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Where to have a family vacation in Canada?

Where to have a family vacation in Canada?

Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 06:04 PM
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Where to have a family vacation in Canada?

Hi I am thinking of Canada next summer for a family vacation. Our daughters are 11/12 year olds. Some places I am toying with. Quebec/Montreal (are they close enough to stay in one place and do both? I don't remember. What is there to do there? Toronto? British Columbia? Although the idea of a city vacation is appealing to me, I am sure my husband would enjoy some outdoor activities seeing the beauty of Canada. Now, not to sound stupid, how far is Niagra falls from everything? Okay, Canadian experts give me some recommendations on a good family trip (about a week long).Thanks.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 06:11 PM
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Also, add Nova Scotia. What is there to do? What is it like? Thanks,
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Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 06:39 PM
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Quebec City is less than a three-hour drive from Montreal. If you choose to go around two hours in the other direction, you will reach the very interesting city of Ottawa, which I would actually argue is a superior destination. Niagara Falls is less than two hours from Toronto and so those two destinations combine well.

For a city vacation with some outdoor possibilities nearby, Vancouver, BC is a great choice. And just to throw another possibility out there, a circle tour of Calgary, the Canadian Rockies and a return through Edmonton is another great choice for enjoying some spectacular outdoor sights and experiences. I enjoy Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but I'm not sure how interesting I would have found it as a young person.

Of all of these, I think I would put Vancouver at the very top of the list for what I think you have in mind.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 08:00 PM
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DEFINITELY Vancouver - if you are looking for a "city" with the "great outdoors" (there pitch phrase is you can windsurf and ski in the same day ... and you really can!) Niagara Falls is across country ... but the sad truth is, besides the Falls (including the Maid of the Mist boat ride which I LOVE) the town of Niagara Falls is getting cheesier all the time and not worth it (unless you are really close by)

I did Vancouver last year and it is AWESOME. I went on a wale watch - DEFINITE MUST!! and also had fun in the city. I can't wait to go back!!!
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Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 08:15 PM
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I think it depends on where you are coming from.

Canada is a huge country, and distances can be great.

That said, Niagara Falls is under two hours from downtown Toronto; Montreal is about seven hours by car from Toronto.

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Old Sep 23rd, 2004, 10:30 AM
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Dear girlonthego: Wherever you decide to "toy" with Canada, you'll not be disappointed. Canada is a huge country and each part is different and distinct from the other. Great diversity abounds. My family has been traveling to Canada for years and have never been disappointed. Most large cities have much to offer, and the "big outdoors" continue to beckon me. In fact, we've returned from the Maritimes this summer and are heading to Algonquin Park north of Toronto in a couple of weeks.
You neglect to say from where you hail, so auto/air travel times will greatly determine what your family is up for. Montreal is great, so, too, is Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Victoria. If you pretty much decide on one a certain area, many peolple will weigh in with great suggestions. The web is chock full of sites pertaining to different areas of the country. My kids are 14 and 10 and we've hauled them several times to all parts of the country, and we make efforts to gear activities for them, too, which isn't difficult.
So my advice is to scroll through a few hundred of these messages on Canada to perhaps get a feel for the different areas, and then go onto the web to look further. Then, when you find a place, province, city, etc. that looks like "the" spot for vacation, send out another inquiry. Finally, if you're from the States, the exchange rate remains favorable, and the Canadian gov't permits a refund of the GST/HST taxes you pay on lodging and certain retail sales, making Canada an even better vacation destination (and no I'm not paid for my endorsements).
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Old Sep 23rd, 2004, 11:08 AM
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I have fond memories of a holiday my parents and I spent in Prince Edward Island, on Canada's East Coast, when I was about 15. The beaches were gorgeous. We stayed in an old-fashioned, family-run hotel (the name of which I've forgotten, but I'm sure my mum would remember). I was at an age when I didn't want to hang about with my parents all the time, and they were fine with the idea of my exploring that part of PEI on my own (on foot).

If you're thinking more of the sort of holiday where you move around every few days, you could (once you've finished exploring PEI) try the other Atlantic provinces. Cape Breton (part of Nova Scotia) is rugged and beautiful (though economically in a bad way, because of unemployment and declining industry). I've never been to Newfoundland but have always wanted to.

I've lived in Vancouver for eighteen years and agree with those who recommend Vancouver (and British Columbia), but sometimes I think people from other countries rush too readily to British Columbia and overlook the idea of a wonderful family holiday on Canada's Atlantic Coast. If I had kids, that's where I'd take them. (In fact that's where I'd like to go, even though I don't have kids).

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Old Sep 24th, 2004, 05:39 AM
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Just a little more info for you all. We are coming from Richmond VA. I traveled to Montreal/Quebec Old city as a thirteen year old with my family. I have some fond memories, but they are distant.(We drove from NJ back than.) We will be flying to wherever. I like city travel, but would love to combine it with some of Canada's beautiful country. It will be a summer time trip. I have tried to retrieve info on the web and have sent away for a vancouver vacation guide. What is the weather like in the summer? Is it warm enough to swim outdoors? I have tried to get weather info and have found it difficult. My husband was on a business trip once to Toronto and loved it, but he may not want to repeat a trip there(when there are so many other places to see.) I know really nothing about Canada and plan to do some research about the different areas. If you have a place in particular that your family loved to go to, please tell!!
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Old Sep 24th, 2004, 08:40 AM
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Since a city/country itinerary is in your vacation plans, and you plan to fly, and distance is not a consideration, here are some of my family's favorite combos (my kids are almost the same age):
1. Halifax, Nova Scotia. A beautiful and vibrant city with loads of fun things to do for entire family. A side trip to Lunenburg and Peggy's Cove for more Maritime scenery. Then a drive north onto Cape Breton Island (4 hours by car) for awsome scenery and boat tours for whales and puffins. If time permits, taking the 45 minute ferry to Prince Edward Island (home of Ann of Green Gables). Great bicycling routes on Confederacion Bike Trail. Fun water parks for the kids. Laid back atmosphere in pastoral setting. In fact, each Maritime province has its own "Doers and Dreamers Vacation Guides." They are free from each province's website.

2. Toronto: Great city (large). Royal Ontario Museum; Ontario Place (large water-related park with IMAX theatre and much much more -located literally on Lake Ontario); CN Tower with views (on clear day) to Niagara Falls; theatre district; China Town; Eaton Centre, etc. Then, 3 hours north is Algonquin Provincial Park with its wolves and moose. A wonderful park -wolf howls in August; canoeing; camping; hiking; lodges, etc.

3. Niagara Falls: Self-explanatory. Niagara-On-The-Lake a short drive away with miles of orchards and beautiful setting.

4. Vancouver: Large vibrant city with tons of things to do - Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain, Capelano Suspension Bridge; Sun Yat Sen Gardens, etc. etc. A few hours north is Whistler, offering great variety of summer fun in an awsome mountain setting (white water rafting, large kids adventure park at base of ski runs; snow skiing on glacier all summer (or just taking the ski lifts to the top for incredible views); black bears; hiking/biking, etc.
Then, backtracking towards Vancouver and a short ferry ride to Vancouver Island and Victoria, a small beautiful harbor city - Butchart Gardens, tea rooms, orca excurion cruises, etc.

These are only some of the adventures my family has experienced. We'll be heading to the Rockies at some point to experience that area of Canada, too. Take your pick and have fun planning and doing.
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Old Sep 24th, 2004, 08:55 AM
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OK, now that we know more, we can be more useful.

The bad news is that your circumstances mean you'd love just about anywhere on a list of the top ten Canadian places to go. The following is not in any particular order, except geographic.

VANCOUVER AND VICTORIA: This is as different as you can get from Richmond without going into the far north.

Victoria is on Vancouver Island, and Vancouver is on the mainland, on the pacific coast,north of Washington State. From downtown Vancouver there are snow capped mountains within site. Lots of parks, easy to rent canoes and paddle on the sheltered inland coves and bays, all the attractions of a big city (Vancouver) and a very interesting museum in Victoria that kids from 4 up seem to love, even if they are not museum lovers normally.

There are easily accessible beaches, although the water is pretty cold. Best bet would be a couple of days in Vancouver, then rent a car and see outlying areas (including Whistler ski/hiking area) and the take the car ferry to Vancouver Island.

THIS WOULD BE MY FIRST CHOICE -- mountains, sea, city, country...


Fly to Calgary, Alberta, near the foothils on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, see a small town rodeo, and go into the Rocky Mountains, explore, hike, eat well in nice restaurants, visit glaciers, and enjoy Calgary, too.

Saskatechewan and Manitoba are the next provinces heading east, and nice as they are, I'd save them for another trip.

Ontario is a huge province, with the north being full of lakes and lots of resorts, but huge areas of wilderness, too. So I suggest the south.

If you could stretch your holiday to ten days, and renat a car, you could have a wonderful circle drive. Fly to either Montreal or Toronto, but let's say Toronto for this note.

Spend a couple of carless days in Toronto, full of big buildings, a castle, an island playground, Ontario Place, Harbourfront, great museums, restaurants the girls would love and so would you, and more.

Then rent a car and spend a day in Niagara Falls, just a couple of hours away. Visit both the City of Niagara Falls, where the falls are, and the town of Niagara on the Lake, which is a theatre oriented tourist town, but delightful. Then back to Toronto, and the next day head east from Toronto through Kingstgon to Montreal. Completely different look and feel from Toronto -- older historiacal areas, lots of French but enough English you'll get along just fine. Spend a couple of days there, then head back west to ottawa, Canada's capital. Full of museums (again, ones kids like) and some historical buildings and good restaurants kids like (Zak's).

From Ottawa, head west again towards Algonquin Park and the Muskoka vacation area, spending one day at least at a resort hotgel. Swimming, golf, water skiing, etc. then turn south and go back to Toronto and turn in your car and fly home.

This is the kind of trip the girls will remember forever, too.

Nova Scotia is loved by tourists, but I spend my childhood there and in New Brunswick every summer, and it's generally dull for kids compared to Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, etc. Water is too cold to swim in in almost all of Nova Scotia, but in new Brunswick, near Shediac, and on Prince Edward Island, the swimming is excellent. Water currents are different and the water is much warmer.

Well meaning people will tell you of the wonders of the Matritmes (NS, NB, PEI) but it is sort of like how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree. If the girls are shy and nervous, the Maritimes is relaxed and friendly. But if they've got spark and flair, they'll have more fun in the action places. Mopntreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver.

It's a big country -- long flight to the west coast, but worth it.


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Old Sep 24th, 2004, 09:09 AM
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If you wanted to combine a Montreal/Quebec City trip with some outdoorsy activities, there are many places to explore just outside Quebec City, or the Eastern Townships south of Montreal. Visit the 'bonjourquebec.com' site for lots of ideas.
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Old Sep 24th, 2004, 01:11 PM
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WOW!!!! I am so grateful for all of this information!!!I am planning to tap into all of the visitor websites and send for the free catalogs!!!! I will also take a trip over to AAA and pick up some info. I will let you know where I am going soon and then you can tell me the best of that place! Thanks.
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Old Sep 24th, 2004, 01:27 PM
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BAK and stringer have both given you really great advice! In my opinion, judging from the range of activities that you enjoy, Vancouver and Victoria fit the bill perfectly. Beautiful, sunny, warm days in the summer and soooo much to do.
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Old Sep 24th, 2004, 03:32 PM
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If you are coming from Virginia, I think that the biggest change of "landscape" would be if you travelled to the majestic Rocky Mountains.

Fly into Calgary (as BAK suggested above), spend some time in the city, take in the Calgary Stampede (July 8 to 17 in 2005) and soak in the friendly cowboy culture.

Then drive one hour west to Banff National Park and the glorious Rockies. In Banff you can walk, hike, take the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain and take in a great view while walking along the boardwalk, shop in Banff (lots of it there, plus a lot of good restaurants). You'll need at least a couple of days in and around Banff townsite.

Then drive to Lake Louise, do more hiking, canoe around the lake, take a horseback trail ride through mountain paths, enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Stay two or three days there and make a side trip to Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls etc.).

Take one entire day and drive the Icefield Parkway (Lake Louise to Jasper). Stop at Columbia icefields and take the snocoach tour to the "top" of the glacier. Stop at the viewpoints at Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls.

Spend two or so days in the Jasper townsite area. Hike the rocky trail at Mt. Edith Cavell to the quickly disappearing Angel Glacier. Take the tramway up to the top of Whistler Mountain (not the same one as Whistler B.C.!!) and soak in the incredible view of the Athabasca River Valley and west to the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (Mt. Robson). Drive to Maligne Lake (lots of wildlife along that road including elk, mountain sheep, occasionally bears - black and grizzly - also moose, and even foxes, take the "cruise" to the end of the lake. Drive back to Maligne Canyon and walk the trail. Take a whitewater raft ride on the Athabasca River.

Return to Calgary the same way that you came - the views will look different from the "other direction"!!!

Here are some websites for you to explore:

General websites for the province of Alberta (location of the Rockies):



About Calgary:

The Mountain Parks:


Weather in Canada:

Have fun planning!!

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Old Sep 25th, 2004, 10:03 AM
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I remember the early teen tears with my kids as the best vacation years. All that time in the car, motel, hiking etc. with no pressure to answer immediately to allow topics to surface, play with, turn away from, revisit topics. We called it "car "time" and it was the foundation for easier times during their later teens. So I congratulate you on putting so much time and effort into this.

Have you asked your two what types of things they might have on their wish list? My 12 year old daughter went through a horse phase, so every trip was a success if we found a trail ride or two. Son wanted water sports, and we rented wet suits and satisfied both by renting a cabin on Shushwap lake in BC.

Dinosaurs? Drumheller's Dinosaur Provincial park 2 hours east from Calgary.

North American Indians? Cowboys, Olympics/ Calgary's Stampede, Olympic Park (Calgary hosted the winter olympics in '88), Kananaskis Country for hiking, camping, Lodge, golf, white water etc., Banff already covered but too commercialized and expensive. but hot springs and gondola ride and fantastic hikes.

Victoria has seaside, whale watching, parks, Emily Carr museum and great provincial museum which my kids loved.

Vancouver, a 4 hour ferry ride across from Victoria, has been covered. We rented bikes for Stanley Park, but now rollar blades would likely be possible too.

There is an author, Eric Wilson, who writes a series of mystery novels for early teens. Heros are teenaged brother and sister. The books are easy quick reads, the plots sufficiently interesting to hide the "learning" about Canadian geography and history. Try :
Vampires of Ottawa,
Summer of Discovery, (Saskatchewan)
Spirit in the Rainforest,
St Andrew's werewolf, (New Brunswick)
Ice Diamond Quest, (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Cold midnight in Vieux Quebec,
Green Gables Detectives, (Prince Edward Island)
Code Red at the Supermall, (Edmonton)
Murder on the Canadian, (train)
Terror in Winnipeg,
Case of the Golden Boy (Winnipeg, kidnapping)
Lost Treasure of Casa Loma, (Toronto)
Prairie Dog Conspiracy, (Winnipeg)
The Inuk Mountie Adventure,
Escape from Big Muddy, (Saskatchewan)
Kooteny Kidnapper,
The Emily Carr Mystery, (Victoria)
Vancouver Nightmare,
Ghost of Lunnenburg Manor, (Nova Scotia)
Unmasking of 'Ksan (British Colombia)
Disneyland Hostage (just because Canadian teens travel too),

Of course every major city has a summer festival which is fun, but also is the busiest most crowded time. Calgary Stampede , Edmonton Klondike Days, etc. I would think that if you come at festival time, reservations of car, hotel is a must.

This is just a tiny sample of Canadian adventures. Hope you get to experience some of them.
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Old Sep 25th, 2004, 01:34 PM
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Thanks for the mystery writer! My 12 year old loves mysteries and vampires and such.
So many choices for vacation spots in Canada! We are doing a city vacation in March (San Francisco) a first time for all of us to go there. That is why I am thinking city and a country vacation. The ferry ride between Victoria and Vancouver- is it really 4 hours? Is it choppy? I usually do well on small boats, but big ferries on choppy water tends to not agree with me so much! I had never considered Calgary before this post by the above. Also north of Toronto, one of you mentioned a park with wolves and bears. Are there any nice resort type lodges in this park. (I like nature, but I am not a camper type.) Anyway thanks again for all the great posts.
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Old Sep 25th, 2004, 02:17 PM
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There's no ferry from Vancouver to Victoria.

Instead, you have to go north or south of Vancouver, and catch a ferry to a town east of Viotoria, or a town north and east of Victoria.

So, depending on what route you take, how long you wait for the ferry, what you stop to see on the way to and from ferry docks, you can spend four hours.

There are lots of resorts an hour, two hours, three hours and more north of Toronto in the Muskoka area, or north east in the Haliburton area.

try ontariotravel.net and luminaresort.com and
manitou-online.com and killarneylodge.com

A young friend of mine worked at Killarney last summer, so I know they hire smart students.


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Old Sep 25th, 2004, 06:36 PM
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The ferry ride from Vancouver to Victoria is about 1.5 hours sailing time, but this does not include the drive to the ferry, waiting to board, waiting to disembark, etc. etc.
In our experience it takes about 45 minutes to drive from downtown Vancouver to the Tsawassen ferry terminal, and about 30 minutes or so from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal to downtown Victoria.
The ferry ride is generally very smooth (of course dependent on the weather, that is, the wind, but summer months are usually calm). The route between the Gulf Islands is very scenic (and we've even seen Killer Whales and seals along the way!!).

For more information, check out the B.C. Ferries website:


I'm sure you will enjoy your holidays where ever you go, but please let us know what you decide !!
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Old Sep 25th, 2004, 08:41 PM
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I would design a "chill out" type of vacation which mixes a city and the country with minimal driving.

For example, fly to Toronto and stay at a downtown hotel for 3 days. Explore the city, eat yourself around the world, sit on a park bench on Toronto Island overlooking the skyline, take in the play Mama Mia if you are an ABBA fan, take the subway to the Yorkdale Shopping centre and
explore the many villages that make up Toronto.

Then drive about 2 hours north of Toronto to a rented "cottage" with a lake front view in the Muskokas for about 3-4 days. Going the the cottage on the weekend marks the right of summer for many Canadians.
Google "muskoka cottage rental" to search for a suitable place.

Paddle a canoe, read a book, go golfing, go for a swim, cook bacon and eggs for breakfast, bike ride, hike etc.

The optional final destination would be to drive to Niagara on the Lake or Niagara falls (3-4 hour drive) for two nights. If you are into Art Deco and Frank Loyd Wright architecture,
a side trip to Buffalo is worth the trip.

The trip would end by returning to Pearson airport for a return flight home.

I would not recommend renting a car for the time you stay in Toronto.
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Old Sep 26th, 2004, 04:26 PM
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Hi, it feels like quite a challenge to even feel qualified to answer your original post on this thread - I'm going to try.

I live in Seattle and have visited Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Charlottetown, and Halifax and some spots in between during the 2000's. (not to mention Whitehorse and Fredericton)

(to one of your questions... Niagara Falls, not far from Buffalo, NY, is something near to 100 miles from Toronto)

Beginning from the west, Vancouver's appeal for parents and pre-teens is that most of the attractions are compacted quite near to one another (example: a major tourist attraction requires a 10-minute drive from mid-town to the foot of the North Shore Mountains where you then take a gondola up the side of the mountain to a stunning view, restaurant and ski area at the top) ("Grouse Mountain Skyride")

The plentiful water and mountains and cosmopolitan city life make Vancouver scenic and memorable. There is plenty to do, so much so that I'd be wasting space.

Vancouver might also be sensible **now** for being the farthest possible destination, given the relative ease with which you could get back to Quebec, or get to Nova Scotia in the future.

Alberta... Edmonton's central attraction to your daughters would be the world's largest shopping mall. Some are in awe of the mall in Minnesota but that is but a fraction of the size of the "West Edmonton Mall".

Edmonton can get not-so-surprisingly chilly unless you go at the smack dab center of summer. Downtown Edmonton doesn't exactly beckon you to pull over as you peer out of the car window but there are some local communities which could certainly entice one to frolic about on neighborhood streets. There is an amazing conservatory in Edmonton which features plant life from all sorts of climates and it is really interesting, at least for a while, even if you're 12. ("Muttart Conservatory" is what I think the name is)

I don't quite think that Calgary will appeal on the same level as the first two, so I'll skip it.

Leaping to the east coast, I've been to Nova Scotia twice and while I had a very enjoyable time there, I just don't know how much appeal it will have for your 11 and 12-year-old daughters. The largest city of Halifax has a fun little downtown area but it still might not be large enough to fill the days of your daughters.

The most phenomenal aspect of Nova Scotia is the ocean tides in the Bay of Fundy. Imagine tides so great that signs warn you to be off certain beaches by certain points in time to avoid being trapped by the incoming tide. Consider that the rivers near Truro, Nova Scotia all turn around and run UP-stream when the tide comes in. Envision ocean-going ships tied to the dock while sitting on the floor of the bay at low tide, and being 30 or 40 feet higher in six hours.

If you have young nature-lovers then they might be intrigued but then what do you do for 6 hours between low and high tide?

Nova Scotia has beautiful countryside and some awesome ocean views especially when driving up north. I love it there!

Now Ottawa... the capitol of Canada... complete with a structure for dozens of HOMELESS CATS on the grounds of the state buildings there. Quite the contrast to the stuffy, secure ways of the U.S. political center.

I like Ottawa because of it's smallness relative to Toronto... they have an outdoor market and wonderful scenery nearby. A trip across the river into Quebec is a great way for the kids to get a little hint of life in a foreign-seeming land (as no language barrier is evident in the other "foreign" cities I've mentioned thus far) The timing of a trip to Ottawa is important given the weather so consult weather.com and check for the temperature norms if you go.

Quebec City is just dandy for getting the most truly foreign sense of Canada (actually, a trip off into the hinterlands of Quebec immerses you more completely in the french culture) ... I love the drives through those small towns, and some of the CHURCHES you see in each and every town along the way just boggle the mind!

A couple of areas have a delight of narrow, cobblestone streets and tricky driving (for everyone, not just for visitors). Go at the wrong time of the year and huge piles of SNOW are taking up all of the good parking spots.

The "most photographed hotel in the world" is one of the prominent features of Quebec City and just down the road from there is the walled-off, fortress-like area of "Old Quebec" complete with cutesy tourist shops and eateries and wonderful scenery of the St. Lawrence River below. If you are inspired to give your daughters a taste of life in an area where another language is spoken, then Quebec City can be quite effective, much moreso than Montreal.

Montreal is without question a LARGE city and despite its french flavor those spending considerable time near the core seldom have to communicate beyond english to get through the day. Montreal has an "old Montreal" area that has similar cobblestone streets but the "big city" flavor of the city is dominant elsewhere. A good view of the area can be had at "Mount Royal" and I suspect that much of a vacation there would be spent trying new foods and mixing in some old favorites while being only slightly immersed in the french language. If the oldest department store (chain) in North America says "La Baie" on one side it will surely say "The Bay" on the other side. (This is what remains of "The Hudson's Bay Company", first founded in the 1500's or so)

Toronto's population is huge and it could actually overwhelm your stay there. Yes, with that come many entertainment options, an awesome amusement park with rides and the like, 100 or so miles to Niagara Falls for perhaps a 2-day side trip. I don't know what I can say in the way of "unique experiences" that Toronto might promise. Maybe Toronto is like "New York City for Canadians" ?? (minus most of the honking cabbies and the waterways forcing land values up, with far less crime, I suppose)

I hope that somewhere in this has been one iota of a new consideration for you.

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