Calgary

Southern Alberta's Polar Express train offers round-trip rides to the 'North Pole'

Aspen Crossing, in Mossleigh, Alta., has been bringing Chris Van Allsburg award-winning holiday tale, The Polar Express, to life for the past four winters.

Aspen Crossing's Polar Express train, based in Mossleigh, Alta., in its fourth season of Christmas operation

The Aspen Crossing Polar Express has been running for the past four seasons. It takes passengers on an hour-long journey from Mossleigh, Alta., to the North Pole and back. (Louise Moquin/Radio-Canada)

A train in southern Alberta is offering those who truly believe a direct route to the North Pole.

Aspen Crossing, in Mossleigh, Alta., has been bringing Chris Van Allsburg award-winning holiday tale, The Polar Express, to life for the past four Christmas seasons.

The book tells the story of a young boy who boards a magical train in the middle of the night that is headed to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. Once at the North Pole, the young boy is chosen among all the other pyjama-clad kids on the train to receive the first gift of Christmas, and he chooses a bell from Santa's sleigh.

Like the book, which was also turned into a movie in 2004, the Aspen Crossing Polar Express train takes families, mostly dressed in pyjamas, to the North Pole and back. Along the way, they drink hot chocolate, eat cookies and sing along to songs from the motion picture soundtrack.

All passengers are encouraged to wear pyjamas on the train, just like the kids in Chris Van Allsburg's award-winning 1985 Christmas story. (Louise Moquin/Radio-Canada)

During the hour-long journey, Santa and his elves even board the train to hand out gifts — a silver sleigh bell — to passengers. 

"Seeing is believing," said Aspen Crossing creator Jason Thornhill.

"When [kids] see Santa, it's great to hear them say 'dad, right there is the real Santa. When you took me to the mall, that's not the real Santa. This is the real Santa."

Passengers are served hot chocolate and cookies along the way to the North Pole. (Louise Moquin/Radio-Canada)

Thornhill said Aspen Crossing originally started out as a tree farm and nursery, but grew into a prairie tourist attraction when a chance opportunity led to the purchase of an 1887 rail car. A few years later, they also bought 22.5 kilometres of track from CP railway. Their first Polar Express train ran in 2015.

Thornhill said every year, the first Polar Express trip is reserved for families who have been affected by childhood cancer. 

"We donate the whole train to Kids Cancer Care," he said. 

"It's quite touching to see these families because lots of them have really no opportunity to do something like this. They're so financially strapped by the time they've done all these treatments and everything that really, the only way they can go, is through donation or something like we've done."

The train picks up Santa Claus and his elves at the North Pole, who ride back on the train and hand out sliver sleigh bells. (Louise Moquin/Radio-Canada)

"The magic you see on these kids' faces and you see you're making a difference to … 100 families. It's pretty impressive."

For more information about Aspen Crossing's Polar Express train, visit their website.

Mossleigh is located 90 kilometres southeast of Calgary. (Louise Moquin/Radio-Canada)

With files from Louise Moquin

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