This story was originally published in December 2011. This year’s Once Upon a Christmas details are available here.

Based on the crowds I saw at Heritage Park last Saturday, their Christmas festival is not a secret amongst families in Calgary. Myself, I prefer quieter more isolated places on a Saturday but there are certainly reasons why I would recommend getting down to Heritage Park next weekend for the last two days of Once upon a Christmas.

The Heritage Park website tells you that you can expect to “experience the wonder and charm of an old-fashioned Christmas” “Enjoy a scenic horse-drawn wagon ride around the Park, take in live historical theatre, sing carols in the church and don’t forget to visit jolly old Saint Nick and his reindeer! Discover the magic of Christmas past as three of our historical family homes open their doors to share their Yuletide traditions.”

That description alone would make most families want to visit the park at least once at Christmas. Admission prices are cheap with the half-price coupons available at Safeway and Calgary First Savings. A family of four can visit the park for the day for under $20. The doors also open early at 9:30 am so if you have young children you have plenty of time to get down there and back home for naps. Even if you don’t have young children, I recommend that you get there as early as possible. We got there around 10:30 and already the line-up for wagon rides was at least half an hour long.

Our favourite activity at the park was the horse-drawn wagon ride while singing Jingle Bells, which my two-year-old started. He was delighted when the whole wagon started singing with him. The line-up for the wagon rides was long but Heritage Park chose their staging area well, locating it right beside a big open field so the children can run around and play while waiting. There are mazes in the field and many of the children had plastic sleds to play with as well. They were quite content to play in the snow while adults waited in line.

We had to wait another half an hour to get into the reindeer pen and have a chance to pet the reindeer but if your child doesn’t need to go into the pen, you can see the reindeer through the fence. We didn’t go to see Santa because my son is still terrified of him but I imagine the combination of Santa and reindeer would put a smile on most children’s faces.


We saw one family having a picnic lunch on one of the tables in the field and honestly, it’s a brilliant idea. Advance reservations were required to eat at the buffets on site and the Selkirk Grill was completely full. The bakery also had a 20-minute wait to get in the door. I believe there were other snack shops though as I saw people walking around with hot dogs and coffee.

We didn’t go into any of the houses to see the Christmas decorations or participate in any other events but my son loved the train display in the old snooker bar. They had a large village set up inside with several antique trains running around the track. Most kids I saw in there were filled with absolute awe and for train lovers, it is a must visit!

We had to cut our visit short as our son wasn’t feeling well but a family could easily have stayed all day between crafts, storytellings, carol singing, visiting the Victorian houses, taking in theatre events, and running around the massive grounds of the park. For a toddler, just running around the park in the snow was enough entertainment.

Next year I am going to try and get down to Heritage Park in November when it first opens for Christmas and beat the crowds. That aside though, sharing a lovely park with fellow Calgarians and families is a highly enjoyable way to spend a Saturday or Sunday before Christmas. It’s a great opportunity to take a day off from shopping, baking, decorating, and just have fun outside in the snow playing together as a family. These are the memories that will go in your scrapbook at the end of the month.