Tag Archives: Heritage Park

Our fave 5 family attractions in Calgary

There are only two weeks of summer left (and a measly 10 days if your kids are in the Catholic system). It’s a time of mixed emotions — we’re sad because the season is coming to an end, yet ebullient at the thought of child-free September days. But we’re also plum out of ideas for how to occupy the children during summer break’s homestretch.

These are a few of our favourite outdoor places to go for fun, in no particular order. Some are popular attractions that charge admission; others are free. Hopefully one of our fave 5  stops will become your go-to.

Calgary Zoo

When the kids were little we had zoo passes and visited the Calgary Zoo almost weekly during the summer. Now that they’re older (11 and eight) we go about twice a year. It’s great fun to visit the animals that we think of as our old friends, including the gorilla troop, tigers and curious penguins. During our last visit we also bade Sabari, the rhinoceros, goodbye. He’s leaving in mid-September to make room for the giant panda exhibit, which is slated to open in 2018.

The Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo is a family favourite.

The Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo is a family favourite.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

We are a bit biased toward this protected natural area as we live a block away, but the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a neat place to bring kids. You have a great chance of seeing not only birds (from great blue herons to bald eagles), but other wildlife including deer and muskrats. Also, a lot of people don’t realize that all of the trails that were damaged during the 2013 flood have now reopened.

This is why they call it a bird sanctuary -- a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

This is why they call it a bird sanctuary — a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

Heritage Park

Did you know the rides at Heritage Park are now included in the cost of admission? During our last visit we were super excited to just hop on the swings and carousel on the midway of this historical village. For those new to town, Heritage Park is an “olden days” attraction that brings to life various eras of a settler’s life in the west, from the fur trade at a replica fort to the dusty streets of a frontier town complete with ice cream shop and candy store. All the workers even dress the part (and are knowledgeable about their particular role), which makes it fun.

Bennett loved the swings and Avery was brave enough to try them, even though the spinning almost caused lunch to come up.

Bennett loved the swings and Avery was brave enough to try them, even though the spinning almost caused lunch to come up.

St. Patrick’s Island

This new-ish urban park has a natural-materials playground, a wading area, walking paths and a giant grassy hill to walk up and roll down (where they show free movies on select summer evenings). What’s more, St. Patrick’s Island is right on the bike path by the Bow River near Fort Calgary, so you can easily get there under your own power, bring a picnic and make a day of it. Be sure and check out the other new natural play space in neighbouring East Village, or pop into the Simmons Building for a coffee, cocktail or baked goodie.

St. Patrick's Island is a lovely redeveloped urban park between the Calgary Zoo and East Village.

St. Patrick’s Island is a lovely redeveloped urban park between the Calgary Zoo and East Village. Here, Bennett wades in a Bow River off-shoot.

Calaway Park

The beauty of Calgary’s amusement park is its small size. You can easily “do Calaway” in a day and I’ve hardly ever encountered a wait time longer than 10 or 15 minutes, so you can go on your favourite rides more than once. And don’t miss the Bumper Boats on a hot day — the best!

On the airplane ride at the Calaway Park kiddie zone.

Bennett on the airplane ride in the Calaway Park kiddie zone.

Finally, don’t forget to go for ice cream one more time this summer! The Calgary Zoo, Calaway Park and Heritage Park all have ice cream vendors, and you can ride over to Village Ice Cream from St. Patrick’s Island, or pop in to the Inglewood Drive In for a chocolate dip cone or milkshake if you’re at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Now that's a proper kid-sized ice cream cone.

I scream for ice cream!

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.