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Toronto’s expensive. Here’s how to make the most of your March break — without breaking the bank

This March break an estimated 140,000 people are expected to pass through Toronto Pearson Airport, but more will stay put over the holiday as the high cost of living puts travel out of reach. 

But for those planning a staycation, there’s still plenty for your whole family to do on a budget. 

Jenn Bruer, a GTA parenting coach, says that as costs for housing, fuel, groceries and other necessities have risen in recent years, she’s heard more and more parents talk about stress surrounding money. 

But quality time is what creates meaningful family experiences, she says, and that doesn’t require pricey flights or all-inclusive resorts

“When someone’s feeling that sense of guilt, you know, ‘I’m not doing enough. It’s too bad that other people can afford to go to Disneyland for March break, but we can’t.’ I would say, that’s not what makes for a nourishing childhood experience,” Bruer said.

With that in mind, here’s how families can spend time — not money —  enjoying March break in one of Canada’s most expensive cities.

Children swim in an indoor pool
Leisure swims are free at community pools in Toronto, making them a great March break activity on a budget. (CBC)

Low-cost activities all week long

For parents who aren’t taking the time off, the city has day camps at locations citywide. 

Registration for CampTO is still open for kids aged four to 16 — offering indoor and outdoor games, sports, arts and crafts, and other activities. 

Leisure swimming is also free at city pools, while drop-in programs at community centres offer many free and low-cost activities, including sports and yoga and art classes.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Public Library has approximately 275 activities planned for children, teens and the whole family. Information is available on the library’s website.

Museums and workshops

Torontonians can get a discount at the Royal Ontario Museum with their PRESTO pass this March break. There’s also special programming available at other city musums. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

For $20, up to five people in your family can try baking classes at Fort York National Historic Site through March 17. The one-hour workshops run daily between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Registration is online. The site also offers free tours of the fort and drop-in programming, including drumming, dancing, storytelling and beading.

The city’s 10 history museums are hosting plenty of free programming. For more, you can find a full list of events on the city’s website.

For extra savings, show your PRESTO card this week for discounts at the Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario Science Centre, the CN Tower and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Outdoor activities

A park with a handful of people in it on a sunny day. In a city.
Warmer weather could make a trip to parks like Trinity-Bellwoods more enticing than they usually would be in March. (Laura Howells/CBC)

It’s been a historically warm winter for the GTA, and the early spring weather means lots of free and inexpensive outdoor activities for families to enjoy.

Pack a picnic and head to one of the city’s parks, or take the ferry to the island. You can also see the animals for free at High Park or Riverdale Farm, or get a jump on spring and take in the flowers and other plants at the Centennial Park and Allan Gardens conservatories — also free of charge.

There’s also the Trans Canada Trail, which runs through the city and around it. 

Dust off your bike, or escape the concrete and traffic with a day of hiking. The Martin Goodman and Waterfront Trail, as well as the trails along the Don Valley, are perfect places to take the kids to use up some energy.

The weather might limit a few winter activities. Though, many of the city’s outdoor rinks have cooling systems that could keep them open for leisure skating on cooler days. 

The city updates the status of rink conditions daily on its website.

A wide view of an ice rink in downtown Toronto, with 8 skaters on it on a cloudy day
Despite the warm weather, cooling systems at Toronto’s outdoor rinks could keep free skates open at certain locations through March 17. (Sam Nar/CBC)

Ice is guaranteed at the Coca-Cola Coliseum, home of the Marlies. Free skates are scheduled Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

A free youth skate is also scheduled for Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

On March 17, you can take the kids downtown to watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade make its way from St. George Station to Dundas Square. 

Hockey executive Brian Burke is this year’s grand marshal. He’ll kick off the parade at noon, though festivities begin around St. George Station at 8 a.m.

If you need to get around on the weekends, the GO Train has $10 weekend passes available online. Meanwhile, kids under 12 always ride for free.

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