It’s no secret that beautiful nature-blessed St. Albert is a favourite destination in this neck of the woods. Ranked by Maclean’s Magazine as the best city to live in Alberta, the friendly community is a top draw for families in warm weather with the famous St. Albert Farmers’ Market, International Children’s Festival and numerous arts, culture and sporting events. But when the snow falls, the northern city shines during the darkest days of winter, with plenty of fun, interesting winter activities for all ages and especially those young at heart.
One of the must-see holiday attractions that kicks off the season in late November, is the popular St. Albert Snowflake Festival. Started in 1997, the festival has grown over the years with an annual attendance of 15,000 that draws people locally and as far away as Leduc, Edmonton, Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan.
Festival goers can enjoy the lighting of the tall Christmas tree, a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus and other holiday characters, horse wagon rides, petting zoo, lots of indoor and outdoor activities and hot chocolate by the fire. Over 50 business sponsors contribute to the huge community event, which makes it free for everyone to enjoy.
“The business owners of the community don’t just write the cheques,” explains Jennifer McCurdy, President and CEO of the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce, “they come on down and take part.” She adds, “There’s such a great family feeling in St. Albert, with wonderful support from residents at the festivals and a chance to showcase the whole downtown area.”
Local resident, Leigh Ann Smith, couldn’t agree more. Her family stumbled upon the festival while out going out for pizza one year – and are back for more fun. “My kids love all the treats and of course the activities. As long as it is not too cold out they enjoy the animals, activities and some hot chocolate. Even if you go for just an hour, it is a great family friendly event. One of our favourite parts is that without a doubt you always run into people you know.”
Leigh Ann and her family recently relocated from Fort McMurray where they enjoyed outdoor life despite the often cold weather. “The same goes for living in St. Albert,” says Leigh Ann, “we want to take in the amazing community events and make the most of what the city has to offer.”
Back home, the family loves celebrating the season further in their spacious five bedroom, 2,500 sq.ft. house they cherish in the new attractive, expanding community of Erin Ridge North.
“Our family LOVES Christmas,” says the mom of two. “Our lights are up inside and out and inside we are in full Christmas mode. We are big on traditions over the holiday season...so lots of cookies to be baked, gingerbread houses to be decorated and gatherings with family and friends. I love watching the kids set up our winter village, they have memories and stories attached to decorations and pieces that’s so great hearing them remember.”
Leigh Ann, a social media marketer, and her family moved to St. Albert in September 2017 and settled right in. “We have friends who have lived here for years and when we would come down from Fort McMurray we would stay with them. We loved the sense of community that St. Albert has to offer. For us it was like a big city with a small town feel.”
She recalls, “We evacuated here during the fires in Fort McMurray and the outpouring of support was amazing...it will always have a special place in our hearts. We knew when my husband got transferred for work to Edmonton that looking for a home in St. Albert was #1 on the list.”
This season, there are many reasons why St. Albert is a stand out as a winter wonderland for families:
Like Leigh Ann’s family, you can experience the Enjoy Light Festival (ELF) at the Enjoy Centre that runs until January 5th , 2020. Take in over 80,000 square feet of Christmas Magic and Whimsical Lighting! https://enjoylightfestival.com/
Also check out the St. Albert Indoor Christmas Market that runs for six weeks featuring 75 amazing vendors. https://www.stalbertfarmersmarket.com/christmas-market
Slip into your skates at an outdoor rink or Kingswood Park with lots of snowy trees and shelters nearby.
Cross country ski or stroll along the highly maintained paths – with 99 ½ km of gorgeous outdoor trails to cover!
Ring in the new year at St. Albert’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Mission Park (tip: best place to watch is right behind St. Albert Place).
Visit the newly renovated Art Gallery of St. Albert or take in a holiday performance at the Arden Theatre.
And if you’re looking to get all fired up in February, the Family Day Fire & Ice Winter Festival takes place at Lacombe Park, hosted by local Firefighters. With fire performers, fire trucks, pond hockey, hot dogs and more - and spectacular ice carving for frosty fun!
“People tend to hibernate in the winter,” says Jennifer McCurdy from the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce, “so by offering all these great activities it gets residents out with something to do.”
And sometimes simple quality family time is time well spent. One of Leigh Ann’s favourite get togethers is, “We love jumping in the car, driving around the city and seeing all the amazing light displays. We grab a hot chocolate, blast the Christmas music and cruise around looking at all the lights.”
So why not head on out to the beautiful City of St. Albert this winter? With bright civic energy and endless activities to do, you’ll never know who or what you’ll see. It’s a great place to visit, and maybe eventually one day call home. In any case, bundled up with the right company and a hot beverage, you’re bound to have a warm and fuzzy good time!