A new winter festival in Calgary raised thousands for local charities

Hundreds of people gathered at Atco Park in Calgary this weekend to celebrate all things winter and raise donations for two charities.

Event is a win-win for the community, says one organizer

ATCO Park was busy this weekend as Winter Wonderfest offered activities for kids and raised money and gifts for charities. (Tom Ross/CBC)

From gingerbread cookie decorating to Christmas carols and storytelling with Mrs. Claus, hundreds of families gathered at ATCO Park in Calgary this weekend to celebrate all things winter and raise donations for two charities.

Organized by Rümi, ATCO's home solutions company, this is the first year Winter Wonderfest has been held.

All proceeds from tickets, which were sold for a minimum of $5, went directly to Habitat for Humanity Southern Alberta. The festival also collected new unwrapped toys for the Women in Need Society (WINS).

J.P. Gerritsen, the manager of culinary programs for the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen, said the festival was a win-win.

"We wanted to do something for the community," he said, adding that it is heartwarming to help a non-profit like Habitat for Humanity with an event like this.

"They do so much with so little and it really gives them an opportunity to help year-round."

Aside from collecting donations, the festival brought crowds of people to the park. Grant Parry, one of the chef supervisors at the Blue Flame Kitchen, said people are eager to take part in the holiday programming, especially after two years of pandemic uncertainty.

"There's so much demand," said Parry. "People are really coming back in droves and we are really happy to have them."

He estimated that the festival would have 500 people walk through it on Sunday, and said over $7,500 was raised for Habitat for Humanity Southern Alberta throughout the weekend.

"It's an incredible turnout, we're super happy with the community engagement," said Parry.

Families had a chance to meet reindeer this weekend outside the ATCO Centre in Calgary. (Tom Ross/CBC)

For those for who felt the indoor crowds were too much, there were also reindeer outside to feed and get a photo with.

"It's amazing just to see people together and the joy in the kids' eyes — seeing reindeer, decorating cookies, having hot chocolate," said Gerritsen.

"It's really, really magical to relive Christmas through the eyes of so many young children."

He's hopeful the festival will become an annual holiday occurrence for Calgary.