Gary and Lisa Moran aren’t letting a provincial regulation stop them from bringing Christmas to Chilliwack this year.
For the past 26 years, the owners of Fantasy Farms have been holding agri-tourism events at their farm on Gibson Road, but it all came to a halt this Halloween.
“We were told [by the City of Chilliwack] to cease and desist on Oct. 4,” Gary Moran told The Progress a few months ago. The city did, however, allow them finish their Halloween event.
According to Agricultural Land Reserve rules, permanent agricultural buildings, like the Fantasy Farms’ greenhouses, cannot be used for non-farm related events on agricultural land, as per the decision of the Agricultural Land Commission in April 2019. City of Chilliwack officials notified the Morans that they’d received a complaint about their Halloween event, Reapers Haunted Attraction, which triggered the investigation back in October.
But in November, after they had packed up their ghouls, witches and goblins for the season, they still wanted to bring out the Christmas decorations.
But where would they set up Chilliwack Country Christmas?
To keep a steady income going, the Morans needed to find a new location.
“If I can’t do it on the farm, where can I do it?” Moran said. “I knew this mall was slated for [demalling], I knew it was going to be empty and I thought why not reach out.”
Mall management thought it was a “brilliant” idea, he said.
“We’re thrilled to have them. It’s a good-neighbour thing, that’s what Chilliwack is all about,” said Valerie Storey, property administrator of Chilliwack Mall. “We love the Christmas atmosphere, it’s just wonderful.”
The space is about two-thirds the size they’re used to at the farm, but nonetheless, the Morans packed as much fun into their new location as possible.
The have a bouncy castle, arcade games, train rides, a play area for younger children, candy shop and, of course, Santa.
There’s even a snowball arena for indoor snowball fights.
“We found these snowballs about three or four years ago and they actually feel like snowballs, but they’re fluffy. You can’t get hurt,” Moran said.
Chilliwack Country Christmas opened on Dec. 1, and already they have seen a 40 per cent increase in customers during the first week compared to last year. About 75 per cent of them have been repeat Fantasy Farms customers.
“Out of those, 95 per cent of them have said ‘this is amazing, but we still love your farm more.’”
It took two days for the Morans and their elves to move everything in to the mall, and another two weeks to build the structures inside and get everything ready for opening day. They even decorated the inside of the mall itself and all of the empty storefront windows with their excess props, turning the fairly vacant mall into a winter wonderland.
Now that everything is up and running, every day Moran drives from his farm to the mall and slips into a suit of red. It’s an outfit he’s truly earned being a graduate of Santa Claus school last year.
While in the Claus-room, Moran learned how to walk like Santa and talk like Santa. He was taught how to make his “ho, ho, ho!” more jolly. He learned about Santa history, plus hair and makeup.
Moran was even taught how to answer difficult requests from kids that he can’t fulfill, such as when they ask for a sick or late parent to be home for Christmas.
He knows some children need a bit more time than others to warm up to Santa. He’ll wave at kids from a distance as they’re jumping in the bouncy castle, or go for a stroll through the mall and visit staff and customers in the stores.
He said visitors have described Chilliwack Country Christmas is “comfortable and cozy.”
You can check it out for yourself at the Chilliwack Mall (near the west end, by Safeway) now until Dec. 24. Chilliwack Country Christmas is open daily and hours are: 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays; and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Rates: Admission is $8 per person ($6 for seniors) and includes access to everything except the train ride and hard copies of photos with Santa. Family admission is $25 (two adults, two kids). If you just want to visit Santa, it’s $15 (you’re welcome to use your own camera). Or you can use their photo printing options for an added cost. Bring a non-perishable item for the food bank and get $1 off.
Train ride tickets are $2 each. Train runs every 15 minutes and hours are: Mondays to Fridays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
– with files from Jennifer Feinberg