Christmas at Dunvegan Gardens
When it comes to the holiday season in Fort McMurray, nobody does it like Dunvegan Gardens. Brad Friesen, VP of Operations, tells us more about how it all started, and what you can expect when you visit.
YMM: Take us back to when Dunvegan Gardens started supporting Christmas in Wood Buffalo. When did it all begin, and why?
Dunvegan Gardens’ first Christmas for the residents goes as far back as about 1982 with the greenhouses in Grande Prairie and Peace River. We have been in the business of Garden Centres for more than 35 years. The trend within Garden Centres used to be Ma & Pap operations that were opened May to July, but if you then needed to try and find a job the other months always made things tough only wanting seasonal work then in March you started having to seed and plan for the next season.
Like everything throughout our world came progress and the competition in the world with Big Box stores. We had to change the product mix, hours of operation and rethink all that we were doing. When the box stores started flogging our products at cost or as loss leaders then we had to re-invent ourselves, and with that came the 12-month Garden Centre open year-round with full-time staff, greater than just the family, and an increase in product line.
So our supporting of Christmas in Wood Buffalo came in 2001 with our first Christmas in a small store on Gregoire Drive. We had it plenty full the first year, and to so many people’s amazement, Christmas came to Fort McMurray grander than it was in the past. We have become the Christmas Store; from that first year and every year since we have had wonderful Christmas displays that start as early as the 15th of October. People want to shop for the tree and home before worrying about presents or the food that will be on the table during the Christmas season as we remember Bethlehem and the birth some 2000 years earlier.
We believe that Garden Centres and nurseries, farms and market gardens are the ones who have helped invest back into Christmas in communities around the world.
YMM: Tell us about the Christmas Village.
The Christmas Village was one of our ideas. We had all of this empty space, so my wife, Terri, suggested that we create trails and make it like a walk in the park. Together with her team, Terri has created an experience like none other for the third year in a row. It’s magical for kids, young families, and friends to walk through as we play a special Christmas soundtrack created by Terri.
Our Christmas Village gives people ideas for Christmas decorating, themes, and just a magical environment to shop in. In the past we’ve done a Winter Wonderland in the past, as well as Christmas in the City. This year we’ve combined the two and also added in the Elves Playground at the North Pole.
YMM: What makes Dunvegan Gardens a great place to buy your Christmas tree locally?
Dunvegan Gardens reinvests what it makes all back into this community. The owners live here; they do not send it to shareholders around the world, across the country or across the province. We are local to this community; we do not answer to people who tell us what have or sell, but to the people we serve.
Our trees have come from the same tree farm for the past 15 years. We have been selling Christmas trees for over 30 years; in that time, we have had four suppliers, one we no longer deal with as the true Charlie Brown trees are not sought after anymore as more people want the fuller tree: Grand Fir, Fraser Fir or Pine tree. My favourite has always been the Grand Fir for its needle texture in decorating, and the smell that it produces throughout the house. When we find a supplier who will stand behind their product and continue to give you a great product at a reasonable price we keep our loyalty with them for years. We also strive to look for closer suppliers to help reduce our carbon footprint on the environment.
YMM: Talk a bit about all of the amazing Christmas décor that you have.
The Christmas decor is ordered at shows in January. Only weeks after all of it is taken down, we are planning for the next year. We look forward to that time every year as in January we have a little rest before starting to plan the next season. We go to shows from Vancouver to Toronto to bring you some of the more unique things that can be found out there. We spend over a week browsing for what we will want, and then doing the purchasing throughout showrooms and trade shows.
YMM: What kind of Christmas gifts can be found at Dunvegan Gardens?
We have a little bit of everything...things for men, women, and children. You can find gifts for people when you’re invited out to a friend’s for a house warming. You can find things related back to the farm, things to do with travel and things for teachers. First Christmases for babies, as well as a full line of artificial and real Christmas trees, garlands, poinsettias and all the decorations.