Tag Archives: Ontario

My Favourite Things to do in Niagara

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Niagara region over the last few years and after a recent comment on my blog I realised many visitors don’t know how much there is to do in this little corner of Ontario. Here are some of the things my family and I have thoroughly enjoyed doing.

Niagara Falls

The waterfalls themselves are spectacular.  One fifth of the world’s supply of fresh water comes over Niagara Falls, how mind blowing is that statistic?  Stand by it for a few minutes and you understand it completely as over 2 million litres per second charges passed you.  To view the falls themselves is free of charge and it’s amazing to see in almost any weather, clear blue days often give brilliant rainbows in the spray and during the winter the river and area around the falls freezes, giving a breath-taking wintery scene.

Jet Boat

Strictly a fair weather activity the Whirlpool Jet Boat tour leaves from Niagara-On-The-Lake and travels up the Niagara River to the point where the river makes a 90 degree turn resulting in the whirlpools.  It is a truly thrilling ride.  You will get wet and most likely you will scream! I know I did! 😀

The Jet boat on a gentle ride up the river

The Jet boat in the rapids, Me, hubbie and sons getting soaked on the back row










Unrivaled views of the area are gained by a Helicopter tour over the falls.  This is quite an expensive attraction but the experience is truly memorable.

Taking Off!

The Horseshoe Falls from above









Vineyard Tour

There are approximately 180 vineyards in and around the Niagara Region, many of them make award winning wines.  Chateaux des Charmes was my favourite and probably because it is a family run business like my business was.  Situated in a beautiful part of the Niagara peninsula they produce on average 900,000 bottles of delicious wine per year.  Their tours take visitors through the vineyards all the way to the bottling room with a few tastings afterwards.  Inexpensive and includes a money off coupon to spend in the store.








Fort George

A destination for the history buff where you can learn all about he 1812 war, the involvement of the British, Americans and Canadians and it’s effects on the Canada we know and love today.  An interesting, educational and inexpensive attraction

Musket Demonstration

British Canon pointing at the Americans









The Town of Niagara On the Lake

Originally burnt down at the end of the 1812 war and rebuilt in the regency style Niagara-On-The Lake is one of the few old towns in Canada.  Formerly the Nations Capital, the town it is now one of the main tourist attractions of the country. Free of charge.








Maid of the Mist

North America’s oldest tourist attraction first opened in 1846, The Maid of the Mist takes its passengers right into the basin of the Horseshoe Falls as thousands of litres of water drop from over 50 metres above you.  A mid price attraction but worth the cost, bare in mind you will need the ponchos they provide because you will get wet.  The Maid of the Mist runs in the summer months when the river is free of ice.








Whirlpool Aero Car

Originally opened in 1916 the whirlpool aero car travels across the Niagara Gorge and back.  It gives an aerial view of the whirlpools that you experience in the Jet Boat Tour. Inexpensive but only lasts about 20 minutes.

Niagara Parkway

The Niagara Parkway is a pretty drive along the Niagara River, I like to take it from the Falls to Niagara-On-The-Lake.  It follows the course of the river and passes the Whirlpool Rapids and the Brock Monument (another must see for history buffs). Free of charge.

Marine Land

The Marine Land theme park has a couple of rides but the main attractions, as the name suggests, are the Dolphins, Killer Whales and Beluga Whales. The admission cost is inline with other theme parks.


Clifton Hill

Clifton Hill is the part of the town of Niagara Falls that is often deemed as tacky.  Amusement arcades and flashing lights give it a mini Las Vegas feel, having said that I spent a great night in the Boston Pizza which also houses an arcade and bowling alley that kept the kids amused while the ‘grown ups’ enjoyed the food and sampled the local beverages ;-).  Next to the Boston Pizza is the Niagara sky wheel that is an inexpensive ride that gives fabulous aerial views of both the Canadian Horseshoe and American Falls.

View from the Sky Wheel in April


My Personal A to Z of Canada – C is for Camping

I am continuing with my personal A-Z of Canada and this time – C is for camping in Canisbay Lake

One of the things we love about Canada the most is the vast, beautiful wilderness.  Opportunities to go camping are abundant in every type of environment whether it is beaches, lakes, mountains or forests. On the long weekend last week we packed up the truck and headed 3 hours north to Algonquin Provincial Park.  Something I should point out is that to Canadians camping is an Rv/Motorhome or Trailer/Caravan.  When I say camping (which they call tenting!) I mean under canvas.

This was the first sight that greeted us at the entrance to the campground and I admit it freaked me out a bit. :-0

Although there were bear sightings close by we didn’t see any although we did see moose which I was really excited about.

Algonquin attracts over 250,000 visitors every year the vast majority of which are here for the camping, canoeing and hiking.








Unlike most UK campsites that are usually just a big field, Canadian campsites are often in forests with each site having it’s own little clearing complete with a fire pit.

One of my favourite parts of camping is sitting around the fire during the evening with a glass of wine while the kids toast marshmallows.


Another great thing about camping in Provincial or National parks is the hiking opportunities.  Hiking trails are marked and advertised so you can get out right into the wilderness and see sights like these.







Beaver Dam

Beaver Lodge









The Teen and the Tween also enjoyed themselves despite two days with no phone signal or internet access!







This summer we are planning more camping trips to get out and enjoy this stunning country we live in.

Changing Lives

As I stood looking out on Canisbay Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park last Saturday I literally had to pinch myself.  I couldn’t help but exclaim out loud. “I live here, I live HERE”.  

After almost two years of our expat life I’m finally starting to feel more content with our new lives, dare I even say settled?  The bad bits are still there of course but the bouts of homesickness are now becoming less severe and shorter.  Chatting with my family on skype now seems as normal as popping round for a cup of tea would have felt two years ago.

It’s been quite a journey to get this far and I admit there has been many a time when I wanted to get off the expat emotional roller coaster, I wanted to throw my hands up in surrender and say ‘I give up, I can’t cope with living in a different continent to my family and friends’. There are still days when I would give anything to have Sunday dinner at my parents house surrounded by family or have a glass of wine or five with my friends and chat into the early hours.

As I stood on that beach looking at that spectacular place, that is only a couple of hours from our new home, I began to reflect on our journey and how far we have come.  Little remains of our former lives now and for the most part that is not a bad thing.  I don’t miss the days of 12 hours in the office and trying to juggle the needs of our business with the needs of our boys.  I don’t miss barely keeping up with the housework or running out in the middle of sports day to take a call from an important client. I am a ‘stay at home mum’ right now, I am there to take the boys to school and pick them up afterwards.  All four of us have dinner together every single night. We are relaxed and calm and spend more time together than ever before.

I have discovered more about myself in the last two years than I ever thought possible, when you live outside of your comfort zone your strengths and weaknesses become so apparent.  I have surprised myself with my own bravery and realized I can live perfectly well without constant reassurance from my nearest and dearest.  I have become more assertive and more decisive.

The boys are blossoming in a newfound confidence.  Something that happens with migrant kids is they develop skills to cope with change and the experience of living in different cultures broadens their horizons.

Emigrating was the toughest decision of my life but it has been the most exhilarating journey



The Gallery – Drink

Tara at Sticky Fingers has given us ‘Drink’ for this weeks Gallery Theme.  Anyone who knows me would expect me to post a picture of an icy cold glass of Pinot Grigio but I decided not to be predictable!

I love the first cup of tea in the morning when the house is quiet, I like to take ten minutes with a cuppa to wake up properly and think through my day before the mad rush to get out of the door starts.

But the best cup of tea is first thing in the morning while we’re camping when  the sun is still low in the sky and the birds are singing while the rest of the campground is still and quiet.  The crackle of the campfire from under the kettle is the only other sound as I sit in my deck chair and enjoy the fresh air and the peace and quiet around me…perfection


The Expat Emotional Roller-coaster

In my 39 years I have never experienced the emotional range as intensely as I have in the last 2 years since our departure from England.  Every feeling from sadness to happiness, dread to anticipation and everything in between crops up on a regular basis.

I remember walking the kids to school with my best friend about a week before we left England and saying to her how I was “done with the last times” and how I wanted to look forward to the “first times”.  Seeing people and doing things for the last time prior to leaving England exhausted me emotionally like I had never experienced.  Watching my granddad walk down my driveway for the last time, the last meal with my sister and my girlfriends, the final day with my parents were obviously terribly sad occasions but at the same time I was looking forward to seeing my new home for the first time and beginning our new life. I was both excited about our arrival in Canada and very upset at our departure from England.

Niagara Falls, Canada

Tower Bridge, London









Expat life brings with it a ride on an emotional roller-coaster and the bizarre thing is that often contrasting emotions come at the same time.  An example of this was the intense excitement I felt a fortnight ago as I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of my sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew but before they even arrived I was already dreading them leaving.  The happy times we had together were all too soon followed by a tearful goodbye and now the house which just a short week ago was noisy, excited and crammed full is now quiet, calm and feels too roomy.  I really love where I live but miss my old home, I’m enjoying all the new experiences we have but I crave the familiar too.


Niagara Falls 2013

London Eye 2005









What I have discovered in the last 20 months of being an expat is that expat life is a series of ‘trade offs’, you exchange regular brief visits with longer times together that are far fewer and further between but on the whole much more memorable. I suppose the phrase ‘quality time’ comes into play here.  Learning to cope with the twists and turns, highs and lows is all part of the journey.  I hope that as time passes I become more adept at riding the emotional roller-coaster, accepting the downsides of expat life is the price we have to pay for this lifestyle we have chosen.


“Missing someone gets easier every day because even though it’s one day further from the last time you saw each other, it’s one day closer to the next time you will” – Anonymous


Canadian TV – strange Eh?

I don’t like to be negative about the place I have decided to call home, it just doesn’t sit right with me but truth be told Canadian TV is pretty bad.

I suppose that’s a bit of an unfair statement in as much as a huge percentage of our TV shows and channels are actually from the States.  We have a ridiculous amount of channels so a large amount of airtime is taken up with repeats. There are these bizarre infomercials; 30 minute adverts where people try to convince you that you cannot possibly live the rest of your life without some crazy gadget.  Because we spend a large amount of time inside in the winter that’s when all the best TV are on which means the opposite is true in the summer. Summertime programming is awful at best and to top it off there are a constant stream of reality shows about people from every walk of life from Alaskan pilots to polygamists and pageant queens to swamp people.

It took me a few weeks living here before,to my utter horror, I discovered the ‘watershed’ that I was so reliant on in the UK does not exist here and TV and radio has no content censorship during the day. It is down to the individual channels to have their own policy about whether they ‘bleep’ out foul language or moderate their content.  TV channels have a disclaimer after every ad break but if you tune in midway through a programme you will have no idea whether the content maybe appropriate family viewing or not.  19 months into living here and I’m still not entirely sure which channels are ‘safe viewing’.  The radio is exactly the same, eldest son being a teenage rocker likes to retune the car radio to a rock station when I’m not looking, I was gob-smacked on the school run one day when I actually started listening to the conversation going on between presenters of the breakfast show, it was very adult to say the least and it was 8.20am.

Check out this snapshot I took the other day.  The (R) alongside the title stands for Restricted which, according to the Ontario Film Review Board means this film is  ‘restricted to persons 18 years of age and over.  Content not suitable for minors.  May contain:  frequent use of sexual activity, brutal/graphic violence, intense horror and/or other disturbing content’.  What you may also notice is that it’s on at 3.30 on a wednesday afternoon, nice…just in time for the kids to get home from school!

I now understand why parents have to be so strict about what channels they allow their children to watch.  I thank my lucky stars my boys are old enough and I can trust them not to watch inappropriate TV shows even so I won’t be allowing youngest son to have a TV in his bedroom like he had in England.

One thing that is now blatantly obvious to me is how great British TV is and why the BBC in particular is held in high regard all over the world.



Newcomers Guide to the Ontario School System Part 3



This is my final part in this series of posts designed to share my experience of the public school system from the prospective of an expat mum, my aim is to arm newcomers to Canada with the information that I didn’t have when I first arrived.


At Elementary level there aren’t any surprises with the subjects kids learn at school, the usual assortment of numeracy, literacy, arts, science, humanities, physical education etc all make an appearance on the timetable.  Literacy, numeracy and French are usually taught everyday which doesn’t leave a lot of time for everything else.  In my opinion this results in a lack of basic knowledge in subjects such as history and geography, many kids here (even in high school) know very little about the rest of the world.  Music is another subject that suffers, although it is taught regularly it is little more than singing as instruments aren’t involved until grade 7.

Specialisation begins in Grade 9 when kids start High School.  Although the core subjects are compulsory the level at which they are studied varies depending on the Childs’ post secondary route.  Basically, students need to have an idea when they start high school whether they will go on to further education after graduation and whether they wish to go to college or university. Each year the compulsory subjects decrease in number allowing a higher level of specialisation. Generally high schools offer a much bigger range of subjects than secondary schools in England and include such courses as animation, construction, robotics, international business, fashion design and car mechanics.


High School

High schools provide education for grade 9 – 12.  Students take 8 subjects each year and gain a ‘credit’ for each subject they pass.  In order to receive your OSSD (Ontario Secondary School Diploma) you have to have at least 30 credits so students are working towards their diploma as soon as they enter high school. There are summer school programmes, which enable students to repeat courses they have failed.  Alternatively there is the opportunity of what is nicknamed a ‘victory lap’, when students complete a grade 13 in order to obtain the required credits. Students in grade 9 will select courses that are either applied or academic depending on whether they are more practical, creative, hands on learners or more academically minded.  Academic courses usually lead to university and applied courses usually lead to college, many subjects can be studied at either applied or academic level but the courses will be lightly different depending on the final destination of the students.

As well as 30 credits students also need to pass a literacy test and complete 40 community volunteer hours.  I personally think it is a fabulous idea to get kids to volunteer and I wonder why this hasn’t been taken up in other countries.  Students arrange their own volunteering so it can be tailored to the individual’s interests.

My eldest son went into grade 11 when we arrived in Canada, his school was very good allocating him credits based on his UK education so he entered grade 11 having accrued the same amount of credits as his classmates.

Assessment is mixture of coursework and final exams with the emphasis on the coursework.  Exams are usually a small percentage of the final grade, they are carried out in school and results are obtained within a few days.  Reports are given out in school every couple of months so there are regular updates on student performance and achievements.


Compulsory Testing

Compulsory testing takes place in Grade 3, 6, 9 and 10.

Grade 3 and 6 are very similar to the SATS testing that is carried out in England and test literacy and numeracy skills. Kids are prepared for these and practice for them well in advance.

There is a different mentality here compared to England regarding testing and grades.  Informal tests occur regularly in class and most work is graded so there are no surprises, kids know how well they are doing even when they are very young.  They are given deadlines to complete work and are aware of the consequences if work isn’t completed on time.  This method seemed pretty harsh to me when I first saw it but it seems to prepare students for adulthood better than the English system where many schools are non-competitive.  After all the world is a competitive place so teaching kids to ‘suck it up’ and try their best is not a bad thing in my opinion.

In grade 9 there is a test of  numeracy skills. There are different versions of the test depending whether they are taking the applied or academic course

The OSSLT (Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test) is taken in grade 10, usually in March. It is a requirement to pass this test in order to receive the OSSD.


Further Information can be found at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/




Newcomers Guide to the Ontario School System Part 2

Following on from my last post the Newcomers guide to the Ontario School System here is my 2nd installment.  Just to reiterate these are simply my observations as a Mum.

Transportation to school

Here in Canada the vast majority of children travel to school on the school bus.  You know those big yellow ones you see in films?


Here in the suburbs they drive around the streets picking the kids up and driving them to school.  For little ones in daycare they can often pick the kids up from daycare take them to school and drop them back there in the evening. Canada really likes to help the working work mum!  Once your child is registered in school you get issued a student number, this is all you need to book a place on the school bus.



The Structure of the School Day

Like most schools in the UK the school day is usually around 9am-3.30pm give or take.  Some schools provide before and after school care (another thing to help those working mums).  The amount of lessons and the length of them vary from school to school but a few things stay the same; Canadians like to snack so ‘snack time’ is part usually part of morning recess.  They also love their fresh air, so children go outside unless it’s raining hard or below -20C so kids must be dressed appropriately for the weather, whether it’s sun hats and sun screen or snow boots and thick coats.

Schools are equipped with PA systems, they announce important news in the morning, so very rarely send home letters.  They also play the national anthem every morning and have the children stand to listen to it.

Generally, Elementary schools don’t have a canteen so kids need to take a packed lunch and their snack.

It is usually only the Catholic schools that have a school uniform. Students dress casually, younger kids don’t always get changed for PE (Phys Ed/gym) so they need to wear suitable clothing.  They will also need a pair of indoor shoes that are left at school and are worn whilst inside the building. Trainers are ideal for this.

In Elementary schools homework is rarely given unless it is for a specific project and never given in the holidays, as ‘family time’ is deemed extremely important.



School Holidays

The school year starts in September on the Tuesday following the Labour day weekend and goes through to the end of June (around 27th). The year is divided into 2 semesters September to January and February to June.  At the end of January reports are issued and there are usually subject changes.

There are long weekends in October for Thanksgiving, February for Family day, Easter and Victoria Day in May.  There are two weeks holiday at Christmas and 10 days for March Break.

My boys really struggled with the change in the school year, they were so used to a break from school every 6 weeks when it came to several months between breaks they were exhausted.  9 weeks off in the summer really makes up for it though!


In my final part I will cover which subjects are taught and information particular to High schools