Cynthia Johanson will never forget the year she went without Christmas.
She was six years old, her mother had recently passed away and her father felt it would be too hard to put on a brave face for the holidays.
That’s why Johanson, now a mother of three, was so taken aback when a message flashed across an elevator monitor Nov. 25 stating that 4,500 children in the Calgary area would not receive a visit from Santa this year.
“I thought nope, not this time,” Johanson said.
She went to work the next day, gathering friends and support from local businesses. Three weeks later, the Calgary Polar Express set off on its first trip from the parking lot at the Canyon Meadows Community Centre.
All weekend, individuals climbed aboard the Christmas-themed luxury coach and were treated to a scenic trip around the local area. Hot chocolate was served as the conductor read aloud from Chris Van Allburg’s award-winning tale, The Polar Express.
Following the half-hour journey, families arrived back at a makeshift North Pole and met up with Santa Claus and his many helpers.
The experience was exciting for 10-year-old passenger Misty Rain, who walked away clutching a shiny bell in her tiny hand.
“I really liked the hot chocolate,” she said.
Older kids like Rachel Braaten and Ghyslaine Deerevester, both 14, pitched in by painting Rudolph noses and other festive symbols on the faces of younger riders.
“It’s fun,” Deerevester said. “They’re all so cute.”
For more information or to lend support, visit calgarypolarexpress.com.
Families go for a ride
Every family staying at Inn From the Cold’s emergency family shelter, along with numerous others in community shelters, was offered a ride aboard the Calgary Polar Express this weekend.
The event created an “unbelievable” experience for families, said Janeen Webb, the group’s manager of resource development and events.