The Calgary Zoo and Heritage Park see significant drops in attendance. Calaway Park shuts down


With the howling winds biting at ears and cutting through jackets, there is little motivation for Calgarians to spend more time outdoors than required.

Carol-Ann Mysyk, a mother of three young children and frequent visitor of Heritage Park and the Calgary Zoo, says she loves visiting outdoor venues, but the weather gets in the way.

“There’s so much going on in the summer,” she says. “It’s just not the same in the winter.”

The Calgary Zoo sees a major drop in traffic for this very reason, counting less than half the usual traffic in the winter months, says marketing advisor Judy Lang.

“With 1.2 million in a year, there’s 630,000 people from May to August,” says Lang. “From October to March we do the other half.”


The Calgary Zoo offers more than just lights, families can enjoy Christmas carols and children can put puzzles together.

Photo by: Jodi Egan
The zoo leaves its operating hours unchanged for the winter, and even extends its hours for events like Boo at the Zoo and Zoo Lights.

Lang says winter is a great time to come and see what the zoo has to offer: “Visitors have more time and space to spend in more areas with their kids. That’s why our members like to come.

“All the animals are out; just because it’s winter it doesn’t mean that you can’t see a giraffe.”

Though the animals may be spry, well fed and more accessible to visitors, Lang understands that bad weather can prevent visitors like Mysyk from leaving their homes, let alone trekking down to the zoo for the day.

To encourage attendance in the winter, the Calgary Zoo offers a temperature-triggered coupon on its website that gives visitors a discount on their admissions when the weather is particularly disagreeable.

“[The coupon] is there for those days when it’s not so great,” says Lang. “It’s a way of saying, ‘Thank you for making the effort’ when it’s raining or snowing outside. I think it’s relatively generous.”

Heritage Park, another well-known tourist location to Calgarians, also notices the same drop in traffic for the winter months.

The park’s hours drop from seven days a week to just weekends between Labour Day and the May long weekend.

Kate Bossler, event coordinator at Heritage Park, says: “School is back in. People don’t have the time for seven days a week. Plus it’s getting colder.”

Mysyk visits Heritage Park five times a week during the summer, but lowers her visitation in the winter season due to the park’s reduced operation hours.

“In the winter the park only stays open for special events and weekends, so it’s not really possible to go as often as I do in the summer,” Mysyk says.

These outdoor venues try to increase traffic by creating events around the holidays.

 Both Heritage Park and the Calgary Zoo are major venues for corporate events such as Christmas parties, which Lang says compete with the busy wedding season in the summertime. 

“All the animals are out; just because it’s winter it doesn’t mean that you can’t see a giraffe.” 

— Judy Lang, marketing advisor at the Calgary Zoo 

Heritage Park offers Once Upon a Christmas, an event that features horse-drawn wagon rides, carolers and Christmas shopping. The event brings in quite a bit of traffic, Bossler says, adding, “It’s great for families.”

Mysyk says: “My kids just love it. They have so much fun. The park has wide open spaces and friendly faces.”

ZooLights, a popular Christmas event held at The Calgary Zoo every year, features ice-carving demonstrations, performances from Calgary choirs and 1.5 million lights strung all around the zoo.

This event, Lang says, has brought traffic to the zoo in a way they had never expected.

“Before ZooLights started, we did about 15,000 people in December and now we’ll do 100,000,” Lang says.

Though family focused, Lang says ZooLights has brought in another demographic that’s notoriously hard to reach: the dating crowd.

The traffic may be lowered during the winter season at the Calgary Zoo, but Mysyk says it’s still too busy for her, especially around the time Zoo Lights is happening.

“I find the zoo to be just that, a zoo,” Mysyk says.

One Calgary tourist location simply can’t cope with the cold weather at all. Calaway Park, one of Western Canada’s largest outdoor amusement parks, completely closes its doors after Thanksgiving.

“Rides don’t operate well in -20 [degree weather],” says marketing director Bob Williams.

Calaway Park still keeps itself busy during the blustery winter off season by auditioning and training members for their in-house music troop Calaway Live, which performs daily after the park reopens during the May long weekend.

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