Toronto's Family Arts Scene
A green screen setup lets imaginations soar at TIFF's DigiPlaySpace in Toronto.
Apps and video games welcome all ages to test out the digital fun at DigiPlaySpace.
Kids club, with family pool in background, at the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto

Fueled by a weak Canadian dollar, Ontario’s international arts scene, a welcoming multicultural society, and lots of new development along its beautiful harbor, Toronto is booming. That local and visiting children are able to share in the excitement is just part of what makes Canada such a great family vacation destination. One special cultural institution – TIFF – is leading the way.

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has been bringing fun, education and glamor to the Toronto arts scene for 50 years. Since 2010, its contemporary, downtown temple to cinema has hosted the TIFF each September, welcoming hundreds of filmmakers, celebrities and movies from around the world. 

The rest of the year, the non-profit cultural facility programs its five cinema screens, hosts specialty film festivals and curates gallery shows about filmmaker artists in its large public space. Two celebrated restaurants, the casual and delicious O&B Canteen and the very elegant space called Luma upstairs, both run by the local Oliver and Bonacini Restaurant Group, keep the building active at all hours.

The Digital World for Kids

At our recent visit, we lunched at O&B Canteen and toured the 5th edition of DigiPlaySpace, a digital playground created at TIFF that travels the world engaging kids in innovative games by using new technology. The loft-like space is devoted to multi-player videogames, as well as a small sandbox whose responsive sand piles are augmented with projections of topographic map features. Quieter single person kiosks featuring apps or video games are accessible to all ages.

The huge “Elements” wall designed by I/O which premiered at the Cinekid Festival Amsterdam, allows children to represent the elements of air, earth, wind or fire. Any movement along a wired mat produces corresponding images on the wall, which players can interact with. “Monster Mingle” is an app from the UK that allows kids to create their own monster and help it romp through a mythical kingdom. Exhibits using augmented and virtual reality, the stop motion effects of “LOLympics,” green screen special effects, animation, robotics, computer graphics and much more are waiting to be explored.

DigiPlaySpace runs March 5 to April 25, 2016 in Toronto before moving to the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, where it will be on exhibit May 22 to September 4, 2016. Six of the artist-created games to appear in Minnesota include FlipPaper, where users can draw their own pinball games and then play them; and SimAntics: Realistic Anteater Simulator which is just that… and lots of fun. If you’re concerned about your kids’ digital literacy, by all means, plan a vacation around this totally immersive experience.

The Filmed World for Kids

TIFF doesn’t stop there when it comes to families. The cultural center is presenting its 19th annual TIFF Kids International Film Festival April 8 to April 24, 2016. Programming is geared to ages 3-13, with 111 live-action and animated short films plus 28 features, sharing the cultures of 35 countries. The films cover a wide range of topics, with the shorts being clustered around themes such as bullying, courage, gender identity and other topics that are hard to discuss… but which films can handle so well.

Tickets are priced at CDN$13 adult, CDN$10.50 senior and student, and CDN$9 for children 13 and under (a bit more for opening and closing nights), with some free screenings of Rob Reiner’s “The Princess Bride” (April 10), “The Red Balloon” (April 23) which is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its release, and other events. We’re especially excited about the Aardman 40th Anniversary Retrospective featuring the animation company that brought us the Wallace and Grommit series, and the new animated “The Little Prince” directed by Mark Osborne. Check out for screening schedules, information about the festival’s special Saturday and Sunday family activities, and the international kids festival passport for collecting stamps.

A Family Hotel where Kids are VIPs

When kids are driving the decision-making process, there’s only one choice for families visiting Toronto, the Chelsea Hotel Toronto. It’s Canada’s largest hotel, with 1,590 guest rooms in two towers, but the Chelsea feels more like a big playground than a convention hotel. Centrally located downtown, within a 20-minute walk of the Queens Quay and Harbourfront or the Royal Ontario Museum, the hotel calls itself a “full-service urban resort.” Families will find a variety of guestrooms, from suites, to rooms with kitchenettes and those with two double beds, as well as a Family Fun Zone that includes a video arcade, well-stocked kids club, large pool with lifeguards and the 130-foot-long “Corkscrew” — downtown Toronto’s only indoor waterslide.

The supervised Camp Chelsea meets regularly for half or full days during school holidays, when the Kid Centre and Club 33 Teen Lounge become active. While some activities require a small fee (for example, camp or in-room babysitting), other delights like the laughing pirate who comes to breakfast, the step-up Kids Checkin in the lobby, and the super-friendly staff make all ages feel at home, all year round, at no extra cost. Guest rooms start at CDN$119; family policies also allow for complimentary accommodations for children 17 and under in parents’ or grandparents’ room; plus children age 6 and under eat free and children 7-12 pay half price at all three restaurants. Before heading out for sightseeing, ask the concierge about their Show Your Key and Save program which gives guests admission discounts at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, ROM, Ontario Science Centre and other destinations. If you’ll be here a few days, you will need a CityPASS Toronto, which maximizes the savings at major attractions and grants first in line admission.

Keep in mind that for Americans, the Canadian dollar is currently worth about US$.70, which means you can discount the Toronto prices you see by about 30%.  Bundle in the fun, the learning, and the one-third-off discount and you shouldn’t need any more reasons to see Toronto right now.


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