An Ottawa Christmas: Alight at Night, Upper Canada Village

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The glow of almost a million lights provides a stunning backdrop for Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village, If Christmas really is your favourite time of year, consider this a “must-see” event on your holiday list.

Our family has trekked down to this recreated pioneer village near Morrisburg for the holiday festival a couple of times, and come away enchanted on each occasion. If you’re driving, it’s 45-60 minutes south of Ottawa and easily accessible just off Hwy. 401 between Brockville and Cornwall.

Entering Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village

As you enter Upper Canada Village during the Christmas Alight at Night festival, you are greeted by tens of thousands of bright festive lights.

The festival is just what it’s called, Alight at Night, so don’t plan on going during the day. It’s open through New Year’s, usually opening from 5-9 p.m. But check the schedule, as the days vary depending on the proximity to Christmas.

If you haven’t visited Upper Canada Village, it’s a re-creation of a pioneer village. Think mid-1850s and you won’t be too far off. The buildings range from a large, estate-style home to a hotel, churches, homesteads, farm buildings and shops. Gravel roads connect the attractions, so wear comfortable boots suitable for trekking through snow and some dirt/mud.

It’s located along the St. Lawrence River, meaning great scenery but also the possibility of damp, biting winds. Hey, this is Eastern Ontario and it is December. To fully enjoy the experience, dress warmly and layer up so you can easily add or remove clothes as need be.

A few years ago we visited on a -18C night with a stiff breeze. Luckily, we were well prepared, but it was chilly. I think we all had an extra hot chocolate on that visit!

Walk the Village…

You can walk the village in 20-30 minutes, but you won’t move nearly that fast. You’ll want to admire the impressive light displays and trek in and out of the buildings, many of which are open. This will extend your walk to last an hour or more.

If it’s a particularly cold night, getting inside for a few minutes can also help fight off the chill.

Alight at Night Upper Canada Village Ferris Wheel

The brightly lit ferris wheel gives high-angle views of Alight at Night, and the St. Lawrence River, at Upper Canada Village.

If you want to enjoy a wagon ride, take a trip on the mini-railway, watch an impressive Christmas music show set to lights, and line up to ride the historic ferris wheel, add another 30-60 minutes. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours or more at the site. Note also that these rides are included with your admission, there is no extra fee.

As you explore the attractions, Christmas carols play in the background. The sound of sleigh bells heralds another tour by the horse-drawn wagon ride. The “woot-woot” of the train whistle echoes across the water. Hundreds of conversations among other visitors provide a muted backdrop as you travel some of the busier areas, or gather to await the carols-and-lights show.

You can even take the kids to visit the Victorian-era Saint Nick, at Crysler Hall.

Food and drinks are available on the site, from hot chocolate, munchies and cinnamon buns to full meals. Some are even licensed to provide alcoholic beverages.

Willard's Hotel, Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village

Willard’s Hotel, where you can enjoy a full Christmas ham or turkey dinner (reservations recommended).

Willard’s Hotel in the village is open on select nights to serve a full Christmas turkey or ham dinner for $20/plate. I highly recommend reservations if you want to eat at Willard’s, it can be quite popular.

There’s even an overnight experience, but you must book this in advance.

Admission in 2016 is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for kids (under 5 are free) so it’s not a “cheap” evening, but our whole family feels it’s well worth the price. So much so that we plan to be back this year. During our first visit several years ago, a couple of our kids were in their teens and they enjoyed it as much as the adults.

It would also make a wonderful, romantic holiday season date night — especially if you add in a sit-down Christmas dinner, a horse-drawn wagon tour and a ride on the ferris wheel.

Full details, directions, and pricing are available at the Alight at Night Upper Canada Village webpage.

Have you visited Alight at Night? What were your thoughts? Have another suggestion for a wonderful, seasonal attraction in the Ottawa area? Let me know in the comments.

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