Peter Gysen's Christmas Magic Walking Tour

November 2023

Autumn…everyone’s thoughts are on Thanksgiving, Halloween, basking in the last days of summer, without a thought of the winter that will be upon us too soon. Everyone except for Peter Gysen, who is already thinking two months ahead to December. Peter’s house at 86 Pennock Drive is one of Thunder Bay’s best dressed houses at Christmas, and as you can imagine, that takes some planning in advance. Peter happily admits that he is a big Christmas light person, as he puts it.

He has been decorating his yard at Christmas for over 20 years, each year adding new displays, figures and decorations until it overflowed from the front yard to the back. In 2019 at the suggestion of friends and family he made a trail from the front yard to the back yard so that more people could walk through. During the month of December and early January he estimates that about 1,000 to 1,500 people come to visit his Christmas Magic Walking Tour.

When it comes to the number of people who come to see the spectacle, the more the merrier. In years past people heard about it mostly through word of mouth. In 2021 they posted it on Facebook (Thunder Bay’s Holiday Houses) to further spread the word.

Peter admits it is overwhelming when he opens the garage each year and looks at the sheer volume of decorations, displays and figures. Work begins on setting up the yard in early November,
a process that takes over a week to lay everything out and get it working-the wiring alone takes a full day. “I have about 200 - 300 cords and use a couple thousand zip ties.” says Peter. Once the display is up and running, there is still maintenance. Everytime it snows, it takes 2 - 3 hours to clear the trail and blow the snow off the displays.

Peter and his family are always watching for new items, usually found on Kijiji or various buy and sell marketplaces. You can find everything from vintage to the whimsical as you walk through the trail. “I like unique types of figures, things that capture people’s eyes. There’s pigs, dolphins, Canada geese, anything that is different.” Sometimes people reach out to him to donate items they are no longer using. One such item is a Nativity scene that was donated about 6 years ago that is the crown jewel of the display. In 2020 he added Christmas music which has been a big hit. “It really adds to the atmosphere. It’s surprising how much it gets people in a festive mood.” says Peter.

Peter makes a point of keeping the display going past New Year’s. The busiest time is before Christmas, but Peter likes to keep it going until the end of the school Christmas break. The lights are on 7 days a week, for about 4 hours each night, longer on the weekends. Occasionally Peter and his wife dress as Santa and his favorite elf to wave cars in off the road, encouraging them to come in.

When asked why he does it, Peter says without hesitation that his reward is seeing the joy it brings to others.

When he sees pictures posted of children, parents, grandparents and friends smiling in front of his Christmas displays, it makes all the effort worth it. He has another very special reason: Peter became a first time grandfather this year and his grandson is clearly the apple of his eye. “He is just a baby now, so I know my grandson will be mesmerized by the lights, and as he grows up he’ll appreciate what the display means. That’s a key thing that keeps me motivated.” Peter says with a smile.

As we finished talking, I asked Peter what his favorite Christmas movie is.

He thought for a moment, then said The Polar Express. Not surprising for someone who gives us a place to go that reminds us that we all believe in a little magic at Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all.

Kathy Shilliday is a regular contributor and a hawk eye for stories to share. She can be reached at

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