Never mind the scientific studies that show how interacting with animals can elevate a person’s levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can act as a natural relaxant. Or that the companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence in children. Most of us already know—on an intuitive level, at least—that interacting with animals is somehow good for our health. Thankfully, Vancouver Island is loaded with options for introducing kids to furry, woolly, feathered, potbellied or even six- or eight-legged friends. Visit any or all of the following places to connect with some of the creatures that share the Island with us.
Beacon Hill Children’s Farm is closed, likely for the rest of the season, but you can peek at some of the animals through the fence and keep up-to-date on their shenanigans via the Farm’s social media sites. See videos of the goats trying out their new slide and enjoying their ramp. Consider donating to their online fundraising to help raise $72,000, the amount it costs for feed, hay, sawdust and vet care for a full year. To donate to the campaign and for updates, visit beaconhillchildrensfarm.ca.
Millstream Miniature Llamas offers a guided tour of the farm for families and small groups. The tour includes an explanation of why llamas are special, the history of llamas in North and South America, how llamas interact with people and with each other, a discussion of the uses of llamas today, a chance to meet several llamas, experience a “llama kiss,” and feel the fibre. Phone to arrange a tour. $15/adult, $10/child aged 12 and under. Visit the farm studio for roving, yarn, dryer balls, hand-knitted and Peruvian goods. 355 Atkins Ave. millstream-minis.com
Victoria Bug Zoo is open to a limited number of guests. Masks are required. See live giant walkingsticks, alien-eyed praying mantids, hairy tarantulas and glow-in-the-dark scorpions, to name a few. Discover roughly 50 fascinating species including Canada’s largest ant farm. Noon-3pm daily. 631 Courtney Street, one block north of the Empress Hotel. To guarantee your spot at the time you’d like, book your one-hour visit online at www.victoriabugzoo.ca.
Dan’s Farm and Country Market at 2030 Bear Hill Road in Saanich is not just a source for local produce, baked goods, and poultry raised using organic principles, but also boasts a petting farm for the kids. Visit the ducks, chickens, goats, rabbits and more, then stock up on berries, figs and tomatoes. Bring along a picnic lunch and for dessert, treat yourself to an ice-cream cone. Open daily 8:30am-5:30pm. dansfarm.ca
This year’s 152nd Saanich Fair will look and feel different in response to COVID-19. The show must go on—and will! Educational and entertaining activities will be available online with some socially-distant safe activities at the Saanich Fairground over the Labour Day weekend, including a farmers’ market. For updates, check www.saanichfair.ca.
The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea in Sidney is a state-of-the-art aquarium and marine education centre focused on the ecosystem of the Salish Sea. The Centre is gradually re-opening and welcomes visitors on Saturday and Sunday from 10am-4:30pm. Spend a moment with calming, drifting jellies. Take a peek at invertebrates of all shapes and colours. Stand beside giant whale skulls and bones. 9811 Seaport Place. www.salishseacentre.org
Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Enjoy the beauty of thousands of exotic butterflies (up to 70 species) flying free in their own tropical rainforest environment. Wander through the orchid exhibit or carnivorous plant section. You’ll also see colourful fish and tropical birds. The on-site naturalists are full of fascinating facts and will answer your questions. 1461 Benvenuto Avenue in Brentwood Bay. Open daily from 10am-4pm with the last admission into the facility at 3pm. Group bookings are only allowed between 8-10am. www.butterflygardens.com
Duncan & Area
The Raptors, 10 minutes north of Duncan, invites you to meet some of the coolest birds in the world during a 2-hour pre-booked session from 1-3pm daily (and an additonal session on Saturdays from 10am-noon). Tickets must be purchased in advance online. There will be meet and greets with some of the newly hatched babies and residents, a flying demonstration, and a new experience meeting the parrots and Gaston the Marabou Stork.1877 Herd Road. pnwraptors.com
Nanaimo & Area
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks is just north of Parksville. Wander LQC’s Morningstar Farm, meet the small herd of Holstein, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, and Canadienne dairy cows and see how yummy, artisanal local cheeses are made. Guided tours can be arranged for groups of 8 or more, or you can take your own self-guided tour around the 90 acres of beautiful working farm. Open daily 9am-6pm. 403 Lowrys Road. www.morningstarfarm.ca
Tiger Lily Farm is located in Errington between Parksville and Coombs. Visit lovable, huggable rabbits, portly pigs, daffy ducks, and even shy sheep. The farm will not be offering pony rides or trail rides this year or bottle feeding the animals in order to maintain physical distancing. Open daily 10am-4pm. 1692 Errington Road. If you’re heading north from Nanaimo, turn left onto Errington Road and follow the signs. www.tigerlilyfarm.ca
North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre (NIWRC), off Highway 4A near Coombs, is a rehabilitation facility, especially for raptors and black bears. The goal is to care for these animals and eventually reintroduce them into their natural environment. See eagles through one-way glass in the largest flight cage of its kind in Canada. View bears, owls, falcons, hawks, swans and ravens. NIWRA offers activities and educational programs for the whole family. 1240 Leffler Road. Open daily 9am-4:30pm. www.niwra.org
Visit Ucluelet Aquarium, Canada’s first catch-and-release aquarium, where you’ll find a diversity of local marine life. The touch tanks will be covered for animal care purposes as soap and disinfectants are harmful to the health of fish and invertebrates. Learn about the local marine ecosystems at the mini aquarium, and help raise awareness about local marine biodiversity and promote respect for the ocean environment. 180 Main Street. Open every day, including holidays, from 10am-5pm. uclueletaquarium.org •