Looking to add a little culture to your weekend or holiday? Whether your kid is inspired by art or infatuated with fossils, we’ve found the best museums and art galleries across Canada with family-friendly workshops, activities and exhibits.
A version of this article appeared in our March 2013 issue with the headline “All the best: Museums and art galleries,” pp.128-136.Photo: HandyArt/iStockphoto
Find out everything you ever wanted to know about the Klondike Gold Rush. Start with a movie about its history, see a gold-mining demo (then let the kids try digging for nuggets) and watch gold get melted down.
Drop by on winter weekends for an animated family flick. There’s also an on-site gift shop (with gold nugget jewellery — the perfect memento from your trip) and a coffee shop for nibbles.
Mid-May to Labour Day (or by appointment through the winter). Admission: adult $9; students and seniors $7; families $18. 595 Fifth Ave., Dawson. 867-993-5291
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If you don’t know much about Canada’s north, this museum offers collections filled with hunting tools, paintings, sculptures, geological pieces and other items that represent the people of the territory.
Admission: free. 4750 48th St., Yellowknife. (867) 767-9347 x 71472
Get more information here: Prince of Wales Northern Heritage CentrePhoto: Price of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
The Northwest Territories’ largest gallery of fine arts and crafts from northern Canada, this place is a real gem — literally. You’ll see a sparkling collection of Canadian diamonds and jewellery. Get in the spirit of the north and take in one of the gallery’s dream catcher workshops (by appointment).
Made to look like an old trading post, you’ll also find books, craft supplies and traditional outerwear.
Admission: free. 5005 Bryson Dr., Yellowknife. 867-873-8064.
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If you have a school-ager into all things outdoors, visit the Natural History Gallery at the RBCM. Kids will discover sea life through periscopes, chill out in the Ice Age and learn about the changing face of the natural environment. They have a massive collection of objects and documents to see (more the seven million), including the Big Map, a giant audio-video experience that explores just how big this great province is.
Visit on the last Sunday of every month for Wonder Sunday (excluding December, July and August) and preschoolers to tweens can make crafts and go on special tours. There’s a café in the building; strollers are available for use from the coat check.
Admission: children three to five years old get in free; students from $11; adults from $17. 675 Belleville St., Victoria. 250-356-7226.
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There are more than 10,000 works of art at this gallery, including the largest collection of paintings by world-renowned Canadian artist Emily Carr. Visit on the weekends, when the gallery hosts special family programs aimed at five-to-12-year-olds, such as Art Tracks — “child-oriented tours” led by musicians, dancers and artists that offer kids a different way to think about and see art.
The Gallery Café boasts one of the prettiest outdoor patios in the city, and serves up soups, salads and sandwiches.
Admission: kids five and under get in free; kids six and up from $6.50; students from $18; adults from $24; families (two adults, four kids) from $55. 750 Hornby St., Vancouver. 604-662-4719.
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This museum boasts one of the world’s largest displays of prehistoric dinos. Dinosaur Hall is not to be missed, nor are the Ice Age exhibit and Cretaceous Alberta, which shows what the province was like 69 million years ago.
There are plenty of programs for kids: the Kidosaurus Club for preschoolers; the Dinosite, where kids can look for real remains; and Fossil Casting, where they can make replica fossils. Strollers are available to rent, and there’s a cafeteria and picnic tables for lunch. Kids five to 13 can sign up to spend the night with the dinosaurs at one of the museum’s camp-ins.
Admission: kids six and under get in free; kids seven to 17, $10; adults, $18. 1500 North Dinosaur Trail (Hwy 838 Midland Provincial Park), Drumheller. 403-823-7707.
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Part of the Telus Spark Science Centre, the Creative Kids Museum is aimed at kids nine year old and younger and features lots of hands-on activities to keep your brood entertained, like a water play area, climbing structure and the Maker Space, where they can invent and design their own cool creations. (Toddlers and babies will tire out on the crawling track, and the reading nook is the perfect spot to take a break.)
Grab a bite at the café where you can order up fries and a hot dog for the tots.
Admission: kids under three get in free; three to 12, $12.95; 13 to 17, $15.95; adults, $19.95. 220 St. George’s Dr. NE, Calgary. 403-817-6800.
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You’ll have to wait until spring to visit (open April to October), but include a trip to Jurassic Forest on your family calendar. This is the closest thing junior paleontologists will get to life-sized dinosaurs — especially ones so realistic that you’ll have to keep reminding the little ones that the stegosauruses and triceratopses are just pretend.
Trek through the forest on one of their two walking trails (which include motion-sensor electronic dinos), dig for remains, hang out in the playground and picnic in the forest. There are strollers on-site to rent, and bathrooms are outfitted with change tables.
Admission: kids two to 12, $8.57; 13 to 17, $10.48; adults, $14.29; families, starting at $41.90. 2-23210 Township Road 564, Gibbons. 780-470-2446.
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Meet up with your mom friends during the week for a quiet stroll (with babies and strollers in tow) through this beautiful space, or bring the older bunch for Tours for Tots (where three- to five-year-olds can explore the gallery on Wednesday mornings while learning about colours, patterns, textures and shapes).
Visit BMO All Day Sundays, so kids of all ages can check out the art in the morning, then participate in art activities all afternoon. If you have a budding artiste, consider registering for a Saturday or Sunday morning class (for kids three to 12). There’s a fancy restaurant on-site, as well as a café for a quick bite.
Admission: kids six and under get in free; students, $8.50; adults, $12.50; family (two adults and up to four kids), $26.50. 2 Sir Winston Churchill Sq., Edmonton. 780-422-6223.
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If you have a student in Regina, odds are he’ll be visiting this child-friendly place at least once this school year — it’s a popular spot for field trips. There’s plenty for families to see and do, including the Megamunch exhibit, which features a half-sized (and a tad scary) robotic tyrannosaurus that roars… loudly.
Kids can play with the giant board games and puppet theatre in the Paleo Pit (open to the public on weekends only), and preschoolers can join the Dinomites daycare program that meets Monday mornings (in February, March and April). Parking is free, there are vending machines for snacks, and strollers are available on-site.
Admission by donation; suggested rates: kids $3; youth/senior $5; families $15. 2445 Albert St., Regina. 306-787-2815.
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Though this special place focuses on all things play and creativity, they’re also big on educating kids about animals. The Muddy Paws Animal Clinic lets kids dress up like veterinarians and care for pets (stuffed animals) using medical instruments. Kids can also pretend they’re on a camping trip when they play in a replica of a northern Saskatchewan campsite (complete with campfire, canoe and tent).
Admission: kids under one get in free; kids and adults $3.75. 2325 Preston Ave., Saskatoon. 306-683-2555.
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Home to Scotty, Canada’s largest tyrannosaurus rex (he’s 65 million years old), the Discovery Centre teaches dinosaur buffs all about the enormous herbivores and carnivores that once roamed the earth.
Exhibits and activities include finding fossils and visiting the full-scale diorama that showcases what Saskatchewan would’ve looked like — and the life-sized animals that remained — after the dinosaurs became extinct.
Re-opening May 2017. Admission by donation; suggested rates: kids $2; adults $5; families $10. #1 T-rex Dr., Eastend. 306-295-4009.
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Good news, parents: There’s nothing “hands-off” or “no-touch” at this museum. Kids are welcome — and expected — to try out the exhibits and activities in the 12 galleries. Check out the Engine House (where kids can learn about the parts that make a real train) and Pop m’Art (where tots can make their own artwork with the always changing stock of art supplies). Wee ones will enjoy Tot Spot, a mini version of the museum that’s just for toddlers.
There’s a restaurant on-site, and packing snacks is encouraged. Free parking, stroller rental, highchairs, a snack bar and eating area, and roomy family washrooms with change tables also cater to parents schlepping kids.
Admission: $11 for all ages. 45 Forks Market Rd., Winnipeg. 204-924-4000.
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Celebrating their centennial in 2012, the WAG is filled with baroque, renaissance and modernist works of art. When your clan gets hungry, head up to the bistro that overlooks more works of art — sculptures on the gallery’s rooftop. The WAG caters to tiny art lovers with their spring break art camp for six-to-12-year-olds, as well as hosting storytelling, music and art making on Sundays.
Admission: kids five and under get in free; students $8; adults $12; families (two adults, four kids under 18) $28. 300 Memorial Blvd., Winnipeg. 204-786-6641.
Get more information here: Winnipeg Art GalleryPhoto: Winnipeg Art Gallery via Facebook
We could go on for days about all the offerings at the Manitoba Museum (the museum gallery and science gallery have lots to do and see, including the Urban Gallery that will let kids walk through a recreated boom-time Winnipeg), but it’s the Planetarium that will put stars in your little one’s eyes. It’s the first in Canada to bring in Digistar 5 All-Dome digital projection technology to enhance the experience of wee astronomers and one-day planetary scientists. Be sure to bring your own lunch, or get snacks at the vending machines.
Admission: kids two and under are free; three to 11 $7.50; adults $11. 190 Rupert Ave., Winnipeg. 204-956-2830.
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If your kids love Thomas the Tank Engine, a visit here — the only museum in Winnipeg celebrating the preservation of Manitoba’s rail heritage — is a must. Kids will see two tracks filled with railway artifacts, the first steam locomotive of the Prairies, and they’ll get a history lesson about the Hudson Bay Railroad, the Canadian National Railroad and the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
Admission: kids five and under get in free; six to 16 $3; adults $5. Located on Tracks 1 & 2 in the Via Rail Union Station, 123 Main St., Winnipeg. 204-942-4632.
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One of the country’s most beautiful buildings, filled with one of the greatest art collections in the worlds, you’ll need a day or two to experience all that the National Gallery has to offer. Just don’t miss the Artissimo program the Gallery has set up for families. For example, Art Buddies allows your tot to carry around dolls that are replicas of figures in the paintings, then search the gallery to find the artwork the doll is in.
There are also costumes kids can wear while they wander — they’ll be pretty excited when they stumble upon the artwork that matches their costume. There are vending machines, a cafeteria and a café where you can enjoy a quick meal.
Admission: kids 11 and under get in free; 12 to 19 from $6; adults from $12; families (two adults, three youths) from $24. 380 Sussex Dr., Ottawa. 613-990-1985.
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There are three floors and more than a half a dozen permanent exhibits to explore aimed at kids up to age 12. (Don’t worry; there’s plenty for grown-ups to see and do, too.) Kids can dig through sand or put on an under-the-sea puppet show at Jellyfish Junction, and they can crawl through caves and see crystal and rock in the Things in Caves exhibit.
Check the museum’s online calendar for day events and sign up the little ones for day camps on PD days. Get snacks inside, or brown bag it.
Admission: 12- to 23-month-olds $2.50; all other ages $8. 21 Wharncliffe Rd. South, London. 519-434-5726.
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There are plenty of ways for kids to get close to nature here, like a visit to the mammal gallery’s animal theatre, where tots can get into costume and put on their own shows. The Discovery Zone has even more hand-on activities that change frequently; stop by the reception desk to ask what’s on for the day of your visit. (The Trading Post for kids up to 14 is a favourite — kids can bring in their own “personally collected specimens” like rocks and empty shells and trade for new treasures.)
The museum is family-friendly, with change tables in all bathrooms and a nursing room for moms on the ground floor, as well as strollers available to use. The Nature Café menu offers lots for little palates, as well as highchairs.
Admission: tots under two get in free; kids 3 to 12 $9.50; adults $13.50. 240 McLeod St., Ottawa. 613-566-4700.
Get more information here: Canadian Museum of NaturePhoto: Canadian Museum of Nature via Facebook
Little ones certainly won’t be bored here — there are free family activities every weekend (like Carnival day — kids get to make their own Carnival mask and go on a scavenger hunt; themes change weekly). The Saturday Morning Club lets five- to 14-year-olds learn about ancient empires, work with clay and explore animal habitats, for example, all before lunch.
There’s also an eight-week Tiny Tots program that encourages parents to see art through the eyes of their wee ones, as well as play-based activities led by ROM staff. Stop at the café for breakfast, lunch or a snack.
Admission: kids three and under get in free; four to 14 from $14; adults from $20. 100 Queen’s Park, Toronto. 416-586-8000.
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Not only are there more than 80,000 masterpieces from as far back as 100 AD (including collections by Monet, van Gogh and Picasso) for art aficionados, there’s plenty for the younger set. Kids can play and create their own art in the Hands-On Centre (visit on Fridays for Creative Story Time — kids listen to a story, then dress up and put on their own retelling, or make their own storybooks).
Or, visit on Sundays for three-hour afternoon programming aimed at families (think family yoga, scrapbooking and miniature golf). Be sure to stop by the membership desk to pick up a Family Activity Bag filled with ideas (and surprises) for fun things you can do with your kids at the gallery. Foodies should check out the highly acclaimed Frank Restaurant, but if you’ve got a few little ones with you, head to caféAGO, where kids five and under eat free.
Admission: kids 5 and under get in free; youths six to 17 from $11; adults from $19.50; families (two adults, up to five youths) from $49. 317 Dundas St. West, Toronto. 416-979-6648.
Get more information here: Art Gallery of OntarioPhoto: Art Gallery of Ontario
Sure, the stunning paintings and photography is one reason for parents to schlep their kids, but we think the services the gallery offer trump the works of art. There are weekends throughout the year that are dedicated to families with themed tours and workshops (like making Peruvian clay jewellery, and creating and decorating musical instruments), and day camp is offered for six- to 16-year-olds in the summer.
There’s no parking at the museum but there’s plenty nearby. Strollers are welcome, but keep jogging strollers and backpack baby carriers at home. Eat at the four-star restaurant on-site.
Admission: kids 12 and under get in free; ages 13 to 30, $15; ages 31 and up, $23. 1380 Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal. 514-285-2000.
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Located in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian Children’s Museum’s (CCM) 30 exhibits are all about adventure, family and culture. Exhibits like “Bonjour, Hello, Konichiwa” teach traditions in Japanese homes — kids can learn origami, write Haikus and see kimonos. The International Village features a market bazaar with a French boulangerie, a North African souk, a Dutch cheese-and-flower market, and a Mexican mercado. When tummies start rumbling, head to the cafeteria (where there are breakfast and lunch options) or the bistro.
Admission: kids three and under get in free; three to 12 from $9; students from $11; adults from $15; families of five from $36. 100 Laurier St., Gatineau. 819-776-7000.
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If you don’t know Gus, one of Nova Scotia’s most loved and cherished residents for more than 65 years, you probably haven’t been to the Museum of Natural History. Visitors can hang out with Gus, the 90-year-old tortoise that lives at the museum, and check out the other animals that live alongside him.
While you’re there, learn about the flora and fauna that reside in the forests of Nova Scotia in the exhibit called Netukulimk, which is a Mi’kmaq concept that explores the link between the natural and human worlds.
Admission: youth $5.50, student $8; adults $9. 1747 Summer St., Halifax. 902-424-0560.
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There’s no better place to learn about the people and machines that made Nova Scotia the province it is today. You’ll see Canada’s oldest steam engine, find out what it’s like to work on an assembly line (there’s a chocolate assembly line game for the kids), and check out tools and machinery used to build railways. In the “Time Out” children’s section, kids can ring the bell on Locomotive No. 5.
There are change tables in the restrooms, free parking and on-site strollers available to use. There’s no food to purchase in the building, so pack a lunch and dine outside at picnic tables.
Admission: kids five and under get in free; six to 17 $3.90; adults $8.90; families $18.35. 147 North Foord St., Stellarton. 902-755-5425.
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In the home of the Bluenose II (the schooner on the head of our dimes), you’ll find more than 43,000 boat-building and marine artifacts, a theatre, and an aquarium with 14 tanks housing lobsters, halibut, trout and crab, as well as species native to Atlantic Canada like the Atlantic whitefish.
The children’s area has a bunch of activities for tots, like a touch tank where they can get up close and personal with sea stars and scallops. After learning about the creatures of the sea, make your way to the Old Fish Factory Restaurant on the wharf, where a kid-sized portion of battered haddock with homemade tartar sauce ($7) and a drink make the perfect inexpensive lunch.
Admission prices depend on the season: kids under six get in free; six to 17 from $3.50; adults $12; families $26. 68 Bluenose Dr., Lunenburg. 902-634-4794.
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Stroll through works of art, including a special collection (on now until the end of May) dedicated to the treasures of New Brunswick. Mini Monets will enjoy Art for Tots most Friday mornings at 10, and the older crowd can hang out at the gallery for after-school music and art appreciation. Get the family involved in workshops where the kids can create masterpieces they can take home and hang on the fridge on the second Sunday of each month.
Admission: kids six and under get in free; students $5; adults $10; families (two adults and kids) $20. 703 Queen St., Fredericton. 506-458-2028.
Get more information here: Beaverbrook Art GalleryPhoto: Beaverbrook Art Gallery via Facebook
Besides the stunning works of art from international, Canadian and homegrown artists, there are galleries featuring shipbuilding and marine history, exhibits about the Acadians and First Nation’s people, as well as the Hall of Great Whales, where kids can check out fossils and skeletons from the creatures that once lived in the Bay of Fundy.
For extra family fun, check out the Discovery Gallery, where you’ll find games, a play area and books about the history of the province. Ticket prices depend on the season; find free admission days online.
Admission: kids from $6; adults $10; families $22. 1 Market Sq., Saint John. 506-643-2300.
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St. Stephen is known as Canada’s Chocolate Town for a reason — the Chocolate Museum now stands where the old Ganong Chocolate Factory once made delectable sweets. Arrive with your sweet tooth, because besides learning all about candy making, the Ganong family, and watching the pros demo how they hand dip chocolate, there are plenty of hands-on exhibits to keep little fingers busy, and lots of treats to taste to get fingers dirty.
Admission: kids five and under get in free; students $8.50; adults $10; families (two adults, two students) $30. 73 Milltown Blvd., St. Stephen. 506-466-7848.
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The largest public cultural space in the province, The Rooms houses both an art gallery and a museum under one roof. Art lovers will enjoy Folklore and Other Panics, while museum visitors won’t want to miss Flowers of Remembrance, which showcases commemorative flowers and their roles.
There are art workshops available for school-agers, and a weekly program for tots that features songs, stories and crafts. Strollers are on-site and available to borrow for your visit, and there’s a café where you can kick back and relax while grabbing a bite.
Admission: kids five and under get in free; six to 16 $5; adults $10; families $26. Check online for special free admission days. 9 Bonaventure Ave., St. John’s. 709-757-8000.
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Whether you’ve passed down your childhood love of fictional orphan Anne Shirley to your kids, or you’re just a sucker for Canadian history, the Anne of Green Gables Museum is magical must-see. You can wander around Silver Bush, the house and 110-acre property Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about more than a century ago, take a carriage ride around the lake, and even see your reflection in Anne’s celebrated enchanted bookcase. Find Anne’s iconic hat and red braids in the gift shop. Open May to October and by appointment in the off-season.
Admission: kids five and under get in free; kids six to 16 $2; adults $5.50. 4542 Route 20, Park Corner. 902-886-2884.
Get more information here: Anne of Green Gables MuseumPhoto: Anne of Green Gables Museum
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