Beyond Toronto: Exploring the City’s Suburbs - My Family Travels

While in Toronto, Ontario recently, my mother and I escaped the city and headed north to York County where nature, farms and quaint villages awaited us with open arms.  We stayed in Markham’s Homewood Suites hotel, which served as a great location for the following attractions.

If your family loves the great outdoors, you will be surprised (and pleased) to learn that the York Regional Forests consist of more than 5,500 acres of forest land to explore on more than 20 different tracts spread throughout the region. My trip brought me to the 200-plus-acre Hollidge Tract, off Highway 48. A guided walk through the forest with Manager Ian Buchanan explained the history and “green” conservation efforts.

Upon European settlement of the area in the 1800s, the landscape became dry and sandy soil that was very susceptible to erosion. As this depletion occurred the natural resources of the area diminished as well. Finally, the forests were restored in 1924 with the replanting of trees, which after 40 years, began to flourish on their own.

Families can explore the tracts on foot and take in the plant and wildlife, or they can opt to go horseback riding, dog sledding or mountain biking. The forests also sponsor a variety of guided walks, events and festivals throughout the year. Call 905/830-4444 for further information.

Need more nature? Head to Forsythe Family Farms in Markham where kids can feed goats, hold baby bunnies and check out a beehive. Open from May through the end of December, the farm, owned by Jim and Leslie, is a real and functioning farm that produces strawberries, beans, peas, honey, farm-raised beef and even boasts a pumpkin patch in the fall. Kids will love the two-acre corn maze and the wagon rides that transport groups to The Enchanted Forest where storybooks come to life.

My mom and I enjoyed the Forsythe Farm Market where we were greeted with samples of fresh apple pie, delicious ice cream, chocolate covered strawberries and yummy cheese and crackers. The store sells all locally grown produce and items. Even though items change seasonally, we left with our tummies and shopping bags full and I’m sure that would be the case any time of year!

Also in Markham is the 200-year-old historic village of Unionville. A great place to window-shop and have lunch, Unionville might be a good stop for families with older children. The little ones would probably become impatient watching mom and dad browse the stores and the picturesque Main Street.  Note that the shops are mainly boutiques and feature items that were well out of the price range that my mother and I were looking to spend.

We did, however, eat a delicious lunch at the Unionville Arms Pub & Grill. The building was originally erected in 1810, but was struck by a fire in late 2007. Recently reopened, the “New Arms,” as locals call it, serves up burgers, wraps, soups and great appetizers. Plus, it has an inexpensive Kids Menu.

The town also hosts festivals and other events year round.  We just missed the 40th Annual Unionville Village Festival while we were in town. Highlights of the two-day affair that takes place in the beginning of June every year are a parade up Main Street, Fireworks and a fun treasure hunt.

For ideas on how to escape Toronto in York Region beyond my mother/daughter adventure, visit

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