Enjoy Light Festival
Open until Jan. 5, 2020, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
101 Riel Dr.
Tickets: Adults $19.95; seniors and children four to 13 years $9.95 plus GST. Visit enjoylightfestival.com
In keeping with our dusky winter climate, one of the best parts of the holiday season is taking part in a magical winter light-up festival.
As the sun dips below the horizon, the Enjoy Centre transforms into a garden of light. Organizers spent more than six months co-ordinating the inaugural Enjoy Light Festival (ELF), an indoor wonderland of light spectacles, sculptures and interactive displays that runs until Jan. 5, 2020.
Visitors can embark on an after-dark experience winding their way through more than a million twinkling LED lights.
Throughout the garden centre’s 80,000-square-foot exhibit area are mesmerizing displays of jumping jets of light and a kaleidoscope of projections that will fire up everyone’s inner child.
“It’s about giving back to the community. Everyone wants to feel warm and fuzzy at Christmas. This is an opportunity to have fun and leave feeling as if you are part of the community,” said Ashley Winnington, Enjoy event manager.
ELF’s gateway to the festive voyage is a spacious nine-metre-wide and 50-metre-long light tunnel. The easy-to-walk-through passageway radiates rainbow coloured lights that nimbly dance to prerecorded Christmas music.
Once through the tunnel, the area is broken up into zones focused primarily on Canadian themed displays.
Incandescent poppies, illuminated weeping willows and spruce tree sculptures shine a path through an enchanted boreal forest. The woodland creatures – rabbits, moose and deer – pop up around every corner.
On the opposite side of the room sits a stark white Arctic Circle outfitted with bear families, silver foxes, seals, a narwhal and two life-size inflatable igloos decorated with faux fur pelts. Despite the festival’s noisy ambience, this polar zone projects a surprisingly quiet, serene vibe.
Mother of two Kristen Aggrey brought both her children under the age of 13 to ELF.
“It’s amazing. It’s unreal. I thought my kids might be too old for this, but they are loving it,” Aggrey said.
Daughter Abigail, 13, stated that in her opinion, ELF was a “better” festival than last year’s Glow Festival brought in from British Columbia.
“It’s a different design and it’s better put together. It’s more beautiful, especially the polar area,” said Abigail.
At the festival's centre is a neon park where visitors can sit on light-up tube swings, push teeter-totters and hopscotch across a dance floor that shifts colour by stepping on it.
A zone dubbed Candyland brings to life giant lollipops and candy canes. Just a few steps away, photo buffs stand beside a cute six-foot teddy bear, gingerbread men and prancing unicorns snapping mementos.
In the south corner, three-year-old Benjamin Easton playfully crashes through the icicle cavern, making the shards of lighted tubes swing and sway. A big grin spreads across his face.
“It’s awesome. My son is having a blast,” said mother Jennifer Easton. “The atmosphere is nice. There are lots of families and it’s very laid back.”
An electric powered four-car train toots a whistle for oncoming traffic. As the first group disembarks, several multi-generational families jump into the empty seats. Mya Grondin, 10, a Grade 5 student at Neil M. Ross, is among them and she’s enjoying the sights and attempting all the activities.
“I like all the different kinds of lights. I like the train ride and all the inflatables. This is a great start to Christmas,” Mya said.
Folks can take holiday images in any one of the photo frames scattered throughout and little tykes can secretly whisper their Christmas wishes to the big guy in the red suit.
“We’ve tried to think of everyone’s individual experience,” said Winnington.
ELF was created after the 2019 Christmas Glow Festival, organized by Darvonda Nurseries in Langley, B.C., opted to open their 2020 venture at Northlands.
The surprise decision was initially disconcerting. The Enjoy Centre had allocated three months of space and resources to Glow not only for the festival run but also for put up and take down. With the greenhouse space sitting empty for three months, a decision was made last spring to host a community focused light festival during that time frame.
Once an ELF concept was developed, Winnington contacted Don Paddon, an old Spruce Grove friend now living in China who works on LED light technology for neurosurgery.
Familiar with Chinese business customs, Paddon undertook to order light sculptures and personally toured factories for quality control and to monitor fair work practices.
“We wanted people to feel they have value for money.”
Although both Glow and ELF are light festivals, Winnington notes they have different priorities.
“Glow is moving across Canada to cities like Toronto. Our vision is more community centred. We want to make it a landmark, a hub like Hole’s red barn.”
To that end organizers have booked a couple of performers every day ranging from singers and dancers to soloists and groups.
A hub for charity
ELF's key difference is its charity-based focus.
“My favourite thing to do is be nice and give. So selfishly, I wanted to give back," Winnington laughed.
She has arranged the Thursday Initiative, where every Thursday anywhere from 150 to 200 families from either the Cross Cancer Institute or the Stollery Children’s Hospital are invited to arrive early and discover ELF’s magical world of light free of charge.
Her concern stems from watching her mother handle cancer.
“It was hard for her to be in public. Everyone commented on how skinny she was. This is a safe environment. It’s comfortable and you can take your time and not be bumped. It’s about spending time with family and if after 30 minutes you are tired and want to leave, you haven’t paid anything.”
“As for the children at the Stollery, this is the time to be together. It can feel lonely if you are not able to do things other children do, and this is a place they can come and have fun.”
ELF is also selling a Glitter Cup, where $1 from every cup will be donated to Amy’s House Foundation. Amy Alain, wife of Night of Artists entrepreneur Phil Alain, died of lung cancer Feb. 22.
When she discovered some patients were travelling more than 100 kilometres to and from the Cross Cancer in one day for treatment, Amy's dying wish was to create a comfortable living space where they could rest before going home.
In addition, Old Strathcona Youth Society’s member teenagers and young adults have crafted hand-made Christmas decorations with loving cheer. They are on sale at the festival and all proceeds will go to the society’s programs to support youth in need.
For the little ones, Santas Anonymous steps up to collect toys that will be distributed across the region. And our furry four-legged friends are also looped into the festival. Little Cats Rescue and Rehabilitation is hosting adoption pop-ups, while the festival coat-check donates its proceeds to Second Chance Animal Rescue.
Step into the holiday spirit of giving and discover ELF’s light within.