When was the last time you let your kids decide where to go on vacation?
At ages 6, 7 and 11 aside from theme parks and waterparks, my kids had never once suggested a destination they wanted to visit. And then one day all three of them asked if we could road trip to Sudbury Ontario and yes, I was surprised as all of you.
It turns out, the kids had been watching The Amazing Race Canada and the contestants had traveled to you guessed it – Sudbury, Ontario where one of the challenges was deep underground in what used to be a working mine and is now Dynamic Earth.
After a few more days of “Sudbury would be an awesome family vacation” hints from the kids, we started to seriously look at what there was to do in Sudbury. What we discovered was that our goal of showing the kids every province and territory in Canada over the next five years and having memorable experiential learning opportunities along the way, perfectly aligned with what this Northern Ontario city has to offer.
Check in for your mining shift in the dry room, take a glass elevator ride deep underground complete with multimedia video about a time long ago, put your hard hat on and get ready for an experience you’ve never had before!
More than 1.85 billion years ago, Sudbury was hit with a massive meteorite over 10km in diameter. The impact and the resulting crater (a huge gigantic hole, in this case more than 200km across) is the reason behind Sudbury’s beautiful geography, long mining history and lucky for us, Dynamic Earth’s impressive underground exhibit.
The wait of just under an hour for our mine tour to begin was surprisingly easy because the kids don’t have to line-up for their turn since you register for a specific tour time. This means the kids can roam the above-ground exhibits and especially the multi-story play place right outside of the entrance to the mine, which in my son’s words was “epic”! Kids climb, play, toss play rocks down shafts and yell out “fire in the hole” before pushing down on the imaginary dynamite ignition.
My 11-year old daughter’s favourite above-ground exhibit was by far panning for gold. The “Blue Coats” are a combination of staff and volunteers and are readily available to answer questions, engage the kids and in the gold panning area, teach the kids the perfect technique to pan for gold – which they order from the Yukon and pour into the exhibit on a daily basis. My daughter’s commitment to the perfect technique paid off and she went home with a small fleck of gold taped to a card.
When our tour time was called we lined up and that’s when the excitement started to build. The mine experience started the second we entered the dry room where we registered as miners heading underground for our shift, met with our crew leader (ie: tour guide) and then toured three separate mine exhibits all representing different points in mining history.
- Dynamic Earth is also home to Sudbury’s famous “Big Nickel”, the largest coin in the world, so make sure to have your camera ready.
- Register for your underground tour when you pay your entry fees so that you have a confirmed tour time. This is also the ideal time to purchase pre-stamped postcards to post from Canada’s only underground mailbox. Just be sure to fill out the postcards before going underground.
- It’s chilly and damp underground, so no matter how hot and humid it is outside, wear closed toed shoes and bring a sweater.
- It’s a good idea to prepare younger children for what it will be like underground. Be sure to let them know that it will be very dark in some spots and will be damp. Wearing one of the provided hard hats is non-negotiable and at one point in the tour there is the opportunity to detonate pretend dynamite, which is very loud.
When they say that Science North is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ontario, it’s not difficult to see why – even the building architecture is something to talk about!
We highly recommend picking up a schedule of activities for the day and planning when to spend some free time roaming the exhibits and when to head to one of the many scheduled experiences. Be sure to make note of the scheduled times for the Wildfires 4D exhibit, meet and greet with the animals and the IMAX films.
The mix of live animal and insect exhibits, interactive exhibits encouraging play and the experiences guided by state of the art technology, left us wanting to come back and explore some more.
The kids could have spent hours in the butterfly room where there were over 400 types of butterflies to be observed, fly overhead and even land in the kids’ hands if they were patient and still.
They each had a turn at learning about motors while building then racing their race cars and the bed of nails was braved by all three.
An unexpected bonus was the Blue Coats were always ready and waiting to help the kids with an activity or dive into teaching them about specific exhibits. Many of the Blue Coats are also bilingual which means that kids who speak French and English can experience Science North in both languages.
If you can plan your trip around any of the classes, workshops or outdoor excursions being offered through the Art Gallery of Sudbury, we 100% recommend it.
We were lucky enough to participate in one of the outdoor excursions and together with our guide, Nancy Gareh, the Education and Program Manager we hiked Onaping Falls in the same area where A.Y. Jackson, a member of the Group of Seven, painted along the shores. After a short hike with a bit of history on the Group of Seven, we examined the bridge, the shore, the trees and the landscape as a whole while Nancy taught the children how to mentally frame what they wanted to paint.
From her backpack, Nancy produced artist quality watercolours, brushes and painting paper and gave the kids a mini art lesson before encouraging them to find a place to paint along the rocks. Once she saw what each of the kids was painting she would offer tips and instruction on how to paint trees, give the rocks dimension and how to add colours onto each other.
This was an experience we will never, ever forget and the paintings, while perhaps not the quality of those hung in the Art Gallery of Sudbury, have been framed and are hung proudly in our home.
- The Art Gallery of Sudbury has some great exhibits – build in some time before or after your learning experience to explore.
- Wear comfortable clothes and good shoes as the hike is a moderate level but there are some rocky areas and a few inclines and declines.
- Even if you’re unable to participate in a scheduled excursion, visit the Art Gallery of Sudbury for some inspiration then pack up a picnic lunch, some dollar store paints, brushes and canvases and head out for your own hike and painting adventure at Onaping Falls.
About 30 minutes from Sudbury in Capreol, Ontario is the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum. If you have children who love trains, this is definitely a place to visit. Here kids learn about the importance of the railroad in Northern Ontario and how people in the most Northern parts of the province lived and worked.
One of the best parts is that the kids can walk along the railroad tracks and explore different types of train cars and everything can be touched, tinkered with and experienced.
The school car on it’s own was worth the trip. Lovingly restored, the kids can sit at wood desks and see firsthand how this one rail car was used to educate children in Northern communities where there weren’t any school. They learned that not all parts of our province (or country) have the same resources as we have in our city suburbia and that as Canadians, we have always been incredibly resourceful.
- Enjoy the museum and outdoor exhibits for what they are. Though some are dated, it is clear from the volunteers that everything is being lovingly restored one exhibit at a time.
- Let your kids take the lead – there’s no right order to explore. Just choose a train car and enjoy.
- Don’t forget to take some time to watch the outdoor Thomas the Train exhibit.
A big thank you to Sudbury Tourism for the amazing experiential learning opportunities in and around the city!