Winter Wonderland returning to Gateway Mall for second year

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald The train makes its way around the Prince Albert Optimist Club Winter Wonderland, the Winter Wonderland opens to the public after the Santa Claus Parade on Nov. 25.

The Optimist Club of Prince Albert is getting ready to celebrate the Christmas season.

Later this month the club will open their second annual Winter Wonderland at the old Staples location in the Gateway Mall. Committee co-chair Karla Preston said the event serves as a way to celebrate the season and also fundraise for the organization.

“We always try and do something that will generate us some funds, but is also something that we can tie in with the community,” Preston explained.

“We’ve had a lot of volunteers that have come in and helped us out, so I expect on the days that we do have all of the people coming in and the schools coming in, we’ll have Optimist members and numerous volunteers as well.”

The Optimists have partners with several groups to help bring their annual Winter Wonderland to life. The list includes the Prince Albert Science Centre, which has a display, and the Salvation Army, who donated a lot of decorations and Christmas trees including the large tree at the centre of the venue. Exclusive Auto Marine also purchased gingerbread houses for a decorating contest.

“We took gingerbread houses out to the schools, and then we’ll get them to come back in and get them judged (for) prize,” Preston said. “We’re expecting probably in the neighbourhood of 200 gingerbread houses.”

The gingerbread houses will be on display, including a giant Barbie-themed gingerbread house donated by Sweet Stells Cakes and More that someone will be able to win.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Elsa posed in one of the many photograph booths that are part of the Prince Albert Optimist Club Winter Wonderland. the Winter Wonderland opens to the public after the Santa Claus Parade on Nov. 25.

They will also be doing mini sessions for family photos in the displays in partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library on Dec. 9. This incorporates the photography opportunities in the location.

“On top of having all these trees that we had, we’ve tried to make them into scenes where people can have family pictures taken,” Preston said. “(There are) numerous scenes, probably 20-30 of them, where people can just go right in. (They can) walk right into the display, sit in the rocking chair and get some great pictures.”

There will be musical performances from the Big Noise Youth Choir on the weekend of Dec. 16 along with a performance by piper Dave Monette.

The Optimist Club works on the space all year round and Preston described it as being the 700 days of Christmas.

“We’ve been in this space luckily for two years partnering with the Gateway Mall, so yes, it’s been nice to be able to slowly work at this the entire year,” Preston said.

They also included pop culture displays that are Christmas-related such as the Grinch and A Nightmare Before Christmas. Preston said they hope this will help attract the older 10 to 14-year-old crowd rather than just the under-six crowd.

“Some of that is not as standard for Christmas so we have a little more interest from a different age group potentially,” Preston explained.

Visitors can access the Optimist Club Christmas Wonderland by using the inside entrance in the Gateway Mall just off 13th Street West. There are Christmas Displays, Scenic Train Rides, Mrs. Claus Story Time, Kids Crafting, lots of Selfie Stations and special days with characters.

Wonderland will open as soon as the Santa Claus Parade ends on Nov. 25.

“We are ready for all those people to come piling in,” Preston said.

They are open on Nov. 25 and 26 and the following three weekends on Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Dec. 17. The times vary a bit but, generally Wonderland is open from noon until 5 p.m. or 7 p.m.

Sharon Faul General Manager of Gateway Mall said the mall is always looking to partner with different community groups and to provide different events for people to attend. She was glad to have the Optimists back for another year.

“It keeps people in the City of Prince Albert and gives people something to do around the Christmas season where they don’t have to do a lot of travelling,” Faul said.

“It’s very economical to bring your family down and enjoy an afternoon of just celebrating Christmas.

She said the former Staples location had been vacant for several years. She discussed using the space with several people and eventually approached the Optimist Club.

“They were very enthusiastic about proceeding with it, so we partnered with them and they’ve been utilizing the space to generate additional traffic to the centre,” Faul said. “It’s just a great warm and friendly event for the Christmas season for the folks of the community.”

She explained that it was a great opportunity for the Optimist Club to get their name in the community and give back to the community.

“Christmas is always our busiest season, so it allows the Optimist Club to do some fundraising because they contribute to a lot of different things throughout the community,” Faul said.

The Optimist Club of Prince Albert has been active in Prince Albert since 1961 and still does one of its original projects Santa Anonymous.

Optimist International is one of the world’s largest service club organizations with 93,000 adult and youth members in 3,200 clubs in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean and throughout the world. Carrying the motto “Bringing Out the Best in Kids,” Optimists conduct positive service projects that reach more than six million young people.