A Merry winter outing for free, Festival of Lights, Park & Tilford, North Vancouver

Entrance to Park & Tilford GardensWith over 150,000 lights sparkling among cedar & fir trees, glittering upon fountains and ponds, and peeping out between snow-dusted shrubs, Park & Tilford Gardens Hi-Light Festival is a lovely little holiday season spectacle.  Japanese gardens lit upGreat as a free tourist stop after visiting Lynn Canyon (also free), the winding pathways and arched bridges provide a perfect place for sugar-saturated kids to run wild in a Christmas-bright setting, and for travelers to snap photos of coastal Canadian trees twinkling with illuminated decorations.img_8051

Park & Tilford Gardens is a 1.5 acre botanic garden located a quick bus ride from Lonsdale Quay. The lights turn on between 5pm-9pm daily between December 1st and December 31st.  Entry is by donation, with proceeds supporting various local charities.img_8050Maintained by private businesses and horticultural students from local Capilano University, the little garden is quilt-patched into eight interconnected themed sections, from a Colonnade with busts of famous botanists, to an impressive summer rose garden and a Japanese-style Oriental Garden.  Medicinal and culinary herbs grow in a wee herb garden, and bromeliads and succulents sweat inside a greenhouse (not always open for viewing; it seems to be mostly used by the CapU students).img_8069Park and Tilford Distilleries first opened in the spring of 1957, and its operations and storage facilities sprawled over 24 acres, half a mile west of the Second Narrows bridge on Cotton Road (now known as Main St.).  Renowned for its liquor, the distillery began constructing a 3-acre botanic garden in 1967 as a promotional tool.  The distillery eventually gifted the gardens to the North Vancouver community.  Boasting aviaries, waterfalls, rare tropical plants, and a gift shop in 1970, the gardens were hugely popular for weddings and special events. ArchwayThe distillery closed in 1984–I remember growing up with the smell of distilling spirits and brewing beer wafting on the spring breeze in my neighborhood–and the site was rezoned for commercial use.  In 1980, the famous flower garden was demolished and redeveloped to its present 1.5acres.  WhovilleGrabbing a cup of steaming hot chocolate from one of the nearby cafes and wandering the Hi-Light Festival display is a popular annual tradition for locals, but beware opening night: the free hot chocolate & live entertainment make the handkerchief-sized gardens insanely busy, with shuffle-room only along every pathway and bridge. Japanese gardens, more lights Free visits with Santa occur on certain days before Christmas (check the link above for dates).  Combined with a visit to the free Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge,the Hi-Light Festival a nice little evening stop for tourists who want a day’s outing where their pocket isn’t getting gouged by entrance fees.

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