Five great plans for five days

The Parenting Times guide to March Break family fun in Ottawa


As a child, you probably welcomed March Break – a whole week off without having to get up early for school or rush to your extracurricular activities – with almost the same enthusiasm as the Christmas holidays.

Your parents, however, likely worried about how they would keep you entertained without bankrupting themselves.

Surely there was a way to keep the kids from spending the entire break beached on the family room couch, goggle-eyed in front of back-to-back (non-educational) television programming, they thought – yet year after year, they struggled with how to keep you busy until you were old enough to make your own plans.

Now that you’re a parent, you’ve promised yourself that you’d fill your own child’s week with memorable, educational, yet fun activities without driving yourself into the poorhouse. Parenting Times presents a five-day plan, organized by theme, to help you make the most of March Break.

Day 1: Head downtown

Make a plan to head downtown, where the lights are much brighter. If you drive, park for free all day on weekends at the World Exchange Plaza. You’ll want to make Parliament Hill your first stop in the late morning, as tours tend to fill up quickly.

The Hill (which you likely haven’t checked out since your Grade 6 class trip) offers guided or self-guided tours of Centre Block, the iconic building which is home to the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament. Here, you’ll find Canadian history, stunning architecture and art.

Although free tours are available daily, you’ll need tickets from the ticketing centre at 90 Wellington St. Allow one hour for this activity, and although it’s free to tour the historic rooms of Parliament, don’t forget to check out the Memorial Chamber and the fantastic view of Ottawa from the top of the Peace Tower.

Bundle up for the short walk to the ByWard Market for some lunch and then dessert at the iconic BeaverTails kiosk on George Street before closing out your afternoon with some skating on the Rideau Canal (weather permitting).

Day 2: Splish-splash

You couldn’t make it down south for a week in the sun and surf, and your kids remind you of it every day. That doesn’t mean they can’t still don swimwear and have a splashing good time, thanks to the city-run Kanata Wave Pool at the Kanata Leisure Centre.

Located at 70 Aird Place, the wave pool, which is fully accessible, features wave and non-wave swims at various times, so be sure to check the schedule at before you head out. This facility also has a kiddie pool, a slide, and for the bigger kids (and Mom and Dad), a whirlpool and sauna. Ahhh.

Day 3: Feed your creativity

On a really brisk, nose-hair-freezing day that calls for indoor events only, load up the family car and head over to the city-operated Shenkman Arts Centre on Centrum Boulevard in Orléans, featuring six free-admission galleries showcasing local, Canadian and international artists.

If you’re looking for world-renowned art by some of the masters, you can’t beat the National Gallery of Canada (where admission to the permanent collection is free from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays).

Great inspiration for kids and parents who share a love of art can be found in the gallery’s current exhibition, Kiki Smith and Tony Smith: Masterpiece in Focus. This father-daughter exhibition, a Canadian first, features Tony’s large-scale geometric works and Kiki’s sculptures, prints and drawings.

Day 4: Enjoy the great outdoors

If you look past the shovelling and stressful driving, winter can be surprisingly peaceful.

Bundle up and schlep to Gatineau Park to work off some of that pent-up energy. While the park is known for its network of cross-country ski trails and snowshoe trails (indeed, most of Gatineau Park’s trails are dedicated to these two activities in the winter) there are three groomed trails totalling 10 kilometres available for winter hiking.

These include the Sugarbush Trail by the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre in Chelsea, Lauriault Trail near the Mackenzie King Estate and Pioneers Trail in the Hull sector of Gatineau. If it’s not too cold, furry family members can come too, but all dogs must be leashed.

For a great winter activity in the south end, the Wild Bird Care Centre, which cares for injured, abandoned and orphaned birds of all kinds, makes for a unique day trip.

This facility, which is open from noon to 3 p.m. 365 days a year, is located at 734 Moodie Dr. at Hunt Club, and backs onto a trail, where wild birds will eat birdseed out of your hand after the tour. If the weather is bad, call the centre at 613-828-2849 before you head over.

Want to keep it central? Take a trip to the Canada Agriculture Museum, a working dairy farm in the middle of the city. Located on Prince of Wales Drive, the facility is also home to goats, sheep, chickens and pigs. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission ranges from $6 to $9.

Day 5: Give back

It’s never too early to teach a child the importance of philanthropic deeds, but between school, daycare and afterschool activities, it can be hard to find the time to squeeze these life lessons in. This March Break, make it a point to give back to those who never seem to catch a break – in life, that is. Take the kids shopping for supplies and include them in the drop-off. Pick up canned goods and non-perishable food items for the Ottawa Food Bank; diapers and wipes, baby food and canned formula for the food bank’s Baby Supply Cupboard; and new toiletries, socks, mitts, hats and scarves for the Ottawa Mission and the Shepherds of Good Hope shelters downtown.

If your children love animals (what kid doesn’t?), the Ottawa Humane Society might be a more natural beneficiary. The shelter has put together a wish list of supplies, which includes pet toys, six-foot nylon dog leashes, soft treats, blankets, nonclumping cat litter, bird seed, pet beds, pine shavings and timothy hay for small animals, along with cleaning supplies like laundry detergent, dryer sheets and rubber gloves.