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Zoo set for future Christmas season cheer

Discovery Wildlife Park makes big investment for future mile-long drive-thru Christmas Light Display
MVT Zoo Debbi Rowland
Debbi Rowland, co-owner of Discovery Wildlife Park, inside the zoo's main building. The zoo closed its season on Sept. 30, and officials immediately began preparing for 2022, which will see its inaugural month-long Christmas Light Display in December. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – Discovery Wildlife Park ended its 2021 season last week and while claiming the second consecutive pandemic year was a success the zoo is already moving full steam ahead for next year.

And by the end of 2022, the first time the park will welcome guests in the winter, the park will be hosting a month-long drive-thru Christmas Light Display along a mile-long route inside the park. Park owners believe it will attract at least 3,000 vehicles with up to 10,000 people, many of them from out of town.

The goal is to create a Christmas holiday attraction that will be as popular as similar ones at the Calgary Zoo, Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo and the Airdrie Festival of Lights, the latter about to celebrate its 25th season, with a claim as western Canada's largest, free, outdoor walk-through Christmas Light Display.

“I always wanted to do one because I have worked with the Airdrie festival, and I’ve worked in Saskatoon with the festival they put on at the Saskatoon zoo, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said park co-owner Doug Bos, who is investing $100,000 for the new attraction. “A friend of mine came along and is donating this light display to us for a fundraiser for the zoo, and now it has made the opportunity basically perfect, other than the fact we’ve got to spend $50,000 to build a building to store it all in.”

That building Bos is talking about was brought before Innisfail town council on Sept. 27. Council was presented with a development permit application from the zoo to build two storage buildings, one measuring 94 feet by 30 feet, and a second that will be 40 feet by 40 feet in size, and used to store the acquired Christmas light display.

He said the light display fixtures he’s getting are all homemade and unique, including a 300-foot long, lit-up steam train and a 10-foot-long helicopter that stands about 20 feet high with a spinning top and back to give an appearance of flying. “There is some really unique stuff that nobody has,” said Bos.

With the development permit now secured, Bos said the construction contractor will begin work on the storage facility in the first half of October, and have it finished before the end of this month.

But there will not be a big local Christmas Light Display this year. The inaugural show will have to wait until December of 2022.

“We got to got to get the building built, get the light display moved down here (from St. Paul). We physically don’t have time to run it this December. It will run in December 2022,” he said, adding the zoo is also still in construction of new additional cabins at the park’s campground. “We just got too much stuff on our plate to get done this year to get this light display done.”

Nevertheless, Bos is excited about the possibilities, not only for Discovery Wildlife Park but also for the economic boost it could give to the town.

He said the zoo already has corporate sponsors who want to put their own light displays alongside his. Bos is also hoping to convince the Town of Innisfail and the business community to add their own touches to the zoo display.

“People can then come here and look at the light display and then go downtown to shop or have supper,” said Bos. “I am going to try and inspire the businesses in town to be creative and come up with some ideas so people will come to town before they come and look at the lights, maybe have supper and maybe do some shopping, or do that after they look at the lights.”

He said the cost for each carload of people to drive thru, which is not yet finalized, is expected to be about $30. He added the time length to drive through the display remains a “good question.

“I am not worried about any snow it’s how long people sit and look at the display,” said Bos. “It’s kind of like what we did with the drive-thru with the animals. Some people went through really quick; some went through really slow. Some will stop and look at each animal and held up traffic, so I don’t know how the traffic flow will go for the first year.”


Johnnie Bachusky

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