Tag: things to do in hamilton

Your Guide To Family Fun in Hamilton – 2020 Edition

 

The fight against COVID-19 is still an ongoing battle.  We have gotten to the point where we can proceed with caution in many aspects of our lives, though. Normally, for a  summer vacation, my family enjoys taking a road trip. We weren’t really ready/able to this year, however.  Turns out, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. When it comes to risk level during this pandemic, nothing beats staying home, sure. If you do want to get out, and #supportlocal,  I’ve learned that there  are plenty of fun places in Hamilton that are following government protocols (or going above and beyond them), to try to keep you and your family safe. After spending some time checking out new stuff, revisiting old favorites, and looking into others, I’ve compiled this guide of things to do in Hamilton with kids, during these quarantine times. To quote the Beastie Boys, ch-check it out!

 

GOLFING

Our summer days and nights are usually all about baseball, as all of the fam (minus little KJ) plays it. As most leagues are not running this year,  due to COVID-19, we had to look elsewhere, for our lower risk, socially distant sports fix.  For example, we signed B and J up for tennis lessons. In my case, I tried golfing.

 

southern pines golf and country club

 

Hamilton is home to numerous highly rated courses (including one that was the home to last year’s Canadian Open).  As a complete novice, I hit the links with another complete novice, on a course not far from my house, Southern Pines Golf And Country Club.  The cool thing about golf is that you can play it while comfortably abiding by COVID-19 protocols. For example,  Southern Pines has a mandatory mask policy when indoors there only. Check-in is done through a window outdoors, as is ordering takeout food and drinks.  Physical distancing is encouraged, and I didn’t see anyone not following it, when I was there. Carts are available for rent, but clubs are not.  You can’t remove the flag in each hole when putting, either, to minimize the touching of it.

The non-cool thing about golf is that it is super hard:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEUxrwMFfPD/

 

Southern Pines, while very scenic, also isn’t the easiest course to play or navigate. While bumbling along the greens looking for where to aim,  for example, someone yelled at us that to get to the hole, we had to take a dog-leg left. I still don’t know what the heck that means, but we, predictably, took aim at the wrong hole.  The duo of teen boys behind us did not have the same problem, for what it’s worth. Regardless, Southern Pines is still quite enjoyable, even for rookies like my buddy and I.

 

BOWLING

 

When I heard that Splitsville in Hamilton was opening back up a while ago, I will admit to being surprised. A bowling alley, with all of the sharing and closeness, seemed like a risky outing.  And that’s without mentioning the arcade there. In actuality, Splitsville Hamilton is following the government guidelines, and taking many other precautions to try to ensure that everyone’s visit is as safe as possible.

On our recent visit there, masks were mandatory everywhere except when you were at your lane. Capacity was also heavily limited, too.  Groups are limited to five people, and placed on every other lane, for social distancing purposes.  Arrows and signs were everywhere, as well, so the flow-through was suitably distant.

Regarding the bowling balls,  there’s no sharing. A bunch of them are already at the lane, when you get there. If you need another sized one, you have to ask a staff member for it.  When you’re done, you leave them there, along with your bowling shoes, both of which are cleaned and sanitized afterwards. There’s lots of hand sanitizer on site, and staff members were constantly cleaning the different surfaces. The restaurant is not open to dine in, but servers are available, to take food/drink orders. A little patio area is set up outside, too, if you just want to eat/drink.

 

things to do in hamilton with kids

 

Splitsville is one of the most fun things to do in Hamilton with kids, regardless. These procedural modifications didn’t hamper our bowling experience at all.

 

TREETOP TREKKING

 

treetop trekking hamilton

Treetop Trekking Hamilton is a place that I’ve heard good things about, and have been meaning to check out for a long time. It only took a pandemic for me to finally book a visit for the family. Located in the Binbrook Conservation Area, Treetop Trekking Hamilton is an outdoor park, with numerous courses and adventures for people of all ages.  There’s the Zipline And Aeriel Game Trek, for 9 year olds and up, where you move through the trees via various challenges; Discovery Kids Courses, which are like mini versions of the Aerial Game Trek, for kids 5 and up; and the Treewalk Village, a big playground, made up of treehouses, slides and obstacle courses, for kids 3-7.

Reservations are required ahead of time, because they are operating at a lower capacity, but are still busy. They want to stagger things, to reduce traffic during check-in (which is also done outdoors).  Equipment and harnesses are cleaned and sanitized after every use, too.  Hand sanitizer stations were readily available, and the staff are really particular about making sure people are acceptably spaced out, either in line, or on the different activities.  Masks are required during check-in, but not while out in the park.

We really did not know what to expect….

Because of time constraints, B and I opted for the Aerial Game Trek, while K, J and KJ did the Treehouse Village. The feedback that I got from  them about the Village was that it was more suited for smaller kids than older ones, and adults are mainly just there to supervise.  They also were done well before the allotted two hours. In retrospect, we would have got more bang for our bucks if we booked J  for the Discovery Kids Courses instead, and then let KJ do his thing, in the Village.

 

treetop trekking hamilton

Me holding up the line of people to take a selfie.

 

The Aerial Game Trek is admittedly  fantastic.  Once you are harnessed up, you go through a brief orientation, to get used to the equipment and rigging.

And then you are off to try the courses on your own!

The courses are composed of a variety of “games” that you have to pass through.  Once you are on one, there is no turning back, because of how things are designed, with the rigging.  The games includes stuff like rope bridges, tightropes, moving logs, and, of course, zip lines!

things to do in Hamilton with kids

The courses get progressively difficult and fear-inducing.  It’s pretty physically demanding,  as well, especially if you’re in dadbod shape like yours truly.  I was sweating profusely, but I didn’t want touch my face to wipe the sweat away, either. B’s an agile, athletic 10 year old kid, but he struggled as we went on,  and developed sore hands (note: bring gloves). We both tapped out before the last course, but it was good times for the most part.

One other note. Pricing for Treetop Trekking is not insignificant (our outing regular price would have been $150 approx, for the five of us). This does include admission to the Binbrook Conservation Area. To get the most value,  a decent plan might be to bring a picnic lunch, and hit up the Conservation Area before or after Treetop Trekking.

 

 

ADVENTURE VILLAGE

 

Adventure Village is an amusement park located in Confederation Park, which is on the waterfront in Hamilton. While some of the attractions are not open, some are,  with additional COVID-19 safety measures, like batting cages, go karts, laser tag and mini golf.

On a recent family outing there, to go mini-golfing, a tee time had to be booked ahead of time (maximum group size is six people).  Clubs, balls and retrievers are sanitized after every  use, by staff.  Masks are mandatory throughout the park, and available for purchase if you don’t have one. Temperatures of guests are taken via a non contact thermometer.  Hand sanitizer is at the entrance booth, but I did not notice it elsewhere on the course. While on the course,  you have to wait for those ahead of you to finish, as usual. I think that the actual holes seemed shorter too, so you don’t have to reach so deep down to get your ball.

Adventure Village, as mentioned, is near the shores of Lake Ontario.  As such, one thing that my family loves to do on a nice day, is grab some ice cream from Hutches, and go for a walk along the beach!

 

things to do in Hamilton with kids

 

 

PARKS AND RECREATION

For the more budget conscious outings, Hamilton has some sweet spots. Since it’s unofficially “The Waterfall Capital Of The World”, hikes to see said waterfalls are a popular past time. The Devil’s Punchbowl, in particular, is one of the more unique places in Ontario to  explore.

As I have alluded to before on here, playgrounds and splash pads are operational again, in and around the city. Hamilton is full of good ones, too. Gage Park, for one. The Dundas Driving Park, for another. Or my personal favourite,  Pier 4 Park.

 

pier 4 park

 

When it comes to kids, it tends to be hit and miss, in terms rule following, and COVID-19 guidelines. Some kids are OK, some, like Pushy (who we saw again at a completely different park! What are the odds?!) are not OK.

 

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

 

Catching a flick wasn’t really an option in Hamilton until not too long ago.   And, in the interest of realness, we have yet to venture out to the movies.  Cineplex Hamilton Mountain, Cineplex Ancaster, Playhouse Cinema and Landmark Cinemas 6 Jackson Square are all open, with modified, safer viewing experiences. These include reduced capacity, in-theatre seating distancing, masks requirements, enhanced cleaning measures by staff, and directional signage.

For that throwback vibe,  The Starlite Drive In Theatre in Stoney Creek, is also open.   Because of COVID-19, they’ve cut capacity, to allow for extra distance between vehicles.  As well, only members of the same household are allowed per vehicle. The on-site playground is closed, but concessions and washrooms are open. Tickets must be ordered ahead of time.  I didn’t see anything about masks being required.  Bottom line, for family fun ideas,  you can never go wrong with hanging out in your car and watching a movie under the stars!

BRING IT ON HOME

 

In terms of things to do in Hamilton with kids,  checking out shows, concerts and sporting events are highlights, for my family. These obviously haven’t been possible recently.  However, as the old saying goes, if you can’t build Rome in a day, bring Rome to your home! Pretty sure that I butchered two expressions there, but let’s continue.

For example, for those who miss going to Tim Hortons Field, to watch the Hamilton Ticats play, Bench Brewing Company has a special edition Ticats beer!    bench brewing companyGrab a six pack of that and throw on the 1999 Grey Cup, to get your pigskin fix. For bonus points, to get a truly authentic stadium experience, find a Toronto Argos fan in your neighbourhood, tell them that they suck, then get into a fist fight, while people nearby chant Oskee Wee Wee (note:  I’m joking. Please, no violence, people).

This pandemic has seen a rise in virtual events, as well.  Virtual fans are rising in popularity, such that it’s possible to get your travel fix, from the comfort of your couch.

 

 

Here’s me in the NBA Bubble, watching the Toronto Raptors play:

 

nba virtual fan

 

I made a trip to the WWE’s Thunderdome, to witness Summerslam:

 

wwe thunderdome

 

RANT TIME: this was a bummer!

See, I signed up, and was told that my time in the ‘dome was 10:45pm. The show was slated to end at 10:30, however. Weird. Hours before the show, I received an email saying that my time changed to 6:45pm. I logged in at 6:45pm, and was told that my session was over.  No Summerslam for me. For the heck of it, I then logged in at 10:45pm, and I got inside the Thunderdome. This is the virtual equivalent of wandering around the concert venue after the show is over, and no one else is in the building.

J and I did make a much better trip from Hamilton to Los Angeles, to watch America’s Got Talent from the ‘virtual audience’.

AGT Virtual audience

 

Some of my peeps couldn’t believe that I got these “tickets”, but it wasn’t that difficult.  Googling is bound to find scores of opportunities, if you know what you want to see!

With that, I think that’s it’s time to see the end of this post. Tata for now!

 

 

Yo, don’t be mad! I’ll be back again someday.

 

 

Disclaimer: complimentary or discounted rates were provided for some of the places mentioned in this post. Opinions expressed were all mine, as usual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Canusa Games

It’s a sunny, muggy Friday afternoon in August, and I’m standing on the field of Atwood Stadium, in Flint Michigan, with my family. It’s busy here, full of kids and adults interacting with each other.  There’s an excitement in the air, too. Lots of laughter. Lots of smiles. We exchange pleasantries with a complete and total stranger. Soon after, the stranger rounds up her children, and four others, including my nine year old son B. The stranger then says goodbye and leaves with them all. As I stand there, clutching my daughter’s hand, sweat now escaping my forehead more rapidly than before, watching as my son walked across the field with the stranger, and then disappeared out of the stadium, I wonder if I just made the biggest mistake of my life.

Welcome to the Canusa Games.

Canusa Games

 

OK, OK, that’s a melodramatic opening paragraph, so I should probably provide some context.

The Canusa Games are, per their website, North America’s largest and longest running international games. Athletes mainly under the age of 18 from Hamilton, Ontario (my hometown) and Flint, Michigan compete against each other annually in various sports.  The two cities take turns each year hosting, as well. This year, it involved over 1200 athletes across 13 different sports. Of those 1200 athletes, one of them happened to be my nine year old son B. He tried out for Canusa’s youngest age division’s basketball team, and ended up making it.  Basically, picture the Olympics but on a smaller scale; replace all the countries in the world……with Hamilton and Flint.

The 2019 Canusa Games took place in Flint, over three days. Here’s the huge part of the equation, though. Unlike the Olympics, which has an Olympic village to house the participants, the Canusa Games relies on billets. The visiting athletes all take chartered buses to the hosting city, and are then paired with a local family for the weekend. That family houses them, feeds them, and gets them to their respective sports on time.   It’s a longstanding tradition.

Now, back in the day, growing up in Hamilton, the Canusa Games to prepubescent/teenage me sounded awesome. Roll up into Michigan for a weekend by myself and get treated like a big shot while competing in a sport? Sign this boy up! Unfortunately, prepubescent/teenage me lacked the actual skills required to make a Canusa Games team, so the awesomeness remained in my head only.

Nowadays, the idea of leaving my  little kids alone in a foreign city with a stranger for a weekend terrifies me.  In fact, when B made the Canusa basketball team for his age group, I figured that we would take advantage of the modified billet system. The host family would handle B  during the day, and we would come grab him at night.  Unexpectedly, though, K wanted B to do the full billet! She HAD actually competed in the Canusa Games when she was younger. It was a great experience, with no incident.

Times change, of course, and your feelings evolve as you grow up. Nostalgia tends to cloud your memories, as well. The more that I thought about it, the more that I just didn’t get it. The billet system seemed like a quaint idea from a woebegone era to me, when people didn’t lock the doors of their homes, and children sat in the passenger seats of cars without using seatbelts. Society is just so much more different now. America is just so much more different now.  What the heck was I missing, when it came to Canusa? How could so many people be so trusting in this system, when it defied common sense? My family was making the road trip to watch B, but some parents just left their kids at the bus stop in Hamilton. Good luck, see ya in a few days, essentially.

For my own sanity, I wanted to believe in Flint, Michigan.  And then I learned this. And this. Shoot, there’s even a Netflix documentary about the city which, spoiler alert, doesn’t portray it very glowingly. Don’t forget the water crisis, too. You can’t even take in a Flint Tropics game, as they don’t actually exist! Well, maybe that one doesn’t count.  Regardless, K, who’s usually more overprotective than me, was fine with B going it solo. Nothing on the old Google machine listed any horror stories from past Canusa Games, either.

 

What the heck was I missing?

 

These are the thoughts which raced through my sweaty head as I stood in Atwood Stadium on that fateful afternoon.  Similar to the Olympics, the Canusa Games had an Opening Ceremonies, complete with the delegations walking into the stadium separately, national anthem performances, and a torch lighting run.

Canusa Games

Canusa Games

When the ceremony was complete, the athletes and their families met up with the billets on the field. Besides passing a police check, I knew nothing about the prospective host for B. If you didn’t know me at all, but knew that I was going to watch your precious child for three days, what would be going through your head?  My perception beforehand was so rife with negativity that I will admit to grasping at judgemental straws.  However, B’s billet gave off a strong first impression. As well, while most hosts were taking one or two young athletes, she was housing four. You’re either bananas or incredibly openhearted for taking on such a responsibility, and as they disappeared across the field, I was hoping that it was the latter.

 

Pure Michigan

B’s first game was later in the afternoon, which gave K, J, little KJ and I some time to check into our hotel and grab a snack. Every city has bad areas and good areas, no doubt. Driving around Flint was pretty eye-opening, nonetheless. Neighbourhoods full of rundown, vacant storefronts and houses, pocketed by empty plots of land.  Instead of cars parked on streets, I saw more cars on cement blocks in front lawns with no rims than I’ve ever seen before, in one particular street.  More people sitting on front porches glaring as we drove by than I’ve ever seen before, on another street. A Starbucks was temporarily closed, so we went to the adjacent Quizno’s, and I audibly gasped when the Quizno’s associate informed us that the Starbucks was closed because of a water problem (luckily, it had to do with a heating issue, and not because of the Flint water crisis).  There’s quite a bit of “used to be” in Flint, which is better than being “never was”, I think.

At B’s game,  we seated ourselves near the other Hamilton families in attendance.  Conversations centred around how sad Flint was, and how scary. How there were doubts about drinking the water still. The funny thing was, as I looked around at the Flint families, there was no sadness or scariness. Just regular, happy people, having a good time.  As the game went on, it became readily apparent that, when it comes to Canusa Games basketball, Flint has Hamilton’s number. The contest was never in doubt, and Flint won running away.

canusa games

 

canusa games basketball

I’ve seen kids get pretty demoralised after such a defeat, but when the game ended, there were plenty of smiles and camaraderie among both sides, including from B. The billets were matched up by age and sport, for the most part. Evidently, it’s hard to be upset at your housemate for the weekend, after they beat you. The game the following day had the same result, and same vibe.  Also, there was more mingling back and forth amongst the Flint and Hamilton family contingents.  To top it off, not only was B safe, but he couldn’t wait to head back with his billet, and totally brushed us off! #theygrowupsofast

canusa games

With B in good hands, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. As options are kind of limited, when it comes things to do in Flint with kids, K and I ended up taking little KJ and J to the Flint Children’s Museum.   This is located downtown, near Atwood Stadium and Kettering University. This area is actually nice. Vibrant maybe isn’t the correct term. Let’s go with active and up-and-coming. On first glance, the Children’s Museum is pretty unremarkable on the outside. We had to double-check to make sure that we were at the right building. Once inside, though, holy Michael Moore-ly, is this place tons of fun for kids!  It reminded me of Rochester’s The Strong Museum Of Play. There’s numerous exhibits, all designed to bust out your imagination and curiosity through hand’s on play.  Many have an educational aspect, too.

things to do in flint with kids

We were there for hours, and KJ didn’t want to leave, which is always a good/bad sign. I had a coupon, so it only cost us about $10 in admission total, which was a steal. It’s such a simple, nice concept for a play centre that any city (cough, cough, Hamilton, cough, cough) could learn from it and implement it. If you’re looking for things do in Flint with kids, I do suggest hanging out here.

things to do in flint with kids

 

things to do in flint with kids

things to do in flint with kids

Any place with mirrors that slim me is alright, in my books.

After our outing at the Flint Children’s Museum, we eventually made our way out to the suburbs, Grand Blanc, to pick up pizza for dinner, from Da Edoardo.  This area didn’t feel or look like the same Flint at all, and I felt like I should have been wearing a tuxedo, when I entered Da Edoardo. The dichotomy between downtown and the suburbs can be quite striking in some cities, and Flint is no exception.

Later on that night, back at the hotel, I was chit-chatting with a few other Hamilton parents, whose children were there for hockey. The conversation turned to billets, naturally.  They then told me something which I never realized. Billeting in the hockey community was common, one person said. The community is tight knit,  and everyone looks after one another.

Huh.

That was it then, for the Canusa Games, too, wasn’t it?  I had been looking at the whole thing all wrong the entire time. I couldn’t get how two large, flawed cities could expect to keep kids who don’t live there safe every year. The thing is, the Canusa Games is like a 60 plus year old community in these cities, and it’s a community which protects their own, and looks after each other.  Instead of focusing on the negatives, I should have considered the many positives of the games and Flint, which really weren’t that hard to find. To paraphrase Joel Embiid, I should have just trusted the process.

The next day, at the Closing Ceremonies,  Canusa’s motto of “experience the friendship” was on full display.  There was no separate congregations, as yellow shirt-wearing Hamilton athletes mixed with blue Flint ones. Lots of pictures were taken, and lots of contact information was exchanged, for keeping in touch. B was safe and sound, with memories that will last his whole life.

We met his billet one last time, the woman who I expressed so many doubts about prior to the weekend, but who generously housed four random kids, and literally even gave B the shoes off of her son’s feet (he had outgrown a pair of Jordan’s, and they were just going to throw them out). K asked how B was for her, and the billet replied “OK”.

Uh-oh!

In parent-speak, OK is what you say when you don’t want to say bad! So, you mean to tell me that I was worried about whether Flint, Michigan was good enough for my precious nine year old boy, when in the end, my boy wasn’t good enough for Flint?!

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

 

Hey, not now, Alanis Morrisette!

Anyway, next year’s Canusa Games are in Hamilton, and B has already expressed interest about participating again. If you’re apprehensive about billeting, like I was…..take a deep breath and trust the process. And if you somehow end up sending your kid to my house, don’t worry, B will be more than OK.

Promise!

 

 

 

 

The Canadian Basketball League – Turning Hoop Dreams Into Reality

 

I’ve mentioned before on this site that one of the best things about being a parent is sharing my interests with my kids. Take basketball, for example.  It’s always been my favorite sport. B’s picked up on that vibe and become a huge hoops fiend, too.  If he’s not playing ball, then he’s talking about it constantly.  It’s that interest which led me to stumbling onto the Canadian Basketball League  (CBL), a league that came before the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

The CBL is the brainchild of Butch Carter, the Toronto Raptors’ former head coach. It’s a fledgling, four team professional league in its first season, with all four teams located in the GTA. I discovered this while randomly looking at things to do one weekend recently. To my surprise, one of the teams is located in Hamilton. As such, I copped a couple of tickets, and B and I checked out a game: the Hamilton Basketball Club vs. the Scarborough Basketball Club.

You’re probably now wondering what the game was like. And to that I say it was…….professional. Lemme explain.

I think one of the keys to operating any sports league or team is to not come across as rinky dink, or lame. With that said, I think the CBL does a pretty good job with that. The league website looks pretty slick, for example. They also have their own online ticket buying site, as opposed to going through Ticketmaster, which I think is pretty clever (both them and the consumer save paying Ticketmaster fees).  They even have a TV deal, as they show some games on Yes TV.

Hamilton plays it home games at Mohawk College, which has a decent sized facility, and a fair number of rafters. B did ask about buying snacks at the game, as we were driving there. Being familiar with the campus, I knew that there weren’t any concessions. However, that just meant we had to make a quick stop at Bulk Barn, to load up on goodies. When  we got there, the attendants at the game didn’t care that we brought our own food and drinks. In a neat touch, we were given a free Hamilton Basketball Club rally towel as we walked in, too.

In terms of in-game presentation, I was pleasantly surprised. There was an announcer who did his best to hype the crowd up, and played music throughout the contest (similar to an NBA game).  The players looked like real basketball players, for lack of a better term, which was good, because they were real basketball players.  I read their bios, and they were all legit. From local stars, to former US high school standouts, to college grads looking for another chance, there were a lot of talented dudes, which made for some quality, entertaining basketball.

It really is an interesting niche to go after. Ballers who aren’t ready to give up their hoop dreams yet, and need a place to play, to take the next step up in their careers. They are paid for their services, too.  Besides the Canadian elite Basketball League, there is another league in Canada. The National Basketball League, which is bigger, and has been around longer, and I think does the same type of thing. However, the CBL’s rosters seems to skew on the younger side, most likely by design.

canadian elite basketball league

One other interesting thing of note.  B and I sat in the front row, so we could hear everything that was being said on the court. I don’t know if it was conscious effort by the players and coaches, but we only heard one use of profanity the whole game. The rest of time, there was a lot of “Shoot!” or “Dang it!”, stuff like that. When you’re with small kids, this is huge. I was happy that the atmosphere was so family-friendly.

Now, obviously, it’s not the same as going to an NBA game, or even a D-League game. To say the attendance was sparse would be putting it generously. It’s a shame, but I guess that goes with the growing pains of a new league that isn’t heavily promoted. Regardless, it was still fun.  We went to a Hamilton Bulldogs (a  junior hockey team who play out of the FirstOntario Centre, which is a borderline NHL-caliber arena) game a few weeks prior to the CBL game, and the products were similarly entertaining.

B was really into it, by the end, cheering the home team on (even though they ended up losing).  It was also an eye-opening experience for him, as he didn’t realize that you could make a living playing basketball outside of the NBA or D-League.

When I say that the CBL is professional, I mean it as a compliment. The effort is obviously there, to make for an enjoyable fan experience, and it’s pretty good value, relative to other pro sports in the GTA.  Hopefully, the current Canadian Elite Basketball League learned from them.

 

https://canadianbasketball.com/

https://secure.cbltickets.com/online/index.asp

 

 

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