Beginning back in 2010, the Association started running a special holiday tour that left from the Railway Museum of BC in Squamish and made its fictitious way north to Santa’s workshop. They called their festive expedition the Polar Express.

What’s a name worth?

If the name is Polar Express and you’re the West Coast Railway Association, it’s worth 30 percent of your gross revenues. That’s what the Association was forking out annually to Warner Brothers who own the rights to the beloved Christmas story, The Polar Express. Beginning back in 2010, the Association started running a special holiday tour that left from the Railway Museum of BC in Squamish and made its fictitious way north to Santa’s workshop. They called their festive expedition the Polar Express. The Association wasn’t capitalizing on the story; the name just seemed fitting. The holiday feature was an instant success.  Little kids were enraptured by the whole candy cane shebang and parents and grandparents were equally delighted. Then Warner Brothers came calling and soon the Association was remitting 30 percent of their proceeds to the studio.

Little kids were enraptured by the whole candy cane shebang and parents and grandparents were equally delighted.

The West Coast Railway Association runs the Railway Museum of BC at Railway Heritage Park in Squamish. Last year, operations were shut down due to the pandemic. This pause in the action gave the Association some time to think. Thirty percent off the top is a large chunk of change. Did people really care about the Polar Express name? Was using it worth the price?

They decided to find out.

Photo by Jakob Owens

This year, the Association ditched the Polar Express name for their special Christmas excursion.  This year, adventurers setting out to visit Santa will travel in identical comfort and style, not on the Polar Express, but on the North Pole Express. Same elves, same hot chocolate, same candy canes but the name of the event is different. That’s pretty much it. That means that this year, this local non-profit society that’s dedicated to preserving British Columbia’s railway heritage, will keep 30 percent more of the collected revenue in their coffers.  

The good news is that tickets for the Christmas train are nearly sold out. Polar Express; North Pole Express, it didn’t seem to matter. It’s a lovely book and a lovely movie, but the name wasn’t central to the experience the Railway Association was offering. It turns out that similar railway societies across North America had the same idea and decided to drop the affiliation with the book. When you’re five, all you really care about is that there are candy canes and that you get to meet Santa himself.

When you’re five, all you really care about is that there are candy canes and that you get to meet Santa himself.

Thirty percent more makes a big difference to the bottom line.  Santa may have his nine reindeer and a battalion of elves, but the Association relies on 125 volunteers to make the holiday magic happen. Train buffs from all over the Lower Mainland make the trek up to Railway Heritage Park in Squamish to take on tasks from manning the gift shop to serving as conductor for the miniature train. Without all the expertise and free labour lavished on this project, prices would have to rise. Nobody wants that, least of all, the Association.

I don’t have grandkids yet. But when I do, I’ll add the North Pole Express to my seasonal Must Do list. I’ll add it to a list that includes Van Dusen Gardens Festival of Lights, the miniature train in Stanley Park, Breakfast with Santa (somewhere); dragging them to The Nutcracker at least once, and, if we’re lucky, skating on Lost Lagoon. And I’ll probably read The Polar Express to them but I’ll leave out any mention of Warner Brothers. That thirty percent sticks in my craw.

All aboard the North Pole Express!

Photo by WCRA

The Bookless Club has partnered with the West Coast Railway Association for this fantastic Christmas giveaway.  The train departs from the Railway Museum in Squamish. Visit for more information about this fabulous package.

Register for my newsletter to receive further instructions for a chance to win this unique railcar experience for 15!

This week’s question for readers:


Responses to last week’s question:

Would you choose a life with peaks despite the valleys or a life that’s safe ad secure but also unremarkable?

What would youth be without unbridled plans? Harry Chapin’s song, Taxi, in which two old friends in a chance meeting, measure how close they got to their dreams. It always makes me blue:
But we’d both gotten what we’d asked for
Such a long, long time ago
You see she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly
She took off to find the footlights
And I took off for the sky

J.P. Smyth

I’d choose a life with peaks despite the valleys.  I am envious of the smart and likeable people whose lives seem to be free of worries.  However, the most memorable hikes I have done over the years are the ones with steep uphills and downhills.  I think life should be like that as I wouldn’t appreciate the view at the top as much if I did not hike up from the bottom.

Valerie Takounseun

I chose a path of peaks and valleys very early in life. We lived in a little war time house on East 28th at Culloden. In July of 1952, at the tender age of three, I was riding my tricycle in front of the house. My Mom was inside feeding my twin sisters, aged 14 months, their lunch. When she looked out for me, I was gone ! 
Of course she was frantic and a neighbourhood search was on. My disappearance was aired on the radio. Soon there was a call from a lady who found me in her garden playing with her child. At age three, I had cycled all the way to 25th and Dumfries ! 
In 1972, I married a Brit who had the travel bug. We’ve travelled all over the world. We’ve been together for 50 yrs., which has been an adventurous mix of peaks and valleys complemented with the respite of the safety and calm of our beautiful province.

Vicki Cameron Hart 

At one point, I wanted to be a pilot, nothing else would do. Then I wanted to be a astronaut, nothing else would do.  Next, I decided that baseball was for me, nothing else would do.  When I was a kid I tried on dozens of personas and career plans.  My brother, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what he would do. He went on to change careers several times and moved all over the world. I became a dentist and stuck close to home. Can you say that neither of us got what we wanted?  No.   Back then we didn’t know what we wanted. We got what we built for ourselves.  But it was fun to speculate.

Name withheld by request

12 thoughts on “HOLIDAY TRADITIONS”

  1. My mother shared with my two brothers and I, the comforting, delicious and fun tradition of Christmas baking each year. Starting with fruit cake, mincemeat tarts, shortbread and finally the highly anticipated iced Christmas sugar cookies – our personal favourite. This fun tradition always included a careful review of the seasonal cookie cutters; the bell, star, Christmas tree and most coveted – the old fashioned Santa Claus. The butter icing was divided into small bowls which we carefully coloured with drops of red, green & blue leaving a bit of white for Santa’s suit, hat and beard. Toppings of tiny silver balls, coloured trimettes and sparkles in plastic tubes were all part of the allure.
    Afterwards, my wily mother had the integral and yet daunting task of hiding the large square cookie tin. The locations changed each year and were always surprising including; behind the dog food bag, beneath the kindling in the living room fireplace and, the most ingenious, beneath my older brother’s bed. ( NOT the tidiest bedroom award) Hilariously, and not surprisingly, this location was NEVER discovered by any of us. This annual baking tradition lives on to this day in the shared laughter and memory of the hidden cookie treasure trove in the least likely location!

  2. As a youngster growing up in South Vancouver in the mid 60’s I have many great Christmas memories, the first being a Saturday morning Christmas Santa parade on Fraser st. running from 57th to 41st with Santa and his sleigh float being bigger than life. The next was a visit with Santa at the Woodward’s Oakridge outdoor mall where you not only had a visit with Santa with candy canes and treats, there was an outdoor area where they had real Reindeer with Christmas bells and hay bails. Next with my Dad working with CN Rail they always put on a Saturday morning Christmas party at the old cruise ship terminal at the foot of Main Street with wrapped presents for all and for the past 20 years we’ve taken our family to the Stanley Park Christmas Train. With all these great Christmas memories it takes me 3 days every year for the past 30 years to decorate the outside of my house with Christmas.

  3. Just before Xmas 1947 my parents took me to Woodwards downtown via the inter-urban tram from Cedar Cottage. The toy department had a pair of Roy Rogers gloves for sale (last pair). I was devastated when my parents said they didn’t fit. I was thrilled Xmas morning to open a gift containing the gloves. l slept with those gloves.
    At 5, I Xmas shopped at the corner store for my mom dad brother and sister with $.25 allowance. My mother a toothpick holder my father a cigar and my brother and sister chocolate bars. I still have the toothpick holder.

  4. In the ’60s my mother, a single mother of four children under the age five, took us every year to the Eaton’s Santa Claus parade in Winnipeg. It was freezing cold of course and mom didn’t drive, so we trekked to Portage and Main on the bus, all of us bundled up to our eyebrows in snow suits, boots, the works!
    We sat on the curb and watched in wonder for at least a couple of hours, excitedly anticipating the end of the parade and the appearance of Santa in his sleigh. Mom loved Christmas and I think she enjoyed the experience just as much as we did! It was a long time ago but I still remember how magical it all seemed, at least to me.

  5. Hi, Jane

    Enjoy reading your whimsical column for a view into the hearts of your readers. Thank you for bringing these stories to us..

    Our family Christmas tradition:
    Growing up on Vancouver Island, our family of 4 kids participated in the traditional “Christmas Tree Pilgrimage” with our Dad as captain of the crew. Mum enjoyed her quiet day at home.
    Rain or shine, we would pack ourselves into the Chevy station wagon and drive the winding roads out to a farm in Sooke, owned by a friend of Dad’s.
    Upon arrival at our destination, we all trekked into the bush to find an open spot where a campfire was established. The “One pot” menu never varied: hot dogs followed by tinned tomato soup followed by hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows. No meal ever tasted so good!
    Once the fire was extinguished, the search for the perfect tree began till “our” tree was identified. This could take some time as our mother had very clear criteria to meet: “not too big – not too bushy”.
    The perfect tree was ultimately found, cut down and hauled back through the woods to the station wagon where it was strapped onto the roof. Then we all piled in, stinky and wet from our adventure.
    Dad then visited his pal for their customary “Christmas drink” before we returned to the city with our fresh, perfect Christmas tree, ready for its star performance as the centrepiece of our family Christmas.

  6. Dear Jane,
    When I was around ten years old my parents started a tradition for my three brothers and I on Christmas Eve. They would set up a card table down stairs in the family room and festoon it with all sorts of tasty stuff for the four of us to nosh on. There was sausage, pickles, cheeses, crackers, olives, nuts and an array of traditional treats like shortbread and chocolates. It was a special time that brought my brothers and I closer together while we lived very independent lives the rest of the year. It was such a fond memory I resurrected the tradition a number of years ago to share with my closest companion.

  7. The time between December 28 and January 4th was very cold for Vancouver.
    The temperature was a record low-one degree below zero Fahrenheit.
    The water pipes below our house froze.
    I had to go into the crawl space to pour water on the pipes to that them.
    Then I wrapped the pipes in cloth-to insulate them.
    We also used snow and melted it to make water for coffee.
    Lost Lagoon froze over.
    It froze nine inches thick.
    The ice was strong enough to support a snow tractor.
    However it was easy to skate through the snow.
    The snow was dry and powdery.

  8. When I was a little girl in 1944 or so, my mother would take me on the bus to the Christmas displays at Woodward’s. Oh how magical it was. Every window along west Hastings had a fabulous animated Christmas story. But inside was the best, as I was put on a little train that took me through tunnels and more animation. Then at the end I received a small gift.

  9. After each Christmas, I sat with my children and we’d decide what made that Christmas so special. I would record this, in a few words, onto a homemade felt star that had the last two digits of the year printed on top.
    The next year, after the tree was decorated, we would sit together again. As we placed the stars onto the tree skirt, we’d read them and remember. Oh the memories of thirty-six years – priceless! These stars are now divided and on three Christmas banners for my three children.

  10. I wanted to tell you that I really enjoy reading Jane Macdougall’s “Bookless Club” column in the Vancouver Sun. It is at various times funny, nostalgic, meaningful, educational and always enjoyable. I hope you will continue featuring it.

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