When Mani and Amy Baker-Floyd moved from London to Toronto with their toddler Zoe in September 2019, Mani didn’t expect to find it as thrilling a place to live as the British capital. “London is hard to compete with,” says Mani, a teacher. “It’s on the cutting edge of everything.”
The couple had decided to give life in Canada a go because marketing expert Amy – who was born in Ontario but had lived in the UK for nearly a decade – felt ready to return to her roots. At the time, Mani, a keen outdoorsman who originates from Brighton, had no idea of the adventures that lay in store.
“People never believe you can surf in Toronto, but it’s surprisingly good, with consistent waves for both beginners and more experienced surfers,” says Mani, about one of his most unexpected discoveries. The city, set on magnificent Lake Ontario, is home to a sport more often associated with tropical climates, and at Bluffer’s park in Toronto’s east, surfers from around the world converge in what Mani calls a “friendly, typically Canadian scene with plenty of camaraderie”.
Of course, with Zoe, now four, to think of – and new arrival Noah, who’s not yet one – there’s only so much time for surfing. Thankfully, close to their home in the heart of the city, the Baker-Floyds have found plenty of family friendly adventures to keep them busy.
“We can be almost anywhere in about 30 minutes on the subway,” says Amy, who highlights the Royal Ontario Museum, the most visited in Canada, as a firm favourite with Zoe thanks to its gemstone gallery, dinosaur skeletons and tempting gift shop (she always manages to leave with a treat). Because the museum is so easy to get to, the family will often visit just one or two exhibits at a time, keeping things manageable for the kids. Another family favourite is the Ontario Science Centre, with its KidSpark packed full of child-friendly science fun. Around 20 minutes on the subway brings the family to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, home to all-ages sea life exhibits, while the McMichael Canadian Art Collection – where Zoe likes running around the outdoor sculptures – is a half-hour drive north of Toronto, in the village of Kleinburg.
Outdoor life shapes many of the family’s Toronto experiences because nature is never far away. Every weekend they head to High Park, which at 162 hectares (400 acres) is larger than London’s Hyde Park, for its playground, outdoor swimming pool, ice-cream shop and ice-skating rink. And, especially in summer, the family pays regular visits to the Toronto Islands, an exciting (but handily brief) boat ride from downtown. This chain of 15 small islands is home to restaurants, gardens, picnic sites and several beaches.
“People don’t realise Toronto has a beach scene,” says Amy, who points out that there is an abundance of swimming spots, even downtown. Mani, unsurprisingly for a Brit, loves the reliability of the Ontario summer weather: “Unlike in the UK, if you make a plan to visit the island on the weekend, you know it’s probably going to be sunny, hot and dry.”
Beach breaks are a theme when it comes to the family’s Ontario explorations because there are so many within an hour or two’s drive of the city centre.
Sandbanks, a two-and-a-half hour drive east of Toronto in Prince Edward County, is one such place. The soft white beach is not the only attraction – there’s a thriving wine region, trendy restaurants and smart hotels, such as the Drake Devonshire, a 30-minute drive away in Wellington. For a future visit, the family has the Mustang Drive-in movie theatre, in Bloomfield, six miles (10km) from the hotel, on its to-do list.
As far as Amy is concerned, however, beach breaks don’t get better than Tiny Township in the southern Georgian Bay area, known for its beautiful beaches. “When I show friends photos of Balm beach, with its crystal blue waters and light sands, they always say, are you sure you’re not in the Bahamas?” she laughs. The warm, shallow waters, neighbouring ice-cream shop and on-tap mini golf mean that the family can laze by the beachfront all day. But there’s plenty else in the area to entice active types. Nearby Awenda provincial park, for example, has forest hiking trails plus campsites for pitching tents and roasting marshmallows.
Whether the Baker-Floyds are heading to Georgian Bay or to one of their other favourite Ontario getaways – including the Elora Gorge conservation area or Blue Mountain Resort’s hiking trails or approachable ski runs – the journey is always part of the fun. Passing through the typical Ontario towns, stuffed with farms and red-brick homes, provides real contrast to modern Toronto. “As a Brit, to me they feel straight out of the movies,” says Mani. “General store, cafe, cherry pie …” The couples’ top picks include Belfountain and Creemore, where they might stop off to buy butter tarts, an Ontarian flaky pastry with a gooey, sweet filling.
Depending on the season, the Baker-Floyds will change up the particulars of their adventures. In summer, they might visit one of the dozens of pick-your-own farms, harvesting fresh strawberries, blueberries or peaches to show the children where fruit comes from. In autumn, they might drive under a “canopy of reds, yellows and oranges” in Forks of the Credit provincial park, a prime leaf-peeping spot. In winter, you might find them at Evergreen Brick Works, in Toronto, enjoying the holiday market or skating rink. Or popping to small child-friendly ski hills, just 45 minutes from Toronto’s centre.
And that’s a key part of what they love about exploring Ontario as a family. “There’s something for every time of year,” says Amy. “Whether it’s walks in autumn, snowman-making in winter, swimming in summer, Ontario is an all-season place. And that affords you so many different opportunities.”
To discover more about enjoying everything Ontario has to offer, head to destinationontario.com/uk