This New Festival Turns a Revamped Toronto Park Into a Winter Wonderland

The inaugural Aurora Winter Festival has turned the grounds of the renovated Ontario Place park into a family-friendly winter fantasy.

By Amanda Scriver December 12, 2018, 7:16 AM EST

A whimsical forest includes trees with lights in a variety of colors, an illuminated unicorn, and a winter castle that seems straight out of Frozen

Photo: Sarjoun Faour

Aurora Winter Festival
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Toronto has seen a rise in Christmas markets and winter light festivals in the past few years. This year, the latest family-friendly December event has turned the grounds of Ontario Place into a winter wonderland.

The Aurora Winter Festival, a 24-day ticketed event presented in partnership with the Canadian National Exhibition, is a whimsical, illuminated holiday village. The festival, which launched on November 29 and runs through December 30, was conceptualized and produced by Scott Emslie.

“We wanted to create an experience that was as interactive as possible,” Emslie said. Taking inspiration from his favorite holiday attractions and activities, Emslie explains that the concept was developed more than a year ago. He and his team wanted to embrace Toronto’s winter and “create the most immersive engaging experience for our guests.”

With 30 core team members, the installation of the festival took 17 days and spans nearly the entire 96-acre Ontario Place. Formerly an amusement park, Ontario Place reopened in 2017 after undergoing an extensive renovation since closing in 2012.

Throughout the grounds, attendees can find a mini market filled with 30 local vendors selling their wares, food trucks, a full-scale Ferris wheel, an inner tube park, a Polar Express-style mini train, and a 10,000-square-foot skating pond, which is illuminated by a giant narwhal. 

Another big component of the festival is the array of light installations, which include a 50-foot, LED light tunnel and a forest inspired by the North Pole. “I wanted guests to feel like they have discovered a magical world that is filled with fun, joy, laughter, and love,” said Emslie.

For their first year, Emslie noted the attendance goal was to surpass 150,000 guests, although he didn't have figures to share so far. He said that his long-term vision for the festival is to create a special experience for guests. 

However, the festival's future will depend on politics around the venue. In July, the government shelved plans to continue the redevelopment of Ontario Place—which would have included the construction of a $30 million public park called Trillium Park.

While Emslie said that it was “too soon to say whether the festival will become a recurring event,” he wants to focus his attention on making the event’s inaugural year a success.

The Aurora Winter Festival is also taking place in Vancouver at Concord Pacific Place through December 30. Here’s a look at some of the festival’s Instagram-friendly highlights.

Launch Slide Show

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