Ride the rails and see the lights at Minters

Chilliwack's Minter Country Store offers up an array of Christmas-themed family activities, starting Dec. 9

Brian Minter sits on the new train at Minter Country Garden on Wednesday. The shiny red locomotive will be taking passengers for its first ride through the store's indoor Christmas display on Friday.

Brian Minter sits on the new train at Minter Country Garden on Wednesday. The shiny red locomotive will be taking passengers for its first ride through the store's indoor Christmas display on Friday.

Nothing says Christmas like thousands of twinkling lights, taking a magical train ride, curling up for a good story, or getting in touch with nature.

There will be all that and more at Minter Country Gardens starting this Friday, as the store transforms for the holiday season. Taking part in the store’s festivities has become an annual tradition for many Chilliwack families, and ‘riding the rails’ through the store is definitely a highlight for the young and young at heart.

And this year, a new, miniature locomotive will be pulling passengers through the lighted displays. The new train engine and driver’s car are freshly painted a beautiful holiday red, and have just been unpacked from the crate. They made a long journey themselves from Oregon, where they were created with loving care by the same family who built Minters’ first rideable train back in 2002.

Back then, the train rides were weather dependent as the route took passengers through the back of the property. But many years ago, Brian Minter explains, they decided to bring the train indoors for an all-weather experience.

The staff at Minters have been busy working around the clock to get ready for Friday’s big opening at 5 p.m. There are many of the standard favourite displays, but some new ones as well.

“We had to have Frozen,” Minter says. But there is also a new Christmas Island display, and a fun wintery tunnel.

The train runs every day now until Dec. 24. The train hours are weeknights from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and weekends from 12 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. On Christmas Eve, the train runs from noon to 4 p.m. Each ride takes about 10 minutes from loading to unloading, making two passes around the track. Tickets are $4 charge per person, but children aged three and under ride for free.

For those who prefer to walk the gardens, there is still plenty of Christmas spirit to be found.

The holiday lights are on throughout their perennial house from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every evening, along with colourful vignettes and character pieces to enjoy along the way.

And there are still a few chances to get out into the back fields, over the next two weekends of Family Fun Days.

Visitors can meet and learn about owls and raptors, and even take nature walks with a Great Horned Owl.

The incredible creatures from Raptors Ridge Birds of Prey will be on hand, including barn, barred, pygmy and/or great horned owls, hawks, kestrels and/or falcons too. This is a unique opportunity to see these exquisite animals up close and to learn more about them, taking place Dec. 10, 11, 17 and 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is open to the public and no registration is required.

But for those who want a little more, there will also be two youth-oriented classes (ages eight to 15), on Dec. 10 and 17 at 11 a.m. Registration is required and class size is limited to 10 students. The one-hour sessions focus on the secret lives of the owls and why they are truly amazing in flight, hearing and eyesight. Each participant will receive their own owl pellet for dissection and have a chance to meet Radar the great horned owl.

If that time doesn’t work, meet Radar and take a nature walk, Dec. 10, 11, 17 or 18. Arrive at the owl area at 1 p.m. and be led by Kim and Radar through the back fields of Minters.

Mrs. Claus will be gathering up the little ones to tell some holiday stories, at 2 p.m. on the Family Fun Days. And later each evening, she will be joined by Santa himself as they wander through the store and take photos with guests.

There will be live musical performances throughout the season, beginning with Jeff Bowman on Dec. 9 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Good New Choir performs Dec. 16 (time TBA), Sweetwater Duo on Dec. 17, 22 and 23 at 5:30 p.m., and the Cascadia Wind Ensemble on Dec. 18 at 5:30 p.m.

They’ve also invited the one and only Grinch to the store, Dec. 21-23 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and a final visit with Santa on Dec. 22 and 23, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

All events are held at Minter Country Garden Store, 10015 Young Road.

For more details visit mintergardening.com.