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Santa's Barn at Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens is the 'mother lode'
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Santa's Barn at Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens, which proves to be a family favourite year after year.
"It's very popular — people come once, they come back," says Woodland Gardens' Bryan Zimmerman of visits with Santa inside the barn. "I mean I've had people now that were kids when their parents brought them — now they're bringing their kids.
"It's very unique, it's very natural, and when they step into the barn they figure they've hit the mother lode, you know, this is the real thing; it's a whole lot different than a mall or anything like that."
Visits with Santa are by donation and attendees are encouraged to bring their own camera to take photos with Santa. Santa visits the barn on Dec. 15, 16, 22 and 23 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Woodland Gardens is located about a 15-minute drive north of Courtenay.
While visits with Santa are exciting for the kids, strolling though Zimmerman's gardens when they're lit up with what seems like millions of twinkling lights appeals to all ages.
Zimmerman adds more lights and changes how he hangs them each year; lights hang from trees, bushes and water features along the wooded pathways in part of his 24 acres of forested land.
Zimmerman — who is 73 and prepares the gardens all by himself, by hand — says it takes him about six weeks to decorate the property for its Christmas events because of the amount of work involved. For example, last year Zimmerman created an 18-foot inukshuk made out of about 1,700 horseshoes near the entrance to the gardens. The lit-up inukshuk will be there again this year.
Zimmerman notes the effort is starting to tire him out a bit, but when asked why he continues to do it each year, he thinks a few moments before answering: "Just to see the reaction from people is unreal — probably that's the fuel that keeps me going."
To add to the holiday feel, the Cantiamo Chamber Ensemble will sing carols at the gardens Dec. 16, 21, 22 and 23 at 7 p.m.
Zimmerman says these evenings of carolling are always popular, noting this is the 11th year the choir will come out to the gardens to sing.
A bonfire burns on the weekends and refreshments like hot chocolate, mulled cider and hot dogs are available.
The garden lights and Santa's Barn are open every night from 5 to 9 p.m. until Jan. 1. Admission is $8. Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens is at 6183 Whittaker Rd., north of Courtenay.
For more information, visit www.woodlandgardens.ca.