The magic of winter markets

November 2023

“Going to a market feels like you’ve gone someplace almost magical,” says Jennifer Morrison of the Urban Abbey Christmas Market. “I love being surrounded by the bustling happy shoppers and all the beautifully crafted things. It’s the experience, as well as the search for that special item, that makes it so much fun.”

Hand-crafted and full of heart, the artists and crafters of Thunder Bay once again make the season sparkle through the months of November and December. Craft shows and winter markets offer an opportunity for shoppers to purchase unique, handmade gifts for loved ones for Christmas, often in unusual or quirky venues not always thought of as ‘shopping hubs.’

“And the atmosphere of the Abbey is so warm and welcoming,” says Lori Bociurko, co-organizer of the Urban Abbey Christmas Market. “Everyone really seems to enjoy themselves.”

“The Christmas season is a traditional time for sharing and giving gifts,” says Barb Kuschak, co-owner of Glass Garden, one of the artists found at the Rotary Club’s December Dreams, which is held at the CLE grounds. “And local arts and crafts make great gifts with personal stories attached. Some patrons like to collect the work of their favourite artisans and some also commission one-of-a-kind pieces for that special place. They also want to meet the artist or artisan to find out more about their work and the creative process. This is the personal connection that many patrons seek.”

Whether it’s a 100+ year old historic church, or a sprawling former agricultural fairground, it is indeed the personal touch that draws young and old to craft shows across the region. Another delightful bonus is the opportunity to find homemade Christmas baking, and there is no better place than a craft fair Christmas Market to get a ‘taste’ of what local kitchens have to offer.

“We open the space to artists, authors, crafters, makers and bakers,” says Bociurko of the Abbey venue.

“We generally have approximately 35-40 vendors, and the Habit Cafe has many delicious hot and cold beverages available for purchase. Saturday happens to be Croissant Day, so the bakers step up production to ensure there are plenty of croissants available for purchase!”

“Food and coffee are on site,” says Kuschak of December Dreams. 

“We also have the Current River Bakery, a favourite with patrons and vendors, with their baking and seasonal treats. A vendor from Fort Frances returns this year with her wonderful fudge varieties and other festive sweets!”

Christmas markets thrive because of the combination of arts, commerce and community. They are not only a way to score that perfect, personal gift from a local artisan, but in many cases, any admission fees go towards supporting local charities, making attendance not only practical but heartwarming.

“In 2008, the Lakehead Rotary Club launched December Dreams in part to enable the Club to support community groups,” says Club treasurer, Clint Kuschak, (also of Glass Garden).

“The show was held in the CLE Coliseum with 50 local and regional artists and artisans. It offers for sale thousands of one-of-a-kind hand-crafted creations by artists living in Thunder Bay and Northwestern communities. Admission is $2 and proceeds are donated to local groups doing good work in our community, like the Dew Drop Inn, Rotary Shelter House and the RFDA.”

“A portion of the table sales go toward the Urban Abbey Community Meal program,” says Bociurko. “It provides a sense of helping in the community which people really crave, especially with the holiday season upon us.”

From arts, crafts, and sweets to commerce and community, Christmas markets truly offer some of the most magical, memorable experiences of the season. Take a look at some of the markets listed above, grab a friend and get Christmassing!

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

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