First Festival of Trees Winter Wonderland Holiday Market at RE/MAX a Shimmering Success!
Rink of Dreams Opens to Skaters Celebrating the Season!
After three decades, the highly anticipated Festival of Trees took root in a brand new location at beautiful RE/MAX Field, nestled in the heart of Edmonton’s snowy River Valley.
To welcome the signature fundraiser from the University Hospital Foundation, the Edmonton Riverhakws transformed their ball diamond into a dazzling Rink of Dreams.
“There is definitely magic in the air, an energy on the ice and inside the stadium with the spirit of the season and the hundreds of folks that came down for the Festival of Trees this weekend,” says Dr. Randy Gregg, Managing Director of the Edmonton Riverhawks.
Not even a classic Alberta cold spell could deter bundled-up families from having fun. They warmed up with a flurry of outdoor activities including skating on the ice pond to music, snowshoeing, rides in the Edmonton Riverhawks “Birdcage,” and roasting marshmallows over open fires.
Inside festival goers could shop for special gifts at the Hawk Shop, the Old Strathcona Farmers' Holiday Market and the children’s Secret Santa Shop while stopping for hot choclate and treats along the way.
Families snapped photos and gazed at the twinkling wonder of exquisitely decorated Christmas trees. The beautiful ornamental displays were up for bids in support of a good cause, with donations going towards the development of a Neuro Rehabilitation Innovation Centre at the University of Alberta Hospital.
“The Festival of Trees fundraising event has been around for 37 years and we are thrilled to partner with the University Hospital Foundation to host it at RE/MAX Field for the first time to help create awareness, raise important funds, and build community involvement,” adds Gregg.
The popular annual event moved from its indoor location to the airy baseball stadium in the River Valley on December 17th and 18th.
“During Covid we were forced to reimagine the Festival of Trees, and we wanted to make it more available and more accessible,” explains Kevin Radomski, Director of Signature Events & Experience at the University Hospital Foundation. “We showcased smaller local events, visited some schools, and wanted to bring the festivities right to the people.”
He adds, “We thought what better way to support and build community than to come down to the diamond at RE/MAX Field and partner with the Edmonton Riverhawks and the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. We wanted to create a truly inclusive, traditional Canadiana holiday event, offered with free admission. No matter what your background, denomination or faith, there’s something here for everyone; it’s a seasonal celebration full of excitement!”
The owner of Swaby’s Kitchen – Authentic Jamaican Treats & Drinks, Shanique Swaby, was one of the 30 vendors who set up shop at the market on the concourse. The entrepreneur and nurse sells her delicious family recipe Caribbean rum cake and anti-oxidant hibiscus fruit drink.
“It’s fantastic for businesses like mine to get out into the community as it can bring fresh awareness to our culture through foods. If people can’t travel to Jamaica I can bring it to them here,” she smiles.
There was a wide variety of businesses on display upstairs for eager holiday shoppers, including specialty baking and foods, alcoholic beverages, beautifully hand-crafted clothing, jewellery, soaps, artwork and toys.
Shanique adds, “I actually haven’t been to the stadium before, and it’s really nice at the Holiday Market to see all the kids having a good time. We get to meet so many families and tap into a new, wider audience. In our business, people might not know the health benefits of our products and as a nurse, I can speak with them about that. They stop by to try samples and we get to interact with them a lot, so it’s been really great.”
The Secret Santa Gift Shop down the concourse has also been a major hit. Riverhawks’ fans and young siblings William and Jonathan had a ball buying gifts. The much loved children’s market is full of colourful displays of creative and affordable gifts to choose from for moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, kids and even animals.
The brothers picked out a special pet toy for their aunt’s dog. Their mom Crystal found her perfect gift. “I bought a monkey!” she laughs. “It’s a stuffed monkey,” she explains, “for a co-worker for a silly Secret Santa exchange we have at work.”
The family’s outdoor highlights of the day were riding in the Bird Cage and trying out snowshoeing by the straw bales on the field. “We came down on the bus for this. It was lots of fun for the boys and it’s wonderful for them to be able to experience a family holiday event with so much to do!”
Over 70 volunteers with the University Hospital Foundation help make the special weekend shine, with additional Edmonton Riverhawks volunteers pitching in. “We appreciate the hard work of the volunteers to create this exceptional seasonal experience,” says Radomski. “You know, it might be cold outside but there’s a heartfelt warmness here and a buzz with it all,” he adds. “There are lots of families, lots of strollers, and lots of smiles.”
“For many years this facility operated just as a baseball stadium. One of our mandates is to showcase the exciting possibilities and open it up to other people and organizations so we can come up with different ways to enjoy RE/MAX Field,” reflects Gregg. “The success of the Festival of Trees Winter Wonderland Market has been a wonderful start to that . . . and not the last event like this, I’m sure!”
You can learn more about how to support the Festival of Trees and University Hospital Foundation at: https://givetouhf.ca/festival-of-trees/
Winter Wonderland Vendors from the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market: https://osfm.ca
And don’t forget to check the Riverhawks' website and social media channels for more upcoming exciting winter events and public skating announcements at Remax Field!