Doug Bos wasn’t sure what to expect when the gates of Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail were opened to motorists for a two-kilometre long drive-through Christmas lights display.
Certainly, getting up to 350 cars a night was unanticipated.
“It’s been overwhelming. We’ve had more people come off the highway to see the lights… I didn’t expect that kind of response,” said Bos, who with his wife Debbi Rowland, started one of the largest seasonal light spectacles in the province.
With an ambitious new goal of adding to the attraction so it becomes known across Western Canada, Bos is already priming some 10-foot candy canes for next year’s display
Since Discovery Wildlife Park’s Light the Night show opened on Nov. 19, many families have been coming from as far as Bashaw and Didsbury. Bos said a Red Deer limousine company has been bringing clients through, and senior tour buses have been arriving from across Central Alberta.
Drivers and their passengers will spend up to half an hour in the 90-acre “a Christmas wonderland,” with lit-up cabins and trees. The mostly handmade attractions include a nativity scene, a working model train, scale versions of a Ferris wheel, Cinderella’s coach, carousel, and helicopter — all lit up with moving parts — while visions of Santa’s sleigh, Christmas trees and snowmen adorn some of the fencing.
There’s even a Grinch mascot greeting guests in the gift shop.
However Bos said advertised tethered hot-air balloon rides have largely had to be cancelled because nighttime winds could hamper safety. Instead, he’s looking at introducing hay rides next time.
The wintertime venture was undertaken to make the seasonal business “busier during a slow time of year,” said Bos. He and Rowland were inspired by Saskatoon’s Christmas festooned Forestry Farm and other such attractions.
Having people come and pay the $30 per vehicle with up to eight people ($50 for more than eight people) admission charge has added two months to the usual five-month season for the wildlife park. Bos figures the the Light the Night display is on track to generate $30,000 for the wildlife park before shutting down on Jan 15.
The unique attraction has also been a boon for other Innisfail businesses, judging by the fast-food packaging that Bos has seen in the vehicles that have come through. “It is a unique thing for Innisfail and a pretty huge economic driver,” he said.
Besides the park’s light show, motorists may catch a glimpse of the animals, including seven or eight grizzly and black bears, camels, elk and wolves that are held in the pens. “The wolves might be running up and down along the fence with the vehicles that go by. They like to do that,” said Bos.
A rescued bear, who’s been featured in films is the latest addition to the wildlife park. Bos said the bear’s previous owner has dementia and can’t look after him, so the park is his new home.
For more information, please visit discoverywildlifepark.com/light-the-night-2.