Tag Archives: Calgary

Family-friendly dining in Calgary

My husband and I have always avoided taking our children out for meals at restaurants. Frankly, an eternity can pass between placing the order and the arrival of the food, and the experience can go off the rails faster than you can whip out an iPhone for entertainment. Why pay for good food we won’t enjoy when we can eat passable fare at home in relative peace? (That’s our rationale, anyway.)

I remember eating brunch at Humpty’s on New Year’s Day one year. Bennett, then just a newborn, was supposed to sleep in his carseat. Instead he woke up and I had to nurse him right when my French toast arrived. By the time I got to it, it was cold and rubbery and I just scarfed it down, all while he bawled. Another time at King’s Bennett threw a fit when the food finally showed up because we took the iPhone away. He screamed and cried and refused to eat (cue the rest of us inhaling wor wontons while avoiding eye contact with the other diners).

Now we pretty much only take the kids out for dim sum at the Regency Palace in Chinatown. It’s loud, it’s crowded and chances are there will be another baby or toddler screaming louder than our kids. Since the food comes by on carts at approximately three-minute intervals, we can start eating immediately without having to wait. As a bonus, Avery and Bennett love sticky rice.

The rice is so sticky, it sometimes gets in your hair.

Not quite ready for chopsticks.

 At the entrance there’s also a fish pond filled with koi. You can buy koi food for $1 and watch the fish (which may actually be carp, come to think of it) fight over the little pellets. It’s so entertaining, there’s no need to bring crayons or hand-held electronic distractions.

Let's hope these giant fish aren't being farmed to make koi dumplings!

Plus, there are fortune cookies for dessert! But just in case we get sick of tripe and pig’s feet (kidding! We stick to the rice, pork buns and shrimp dumplings), I polled Calgary moms for other kid-friendly Calgary restaurants, below. A couple moms recommended places such as Notable and Belgo, but we’re a ways away from a fine dining experience just yet. And I can’t imagine spending $12 on the Belgo Poutine & Sausage for my son to take one bite and say, “No, I don’t like it.” Sigh.

  • Stick to “chain-type” restaurants and you’ll be gold. One mom of two active boys swears by the Olive Garden, East Side Marios, Boston Pizza, Montanas, the Old Spaghetti Factory and Milestones.
  •  The Danish-Canadian Club is great for brunch on Saturday mornings, says another mom with two school-age boys. “There are always lots of kids there, and we all enjoy it.”
  • Little Chef in the Strathcona shopping plaza serves up burgers, sandwiches and meat pies.
  • Without Papers Pizza in Inglewood plays kids movies on Saturday afternoons. What kid doesn’t like pizza and movies?
  • And everyone agrees you can’t go wrong with Chinese food, or anywhere in Chinatown, such as the Silver Dragon.

But no matter where you go, remember to bring distractions in the form of crayons and colouring books as many places do not offer these items. For those restos without a kid’s menu, order off the appy list or just a bowl of soup. And if your kid starts screaming, “just eat faster.”

Once Upon a Christmas at Heritage Park

Yesterday the temperature in Calgary climbed to a balmy 11C. Since we had free tickets to Once Upon a Christmas at Heritage Park, we headed there along with every other family in the city. Heritage Park is a replica of an “Olden Days” town, where all the workers dress like Little House on the Prairie. Other attractions include a train, a paddle-wheeler boat, farm animals, historic homes, a Main Street, and an amusement park area with old-time rides like a ferris wheel.

See the shadows? That's half of Calgary waiting in line.

 The park closes for the winter but re-opens the month before the holidays for Once Upon a Christmas. The event attempts to re-create Christmases of yore: no rides, no train, no boat, no toys, but a huge line-up to get inside the bakery for a gingerbread man cookie. That is to say, none of the fun summer stuff is going on, but they bring in Santa, some reindeer and a couple of Belgian horses to pull the wagon.

We knew we were in trouble when the parking lot was completely full upon arrival. “I didn’t realize everyone in Calgary knew about this,” my husband remarked. “I’m glad we have free tickets,” I said.  This meant we could skip the 45-minute line-up to buy tickets to get inside (those suckers didn’t know what awaited them: more line-ups!). The whole event had a sort of Soviet Union-era feel about it: large crowds of people milling around and standing in long lines for something (a loaf of bread? a pair of shoes?).

Once through the gates we immediately ran into some friends we never see — further proof that everyone in the city was at Heritage Park for Once Upon a Christmas. We trekked through the countryside down to the town (with the train not running it’s a good 20-minute walk with little kids), over to the red barn for our first line-up: to see Santa.

The only time in life when children don't have to heed the "Don't Sit on Strange Men's Laps or Take Candy Canes from Strangers" Rule.

 The line moved quickly and the kids were rewarded with candy canes. “This isn’t so bad!” I thought. So we walked over to the corral to see the reindeer. Now, reindeer are definitely more of a novelty than Santa (you never see them at the mall), so this line-up was really long. We decided to skip it and simply view the small ungulates through the wooden fence as opposed to waiting in line to pet them. This was not acceptable to Bennett, who started crying and sat down in the snow. I looked around, embarrassed, and pretended he wasn’t my son. Thankfully, Avery didn’t mind Plan B.

Avery liked watching the reindeer but wondered, "Where's Rudolph?"

Bennett then started going on about wanting to go home, but damned if we were leaving without standing in one final line-up. After a hasty snack of leftover bread crusts on an old-time porch, we made our way over to the town square, where the horse-drawn wagon ride line-up snaked through the square all the way to the amusement park. You’d think people had never ridden in a wagon before, the way they lined up for 45 minutes for a 10-minute ride around a village they’d already walked around. But with kids in tow, you do all manner of painful waiting for small pleasures. And it was worth it — just look how excited we all are.

The best 10-minute wagon ride ever!

I almost wish we’d waited in the bakery line-up for those cookies. Almost.

For the birds: Birdwatching with kids at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

It’s that time of year in Calgary when there’s not a lot to do on the weekend. Fortunately, we’re not yet totally snowed in, so if it’s a nice enough day we like to get outside. We live in Inglewood, an inner city neighbourhood next to the Bow River that happens to be along the migratory path for various species of birds. It’s a short walk to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “What kids in their right mind would want to spend a Saturday afternoon bird watching at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary?” It’s a valid question. My husband and I are hardly “twitchers” (that’s British for “hopelessly dorky birders”), but we like to see bald eagles and Northern flickers during walks around the ‘hood. We’ve also been hissed at by Canada geese when we get too close in the spring so we’re comfortable around feathered creatures. Our kids like to watch the ducks and geese take off and land en masse in the river, but the idea of the children crouching quietly in the bushes, with binoculars, for hours, waiting for a ruby-striped whatchamazoo to alight on a tree branch, is laughable. So to get their buy-in on these little nature outings, we bring bird seed.

Birding with kids: bring seeds.

 My daughter had no problem enticing a chickadee and a nuthatch onto her hand. The bird would only stick around long enough to grab a seed or two, then fly back to a tree. Tip: the birds prefer the hand held highest and filled with the most seeds. Rule sticklers take note: this practice is frowned upon. Serious adult bird watchers armed with telephoto lens cameras and bird books scowled in our direction, so my husband urged Avery to hide the seeds. But the birds were obviously famished and followed us around the lovely trails practically begging for more.

Who could say no to these beady little eyes?
We kept feeding the birds until the seeds made one of them spontaneously combust:
The glory of bird watching revealed.
At which point we high-tailed it home.