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Kingston's Lumina Borealis casts a wintry spell

Kingston’s Lumina Borealis, a new multimedia installation in the Fort Henry National Historic Site.

Multimillion-dollar sound and light show makes the most of Fort Henry's most ambitious attraction to date

As a dad, I rely on magic over the winter holidays.

"How does Santa get down the chimney?" my daughters ask.

"Magic," I reply.

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"How does he deliver presents to all the kids around the world?"

"To all the good kids? Magic."

While it has proved indispensable as an explanation (and disciplinary tool), "magic" was starting to feel like a bit of a cop-out before I experienced Lumina Borealis in Kingston.

That's when everything changed. If you want to restore your faith in magic, while proving to your offspring that it is real, visit the dazzling new multimedia installation in the Fort Henry National Historic Site.

The daughter of St. Lawrence Parks Commission CEO Darren Dalgleish said, “you need to do Frozen meets It’s A Wonderful Life.”

I jumped at the chance to check out Lumina Borealis at the tail end of my family's circuitous holiday road trip around Ontario and Quebec. I was drawn to the stirring outdoor setting I had only experienced in summer – never before has the 181-year-old fort offered anything on this scale in winter – and was intrigued by a comment from the daughter of St. Lawrence Parks Commission CEO Darren Dalgleish, said to have inspired the project: "You need to do Frozen meets It's a Wonderful Life."

My inner audiovisual aficionado, meanwhile, wondered what $3-million worth of projection, light and sound equipment looks like.

In short, it looks out of this world. Our walking tour of the lower fort took about 90 minutes, and I could spend at least that long describing the interactive, immersive wonders that unfolded as my family strolled, awestruck, around the yawning dry moat.

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A walking tour of the installation takes around 90 minutes.

After wandering through a glowing assembly of stylized icebergs and an evergreen forest clad in iridescent icicles, we reached a towering stone wall blazing with projected colours. Our shadows appeared on the wall as we passed, but not in their usual form. Instead, they somehow morphed into the swirling display, enticing us to twirl, jump and dance.

As one silver-haired visitor giddily remarked, "This takes me back to the sixties."

There was more amazement to come, especially during the courtyard finale that put a unique percussive spin on snowball fights. But this is where my recollection must end.

After all, the key to any good magic is leaving at least some of the mystery intact.

Lumina Borealis runs to Feb. 4.

Created for the St. Lawrence Parks Commission by Moment Factory – the Montreal-based company behind several other multimedia installations, including the $39.5-million illumination of Montreal's Jacques Cartier Bridge slated to light up on May 17 – Lumina Borealis is well worth an overnight excursion or a day trip from the Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal areas. If you're driving past Kingston between now and the evening of Feb. 4, when Lumina Borealis closes for the season, checking it out is pretty much essential. After all, who couldn't use a bit of magic while driving down Highway 401?

If you miss it this winter, you're in luck: Lumina Borealis is hitting its inaugural attendance targets – more than 35,000 visitors have stopped in since Dec. 1 – and will "definitely" return next winter with "enhancements and new experiences," SLPC spokeswoman Susan LeClair said.

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"Our Canadian winter really can be a magical experience," she said. "You just have to give it a chance."

Lumina Borealis is open Thursday through Sunday evenings until Feb. 4. Admission is by timed entry in groups of no more than 170, and costs $12 for adults and $10 for youths. Children 5 and under get in free.

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