The calendar hanging above me at Dunebrook notes Feb. 20 as Family Day in Canada. Of course, I had to “google” it to see if it truly is what its name implies – a day to celebrate families (unlike the United Kingdom’s Boxing Day, which is not at all a day for boxing.)

According to the website,, Alberta introduced Family Day in 1990 “as a way to break up the long stretch between New Year's and Easter and encourage families to spend time together.” Canadians celebrate this holiday by ice walking on glaciers, snowshoeing, renting yurts, snow skiing and watching hockey player stiltwalkers.

It seems to me that our neighbors to the north have fallen upon a brilliant idea. Americans have days to celebrate mothers, fathers, leprechauns, sweethearts and even groundhogs. It’s only fitting that there should be a day devoted to families. We often intend to spend more time together – many of us even commit to it in our New Year’s resolutions – but the chores and pressures of everyday life tend to side track even the most sincere plans. Many of us grab a few minutes or a few hours with our families whenever we can. And, once the driver’s licenses arrive, those moments become even fewer and farther apart with our children.

Back in 1990, researchers who were studying what makes a family successful convened at a conference in Washington to share their findings. A report of that conference published by Maria Krysa, et al, entitled “Research on Successful Families,” appears on the website for The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report defines “successful” families as:

“enduring, cohesive, affectionate and mutually-appreciative, and in which family members communicate with one another frequently and fruitfully. They are families that raise children who go on to form successful families themselves. They are not necessarily families that are trouble-free. Some have experienced health problems, financial difficulties and other problems. But they are adaptable and able to deal with crises in a constructive manner.”

In summary, the experts agreed that “Successful families spend time together, and the shared time is high in both quality and quantity.” Perhaps the Canadians read this report and built a holiday around it.

So, my daughter and I took a lesson from the Canadians and celebrated our own Family Day.

We braved the whipping winds late on Sunday morning to take in the beauty of Lake Michigan at the Portage Riverwalk. If you haven’t visited it, the Riverwalk is a magnificent gem just off of I-94 at Ind. 249 (and just north of Bass Pro Shop). If you didn’t know it was there, you’d feel like you’re driving into the neighboring steel mill. It’s rather special that nature and industry can co-exist. And, if we hadn’t known otherwise, with the Arctic wind chill, we would have thought that we trekked up to Whistler or Banff.

Owned by the National Park Service, the Portage Riverwalk is a brownfield reclamation which had previously been used for industry waste. I first visited the park while attending a leadership program. It was then that I learned from the ranger that Indiana is home to more native orchids than the state of Hawaii, and many of them reside within the park. As you might expect, none of the orchids were in bloom on this frigid day.

Our favorite activity at the park is walking on the breakwater which juts into Lake Michigan. It’s closed during winter, as is the snow-covered beach. Yet, the view from the walkway above the lagoon is spectacular. The Riverwalk is situated about 20 minutes from La Porte County’s most western-edge, making the skyline of Chicago appear close enough to reach out and touch. The number of skyscrapers visible in the City was too numerous to count. Since I was dressed for church and not an igloo party, we didn’t explore the trails and dunes. Instead, we kept to snapping photographs and chatting with the dogs on leashes. The sunshine colored Lake Michigan the most magnificent shade of blue.

As the wind cut through us, we couldn’t imagine the temperature ever again being warm enough for us to swim at the Riverwalk. Still, we know those days will return soon enough when we have to run into the Visitor’s Center for relief from the heat. It’s not a large beach (and, it has suffered some erosion), but what it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty with its picturesque backdrop of the sand dunes. It’s incredible to think that the glaciers blessed us this gift. We’re looking forward to many more Family Days there.

While Canadians recognize Family Day on the second or third Monday of February, your family can Americanize it and make the day your own, on any day of the year. No snowshoes required.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at

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