31 family-friendly holiday events from coast to coast

We've rounded up the most magical light displays, open-air markets and family-friendly holiday events that will keep spirits merry and bright.

By Alex Mlynek

family-friendly holiday events Photo: Vancouver Christmas Market

Spend time as a family at this magical time of year. From strolls on light-covered suspension bridges to open-air markets and a ride on the Polar Express, check out these fun holiday events across Canada.


holiday events in canada Photo: Canadian Pacific Railway

Canadian Pacific Railway Holiday Train Canadian Pacific’s Holiday Train travels from Montreal to Vancouver and makes stops in 150 communities along the way for families to watch in wonder. The 14-car-long train glitters with hundreds of thousands of LED lights and has a special boxcar that’s been converted into a stage. Each stop features a half-hour musical performance (Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan have performed in the past). An important part of this annual tradition is fundraising. While the concerts are free, families are asked to bring a non-perishable food or cash donation for their local food bank. Nov. 27 to Dec. 18. Follow the Holiday Train on Twitter @CPHolidayTrain or to find out if the train is stopping in your community.

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Photo: City of Whitehorse Photo: City of Whitehorse

City Lights Tour Tour the most amazing holiday-light displays across Whitehorse for free and without getting behind the wheel. Stop by the Canada Games Centre for a public skate and holiday games, then step aboard a city bus for one of two 45-minute tours (buses leave at 4:30 and 5:30) of the town’s glitziest holiday homes. Dec. 20 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Admission by donation. Donations to food bank welcome.

Canada Games Centre, 200 Hamilton Blvd., Whitehorse. 867-668-8360.

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Family First Night Event Whitehorse celebrates New Year’s Eve with its annual Family First Night affair every year with a different theme. Past parties have revolved around superheroes, pyjamas and storybooks, but this year organizers hope to beat the intense northern cold with a toasty indoor luau, complete with kid-friendly activities, a public swim and skate, live music and light refreshments. For families with little ones, the New Year’s countdown happens early, so everyone can be in on the fun. The evening is capped off with fireworks at 9 p.m. Free. Dec. 31 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Canada Games Centre, 200 Hamilton Blvd., Whitehorse. 867-668-8360.

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family-friendly holiday events Photo: Vancouver Christmas Market

Vancouver Christmas Market Every holiday season this annual German-inspired market takes over the Plaza at Queen Elizabeth Theatre in downtown Vancouver. Bring empty tummies and nosh on schupfnudeln (rolled noodles), baked apples and freshly made waffles topped with whipped cream and cherries. Little ones will love the Kids’ Christmas Market designed with them in mind—there’s candy-decorating, craft making and a carousel to ride. Shop to the sounds of classical choirs singing carols; with everything from unique glass ornaments to European toys, there’s a gift for everyone on your list. Adults, $6; kids seven to 12, $3; kids six and younger get in free. November 22 to December 24.

650 Hamilton St, Vancouver. 604-561-7597

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Bright Nights Christmas Train Every November, Vancouver’s Stanley Park is transformed into an enchanting, glittering landscape with three million holiday lights. Ride the train that chugs along a five-kilometre track through the twinkly forest, tunnels and alongside Beaver Lake. The sounds of carolling can be heard at the train station while the scent of roasting chestnuts wafts through the air. Expect a lineup, especially on weekends. Popcorn and hot chocolate will keep little ones warm and happy while waiting to hop aboard. Buy tickets ahead of time as this event sells out quickly. Adults, $11; kids three to 17, $8; kids two and younger get in free. November 27 to January 4, 2015.

Stanley Park, Vancouver. 604-873-7000

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The Peak of Christmas Take the Skyride tram to the top of Grouse Mountain and you’ll discover a winter wonderland. Lace up your skates and glide by the snow-topped trees, take a sleigh ride through the forest, participate in one of the daily crafts or snuggle up with your family for a classic Christmas movie at the indoor mountaintop Theatre in the Sky. End your unforgettable day with a holiday photo at Santa’s workshop. Free with membership, winter season pass or lift ticket. Family pass (two adults, two children), $80. November 28 to January 1, 2015.

Grouse Mountain, 6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver. 604-980-9311

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Polar Express Fans of the story The Polar Express will be thrilled to climb aboard this transformed train, complete with treats, stories, music and actors portraying favourite characters like the conductor, the chefs and the engineer. The ride lasts just less than an hour and takes everyone from West Coast Heritage Railway Park at Mac Norris Station, travels on the main line to Squamish estuary, and then back to Mac Norris. Then walk (50 yards) to the CN Roundhouse (a.k.a. the North Pole) for a sit on Santa’s knee. Nov. 29, 30, Dec. 6, 7, 13, 14. Departure times are 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. $27 for coach; $39 for first class.

West Coast Railway Heritage Park, 39645 Government Rd., Squamish. 604-229-1103

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Canyon Lights Holiday visitors to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park are in for a magical treat. The bridge, rainforest and Cliffwalk are all decorated with hundreds of thousands of sparkling lights and the effect is spectacular. Activities are also held at 4 p.m. each day, like gingerbread cookie decorating in a heated tent on the Canyon Lookout, carol singing on the front deck of the Trading Post Gift Shop and a scavenger hunt where kids get to search for illuminated animals as they visit the park. Christmas tree fans won’t want to miss the world’s tallest living Christmas tree—a 152-foot Douglas fir that’s 250 years old and covered in twinkling lights. November 29 to Jan. 3 (closed Christmas Day) from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $69 for two adults plus one or two children with the annual passes (for BC residents) or $33 for adults and $12 for children ages six to 12.

3735 Capilano Rd., North Vancouver. 877-985-7474

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Summerland Christmas Express For another fantastic train-based holiday event, take off on the Summerland Christmas Express for an hour-long round trip. The 102-year-old steam locomotive is fully decorated for the season. Santa will be on board, and there will be plenty of opportunities to sing some Christmas carols. On the return to Prairie Valley Station, kids each get a bag of Christmas goodies from Santa. Reservations are required. Dec. 13, 14, 20, 21 at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., Adults, $23; seniors, $21; teens, $18; kids three to 12, $14.

Kettle Valley Steam Railway, 18404 Bathville Rd., Summerland. 877-494-8424

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Festival of Lights Come celebrate the 30th anniversary of VanDusen Botanical Garden’s annual Festival of Lights. Your kids can pose for photos with Santa, laugh hysterically at the kid-friendly Christmas comedy, enjoy a shadow-puppet show or try to figure out just how the Vancouver Lego Club built its holiday display for the Make-a-Wish Room of Joy. But this is a light festival after all, so the big draw is the more than 1.4 million lights that adorn the garden, plus the popular Dancing Lights on Livingstone Lake exhibit, a light show programmed to music. Dec. 10 to Jan. 4 (closed Christmas Day) from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Adults, $15; seniors, $11; youth, $11; children three to 12, $8; children younger than two get in free; family (two adults and their children), $34; VanDusen Members, $12; VanDusen Members Family (two adults and their children), $29.

5251 Oak St., Vancouver. 604-257-8335

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holiday events across canada Photo: Heritage Park Historical Village

Once Upon A Christmas Play pioneer for a day and take part in some wholesome family fun at Heritage Park Historical Village. Cookie decorating, kid-friendly theatre, carol singalongs and an outdoor skating rink are sure to keep your clan warm on chilly days. The on-site bakery has plenty for tiny foodies to choose from: warm sausage rolls, cheese bread, cinnamon buns, gingerbread men, hot chocolate and more. Doors open early (9:30 a.m.), so you can fit in a visit before naptime, and there are loads of open spaces for toddlers to run free while you keep an eye on them with a coffee in hand. Adults, $11; kids seven to 14, $7; kids three to six, $5; kids two and younger get in free. November 22 to December 21 (on weekends).

Heritage Park Historical Village, 1900 Heritage Dr. S.W., Calgary. 403-268-8500

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Zoo Year’s Eve Spend a wild night at the Calgary Zoo’s annual New Year’s Eve event. Advance tickets also include access to Zoolights, a seasonal display of 1.5 million lights. Families can enjoy entertainment, snacks and treats like hot cocoa, before a fireworks show at the kid-friendly time of 8 p.m. (the zoo uses low-impact animal-friendly fireworks). One thing to note: Zoo animals will be out of sight, snuggled up in their shelters for the night. Dec. 31 from 6 to 9 p.m. Gates close at 8:30 p.m. General admission, $17; kids three to 15, $13; kids two and younger get in free.

1300 Zoo Rd. NE, Calgary. 403-232-9300

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Photo: Christmas Fantasy Photo: Christmas Fantasy

Christmas Fantasy Traditional sleigh rides (weather permitting), festive crafts, a holiday film (last year they showed the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas), storytelling and visits with Santa are all part of this year’s Christmas Fantasy. Little ones can also drop by the Kids Candy Cane Shoppe for a chance to buy gifts without their parents, help decorate the community Christmas tree or take a picture at the festive photo booth. Free. Dec. 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Lloydminster Cultural & Science Centre, Highway 16 E. and 45 Ave., Lloydminster. 780-874-3720

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Manitoba-nutcracker-todays-parent-december-2014 Photo: Centennial Concert Hall

Eaton’s Fairytale Vignettes Parents and children alike will be mesmerized by the wonder of these iconic department store window displays, a Winnipeg holiday tradition since the ’70s that found a home at the Children’s Museum when Eaton’s closed its doors a decade ago. Each vignette illustrates a classic storybook scene, including some from Snow White, Humpty Dumpty and Three Blind Mice. The beautifully detailed displays include a “magic” button that makes the characters move, bringing each scene to life. Included with museum admission, $10. November 15 to January 4, 2015.

Children’s Museum, 45 Forks Market Rd., Winnipeg. 204-924-4000

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Canad Inns Winter Wonderland Take a drive through Red River Exhibition Park for its holiday light show. Explore 26 themed areas along the 2.5-km route glowing with more than one million lights and tune in to the park’s dedicated radio station—it plays nothing but carols for a festive soundtrack. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, free sleigh rides—with a built-in fireplace!—are also on offer. New this year is a 75-foot Christmas tree made with nearly 3,000 LED light bulbs. Dec. 5 to Jan. 3 (closed Christmas Day) from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets for single cars with up to seven passengers, $10 in advance or $15 at the gate.

3977 Portage Ave., Winnipeg. 204-888-6990

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The Nutcracker Christmas and The Nutcracker are perfect partners, and if you want to see this traditional ballet performed with a Canadiana twist, take your family to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production. This version is set in a Canadian home in 1913, features a hockey game played on a pond and a dramatic scene on Parliament Hill. Performances run through December 20 to 28. Tickets start at $29; to purchase them visit the Royal Winnipeg Ballet box office at 380 Graham Ave., Winnipeg; 204-956-2792; or online at

Centennial Concert Hall, 555 Main St., suite 1000, Winnipeg. 204-956-1360

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family-friendly holiday events Photo: Toronto Christmas Market

The Santa Train All aboard! A magical hour-long railway ride through the hills and valleys of scenic Southern Ontario countryside will leave passengers of all ages bright-eyed and cheery. Peppy elves roam the corridors of the Christmas-themed coaches, treating passengers to carols, hot cocoa and cookies, and kids can line up for a photo with old Saint Nick right on the train. Buy your tickets quickly as seats fill up fast. The train departs from the towns of Inglewood and Orangeville four times throughout a day. General admission, $22. November 15 to December 21 (on weekends, Fridays included in December).

49 Town Line Rd., Orangeville

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Toronto Christmas Market The cobblestoned lanes of the historic Distillery District provide a picturesque backdrop to this outdoor German-inspired market. Carollers, choirs, a life-sized gingerbread house and children’s storytelling keep wee ones amused while parents enjoy a glass of glühwein (mulled wine) or a maple latte and ginger cookie from Balzac’s Coffee. Stroll past all the quaint stalls offering plenty of options for small thoughtful gifts—perfect for teachers and stocking stuffers. Don’t leave without snapping a family photo in front of the magnificently decorated 45-foot white spruce tree. Free. November 28 to December 15, noon to 9 p.m. weekdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends.

35 Lower Jarvis St., Toronto. 416-369-9766

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Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights This popular event lights up the Niagara Parks Winter Wonderland, Dufferin Islands and the surrounding tourist districts with extravagant illuminations like the world’s largest Canadian-American flag, as well as a display of religions around the world, like the Nativity scene, Journey to Bethlehem, Menorah, and Pilgrimage to Mecca. It’s recommended you drive the 5-km route to see everything, stopping to take pictures along the way. Some displays are animated and the lights in the Dufferin Islands change colour in sync with music. November 15 to January 12. The event is free, but a donation of $5 to $10 per vehicle (collected by Festival Ambassadors at the end of the route) is appreciated.

Queen Victoria Park, Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls. 800-563-2557

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The Nutcracker The National Ballet of Canada’s The Nutcracker is a holiday treat for many families, thanks in part to James Kudelka’s lush and hilarious-yet-traditional vision. As a bonus, 45 minutes before each performance, children can attend Nutcracker Story Time in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre to hear the story before the show begins. December 13 to January 3, tickets start at $26.

Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen St. W., Toronto. 866-345-9595

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Vintage Village of Lights The Cumberland Heritage Village Museum is transformed into a rural First World War–era holiday village this Christmas. Families can enjoy activities like an advent calendar scavenger hunt, sledding and broomball. There will also be lots of crafts, like letterpress Christmas postcards (one to keep and one to send to a veteran), snow globe making, cookie decorating and knitting. Kids can also send and receive a telegram from the North Pole and visit the big guy himself. Bring your own snacks or try a pet de soeur (a cinnamon-filled pastry with a funny name—it translates to “nun’s fart”)! Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 29 to Dec. 21 from 3 to 8 p.m. Adults, $7; seniors and students, $5; families (two adults and all of their children), $18.

2940 Old Montreal Rd., Cumberland. 613-833-3059

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Quebec-city-todays-parent-december-2014 Photo: Quebec Tourism

Old Quebec City Check out the city’s holiday decorations. Certain streets are well-known for their ultra-festive look, so make sure to stroll along Rue de Petit-Champlain, Place Royale, Place de l’Hôtel-De-Ville, Place D’Youville, Grande Allée et l’Hôtel du Parlement and Rue Saint-Joseph. Three Christmas markets also take place in the area, the Christmas Market at the Old Port Market, which runs from November 25 to January 5 (closed Christmas and New Year’s Day), the German Christmas Market at Place de l’Hôtel-De-Ville, which runsNovember 28 to 30, December 3 to 7 and Dec. 10 to 14, and the Quebec City Craft Fair at Centre de Foires, ExpoCité, which runs Dec. 4 to 14. Free.

Quebec City. 877-783-1608

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The Nutcracker Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’s production of The Nutcracker, based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale, has been delighting audiences since 1964. Kids will love to watch dancers their own age perform in the fantastical ballet. They may even be able to participate themselves—one hour before each performance, a child is selected from the audience during a reading of Hoffmann’s story to play a mouse in the first act (they return to their seats during intermission to watch the rest of the show). Dec. 11 to 30, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices start at $62.

Place des Arts, 175 rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Montreal. 866-842-2112

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New Brunswick

family-friendly holiday events Photo: New Brunswick’s First Town Christmas

New Brunswick’s First Town Christmas To mark the holiday season, the town of Woodstock is transformed to take on the Victorian air of a Charles Dickens novel. Popular with tourists and locals, the annual celebration kicks off with a trove of kid-friendly fun, from a teddy bear tea party to the Festival of Lights and fireworks at the waterfront. There’s loads of fun for the adults, too. The lineup also includes a Santa Claus parade, craft sales, Christmas cantatas at local churches and a torchlight parade—a family-friendly procession of illuminated LED “candles” that everyone can join. Free. November 21 to December 20 (on weekends).

Woodstock. 506-325-9049

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A Christmas Carol This year, Theatre New Brunswick’s annual Christmas show is a family-friendly musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Come find out exactly what Scrooge thinks of holiday music. Know someone that attends Theatre New Brunswick’s theatre school? In both the Saint John and Fredericton shows, one lucky student will play Tiny Tim alongside the professionals in the cast. December 11 to 13 at the Fredericton Playhouse. General admission, $37; early bird, $32; young adults, $27; students, $10. December 14 at the Imperial Theatre in Saint John. 24 King Square South, Saint John 800-323-7469;

686 Queen St., Fredericton. 1-866-884-5800

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Photo: Bay Roberts Festival of Lights Photo: Bay Roberts Festival of Lights

Bay Roberts Festival of Lights This community loves Christmas so much it has its own festive radio station, two parades (day and night) and two Christmas parks (one is a mini Christmas village, and the other features an extensive holiday-lights display synced to music from their Christmasy radio station). There is also free indoor skating for kids, a Christmas chalet, concerts, community breakfasts and more. The great news for parents: Everything except the concerts and the food is free! Nov. 26 to Jan. 6. Tickets from $5 to $7.

Events held at various locations in Bay Roberts. 709-786-2126

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family-friendly holiday events Photo:

Wintertide Holiday Festival Make sure everyone is wearing their mittens before heading out to the opening of Charlottetown’s annual seasonal celebrations. Take a candlelit walk from Province House to the tree-lighting ceremony at Confederation Centre Upper Plaza, raise your voices with the carollers and pay a visit to the man in red himself. The evening is a fun start to the six-week Wintertide Holiday Festival, which includes kid-focused programming like children’s holiday-music performances, breakfast with Santa, a parade and family-friendly plays. November 21 to January 4, 2014.

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PEI 2014 New Year’s Eve Finale This year is the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, and there will be tons of celebrating this integral part of Canada’s history as the year comes to an end. Activities include horse and sleigh (or wagon) rides, indoor bowling, skating and swimming, plus a kids’ play zone with inflatables, face painting, balloon twisting, a sports simulator and more. Closing ceremonies on the outdoor stage will feature remarks from local dignitaries, musical performances, dancers, buskers, a retrospective video from the year-long celebrations and a fireworks finale at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 31, from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Free except for concert (which is 19+).

Credit Union Place, Notre Dame St., Summerside. 877-734-2014

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A version of this article appeared in our November and December 2014 issues. 

This article was originally published on Nov 30, 2014

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