeal in anticipation for our Big White weekend. Something miraculous and unexpected happened over the next few days. Ready to hit the hill with the new automatic RFID lift cards in hand, we started getting apologies from people… But it was a bluebird sun-filled day with a perfect temperature and a fabulous buzz in the Village Common Mall (VCM for hipsters). The VCM is like the Great Hall in a Harry Potter film – the nerve-centre of the resort where ski instructors grab their morning latte, phones get power from Telus charging stations and rental assistants never make you wait for equipment. With this vibe – why the apologies, I wondered. I soon found out that just before we arrived, a crazy mild spell hit the region. It was accompanied by torrential rain which washed away some of the fluffy powder. For the first time in decades, the slogan ‘It’s the Snow’ wasn’t fitting. Being somewhat familiar with the resort, I knew there were always hidden caches of great skiing but I was also interested to thoroughly explore the many other activities provided by the resort. After all – not everyone in the family always skis, and Big White offers so much more for the family than their snow. I should note that ‘family’ also includes four-footed ones, and they also offer the ‘Pet Pass‘ in exchange for a donation to the SPCA. My tiny novice snowboarders were not deterred in the slightest by the conditions. They whooped and hollered as my husband made a mental note to give their instructor an extra big tip after he had to pick up the 6 year-old over 200 times. We followed the kids on the hill, spying on them and trying to show off our style a bit too… We all met in the village for lunch and The Woods offers some of the best food and ambiance on the hill. A talented artist on staff has even hand-drawn a depiction of the restaurant and it’s on the back of the kids’ menu as a colouring page. In mid-afternoon, when the sun shines and guests are ready for après ski, huge drums with skis attached are slid onto a snowy patio out front and natural wood fires burn ‘til dusk as a DJ spins tunes that made me feel only half of my 40 years. In past trips to the resort, we have been challenged with climbing the 60 ft tall ice tower. (For me, ‘challenge’ is an understatement). What I hadn’t yet tried was the tube park. A tow rope drags you and the tube to the top and you are spit out of the trail like a ping pong ball. After instructing the attendants if you want spins or no spins (the boys always asked for 2,000 percent spin power), we whizzed down the icy tube run to be slowed by bunches of hay. My face could have cracked with the grins. Then the true magic happened. We would form a duo with one of the kids, holding hands as we laughed and squealed down the icy track. Memories for a lifetime. Near the tube park in Happy Valley is a bunny hill for beginners, snowmobiling (including two tiny ones for kids), horse and sleigh rides and of course, the huge outdoor skating rink complete with nets, sticks and pucks. After the activities we all hit the Loose Moose, where resort staff were holding a ‘Games Night’, teaching families how to play checkers and connect four, and being uber-generous with prizes. I have always believed that good parenting requires great balance, and the ad
ults of our family decided to experience the resort’s more mature offerings. Having no trouble finding an excellent babysitter, my husband went to Showshoe Sam’s to hone his pool skills while I hopped over to 6 Degrees Bistro for a tasting of wines and small plates. Owner John Mooney and his accomplished chef had prepared foie gras and local lamb to serve with an exceptional local pinot noir. I laughed happily when I realized Covert Farms was a supplier. Not only was the preparation and presentation at 6 Degrees more fitting of a New York City starred-establishment than a ski hill, but I found a kindred spirit in Mooney’s daughter, who has been volunteering with kids in Liberia. Though it has been two years since I travelled to Monrovia with Right to Play, we exchanged stories and smiles. After deciding that pool really wasn’t our game, my husband and I wandered into the VCM to check on the boys. It was carnival night, and rumour had it that Big White’s mascot, the Loose Moose, was to get a female partner in crime. The building was packed with bouncy castles, carnival games and cotton candy. Trying to high-five the boys, they were too busy throwing bean bags and getting prizes to pay much attention to mama. We headed around the corner to check out the newest watering hole and dining establishment called Sessions Taphouse. After a near $1MM renovation, this former ‘dive bar’ (they said it – I didn’t!) had been transformed into a restaurant and après ski paradise by day, and nightclub by night. What I entirely didn’t expect was the cuisine. On our next visit for lunch a day later, the cheesy bacon balls were devoured by the boys a la Homer Simpson, and every single dish we tried during the three visits during the trip were perfection. Early Monday morning my husband rose early for the shuttle to Kelowna airport so as not to miss his day at work, and the boys and I were feeling the stale negativity that comes when leaving a beloved place. Given that it was the final week of school before the holidays, I didn’t think they would miss much if we extended the stay. Central Reservations was brilliant and helped us so much. While I was chatting with the desk, the two boys were playing in a festive section of the room, donning elf hats and playing with a stuffed Rudolph. On a table there was a microphone – a toy that apparently ‘called an operator’ in the north pole. The eight year old, doubting the existence of Santa, pressed the button. An operator connected him to Mrs. Claus. His eyes wide, she asked him what she and Santa should do for a special date night. My son answered that they should snowboard like he was doing at Big White Resort. Mrs. Claus got very excited by the idea, commenting that she would tell Santa that he had suggested it. My son was in a dream-like state. He has never believed in goodness and magic so strongly. So as we still received numerous apologies about the snow, we left Big White with life lessons, felt closer as a family and had tried new challenges. Though the champagne powder is the typical feather in Big White’s cap, it’s not nearly the only reason to pick this resort destination. Our journey experiencing the plethora of activities offered for everyone in the family reminded me never to focus on the end game. It’s cherishing every second of the journey that’s important. And now I’m 40 so that’s true wisdom talking. Addendum: After our family left the resort had 45 cm of fresh snow. The base is now at 183 cm with a cumulative snowfall of 360cm.
Disclosure: UrbanMommies was provided with accommodation and passes for the purposes of crafting this story.
- Don’t go out and spend a ton of money on curriculum and materials. Try to keep it free/cheap and easy. In case the strike ends earlier than expected, or your child doesn’t learn the way that curriculum works, you don’t want to be out a lot of money.
- Expect that your school day isn’t going to look or feel the same as it is in a school setting. It won’t take as long (you might be done before lunch!), and you can sit on a couch or the floor (or in the tree!).
- Decide if you are going to simply follow your child’s interests and encourage them to learn as much as they can about it, or if you are going to try and follow the expectations of the government learning outcomes for their grade level. BC curriculum packages by grade can be found here.
- If you want to follow the guidelines, don’t stress too much about exact details or trying to figure out what each detail means. Look at the overall topic and use that as a way to start your plan. For example, in Grade 3 science they study plant growth. Plant a bean seed. Watch it and record the changes as it grows.
- Use local assets to your advantage – the library, museums and art galleries, tourist attractions, historical centres, etc. Read a lot. Play outside a lot. Learn together.
- Daniel Roizman of Hiyu had a few great suggestion for parents – Ensure you learn how to tether your laptops to your phones so they can work and homeschool from anywhere. Kids can get extra focus while camping or being on the beach.
- Have the kids watch a movie, then write a report on it and do a bit of research before too.
- Cooking – plan dinner. Have your child pick a theme (mexican, bbq, etc.), research recipes, make a list of ingredients, go shop and then prepare. You can also spread it across a few days (planning day 1, shopping day 2, cook day 3). Include some info on nutrition, organic or gmo and turn it into a science and math project.
- Our publisher was on CTV news with a few more suggestions of ideas for learning while helping the household. A few neat ideas included exploring impressionist and Mondrian-styled art in colours of the kids bedrooms, leaning about chemical reactions and preserving through canning, using a swiffer duster for a cleaning competition, making fairy houses for the garden, and scrapbooking and writing summer vacation memories.
- We also love the stop-motion lego app to inspire creativity and hone film-making skills.
- The Canadian Homeschooler– A site dedicated to sharing and providing Canadian resources to homeschooling families including Canadian materials, curriculum, products and websites that are relevant and useful to families across the country in their home education journeys.
- Kids Activities Blog– A site created by a part-time homeschooling mom who shares activities that she has both created and collected for her sons education.
- Reading A-Z– Thousands of downloadable, projectable, printable teacher materials, covering all the skills necessary for effective reading instruction.
- Teachers Pay Teachers– On this site, real teachers sell activity sheets and curriculum plans that they have created for a variety of subjects.
- Khan Academy– Provides “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” Subjects include math, science, arts and humanities, chemistry, computer science and more. For beginner learners to adult education.
- StarFall– A wonderful online tool that can be used on the computer or ipad to teach kids to read with phonics.
- Time For Learning- A student-paced online educational tool covering preschool through high school. Popular as a homeschool curriculum, an afterschool alternative to tutoring, and for summer skill building.
- Super Teacher Worksheets– Printable worksheets for teachers, parents, tutors, and homeschool families.
- Happy Hooligans– A website for arts, crafts and activities for kids from Toddler to Preschooler.
- World As We Knew It- Read your way through Canadian history with Canadian literature.
- World Bank of 1200 high-usage words for spelling.
When I was a child, our summer vacations were usually a three hour journey from our front door to the door of where we were staying. Most of the time we journeyed to our vacation destination via car and ferry. My sister and I loved that our parents were sharing with us all of the fabulous sites that our province had to offer whether we were camping by a lake, staying in a cottage by the ocean, or exploring the coast in an RV.
Now that I’m a mother myself, I am taking a page out of my parents’ book. My husband and I alternate our family vacations between destinations that you travel to by plane with places closer to home that travel to by taking a road trip.
Our last road trip was an epic two day journey from Vancouver to Calgary in 30 degree heat with a 1 year old, a 5 year old, a 12 year old yorkie and two very cranky parents. I think the kids survived the road trip better than the parents and the dog did. Despite all of the “bumps in the road” we managed to have a great time, see sites both awe inspiring (Lake Louise) and entertaining (The Enchanted Forest in Revelstoke) and spend time bonding as a family.
After our trip, I put together 5 tips to make future road trips smoother. Pin them for easy reference for your next road trip.
5 Tips for a Fabulous Family Road Trip:
1. Make Your Road Trip About the Journey, Not The Destination- It’s so easy to get caught up in “We have to be to X destination by X day.” When planning your next road trip try to throw your timeline to the wind and enjoy your journey. Not getting caught up in how long it’s taking you to get from here to there will allow you to enjoy your stops more and not get so frustrated when the kids need an extra pee stop or chance to stretch their legs.
2. Be Flexible- Children can be unpredictable. Sometimes naps happen and it’s better to let sleeping children lie than wake them for a pre-scheduled activity and risk the crankies. Save the stop for your trip back home and continue on or take a road trip break, find a shady parking spot, roll down the windows and enjoy a good book. Be willing to be flexible depending on your children’s moods. Making a trip to the history museum may not be the best plan if your kids are feeling cooped up and extra rambunctious. Being prepared to make unexpected changes depending on the moods of your passengers will lead to a much happier family road trip.
3. Plan Ahead- Research pit stops along the way, a list of pet friendly parks and hotels if you are traveling with a furry companion, family friendly restaurants, gas stations and site seeing opportunities. Even if you don’t end up needing all the resources you collect you’ll be happy to have them when you need them, especially when you get stuck in the mountains with no data coverage. (Does it sound like I’m speaking from experience???)
4. Bring Food… Lots of it- Nothing causes the crankies like an empty tummy. Bring a range of snacking options, in pre-portioned containers or snack bags and make sure that you put them someplace that is easy to access. Fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds are all great great snack options but make sure to include some treats as well to avoid expensive gas station cravings.
5. Plan Entertainment- Before I was a mom, I swore up and down that I would NEVER have a DVD player in my car. Now that I am a mom I often rethink that decision. Let’s face it, even the most amazing kids can get bored when cooped up in a car for too long. Hearing “Are we there yet?” for the 100th time will try any parent’s patience. Create a playlist of family friendly songs on your phone, learn the words to a few good road trip tunes, research car road trip games, find a few car travel games and activities and when all else fails… have your kid’s favorite movie loaded on the iPad.
Shell wants to help you create amazing summer driving experiences with your family whether your taking a road trip across Canada or cruising your local watering holes. That’s why Shell just launched the Shell V-Power Formula for Driving Excitement Contest–to honour and discover the best drives in Canada.
One of our readers could win: $100 in Shell Gift Cards to spend on your next road trip. Simply fill out this Rafflecopter entry form! Ends 9/3 , CAN only.
Disclosure: This post was made possible by Shell. All opinions and anecdotes are our own.