“I think I’m going to skip it.” The words come from my 17-year-old son Ethan, without warning, and my heartbeat flutters in response.
We’re standing with his dad and brother in line at Tonga Lumina – a lighted night walk through the forest at Mont Tremblant in Quebec. As the line inches forward toward the chair lift that will take us up the mountain to start our walk, his decision to bail has me thinking that this moment could forever change our relationship.
We’ve travelled together for his entire life, he and I. I was pregnant with him when I wrote my first travel story and memories made travelling with my family are among my happiest life moments. It is only recently that tiny shifts in the natural order of things have sparked the realization that, as a parent, I’m on borrowed time. Still, there have been no clear signs that I’m on my way out as a preferred activity companion.
Exhibit A: We’ve been on a week-long road trip across Quebec, winding our way through Trois Rivières and Saguenay before landing here, and at no point has he suggested that he wasn’t having a fantastic time. Until now.
“I may just go back to the room if that’s okay?”
I tell myself to play it cool.
“Absolutely, but I think you’ll regret it,” I say in a voice a little too high-pitched to be as casual as I’d like. “Why don’t you come up the lift with us and if you still don’t like it, you can leave.”
He agrees and I exhale.
But there is no gamble in my suggestion: I know that we are in for a breathtaking experience.
Tonga Lumina isn’t just a bunch of Christmas lights strung through the trees. It’s produced by Moment Factory, the Montreal-based firm that has been wowing audiences with productions around the world, including Madonna’s Super Bowl XLVI halftime show and the Clash Royale Crown Championship of gaming in London. Now, in its third year, hundreds of people turn out daily to take in this nocturnal Mont Tremblant experience.
It starts simply enough: Poster boards greet us at the entrance and begin to explain the legend behind the lights. Tonga – a sleeping giant and the last of his kind – is the protector of nature. Breaking the sacred laws of nature will wake him from his slumber and “cause the mountains to tremble.” How we mere mortals can help in his quest to restore nature’s balance is explained throughout the walk.
There are signs in English and French and occasional commentary in both languages as well. But, to be honest, I pay little attention to that.
It’s light displays and music that capture our attention.
Ethan is hooked from the moment he sets foot on the path. We all are.
Lasers transform mountainsides into looming creatures, dark forests into a field of ancestors and tourists into shadowy giants.
There are a lot of people here, but it never feels crowded thanks to a timed-entry ticket system. As we wander, we find that we have no trouble setting our own pace and have plenty of space to just stand and let the lights wash over us.
The temptation, of course, is to photograph and film it all. But unless you’re a professional, you’ll get home to shots that show very little. You’re better off spending your time absorbing the moments. How often do you get the chance to walk a forest path at night?
Halfway through, we find ourselves slowing down. It’s not that the 1.5 kilometres of walking up and down small hills on uneven terrain is tiring, it’s that we don’t want it to end.
We linger longer in the remaining sections, laughing at the shadows we create at interactive stations along the way and marvelling at projections that use simple lights to turn trees into works of art.
“You were right, Mom,” Ethan says as he passes me, energy renewed, to strike poses with his brother and dad amid the last of the dancing lights.
I say a silent prayer to Tonga for the family travel miracle and hurry to catch up with them. I don’t want to miss a moment.
Tonga Lumina runs every evening through Oct. 14. Tickets cost $11.99 for children (age 6-12), $17.99 for youth (13-17) and $27.99 for adults (18+). Kids under 6 are free but keep in mind that carrying/using a stroller on the uneven terrain in the dark can be tough; tongalumina.ca/en/.
The writer travelled as a guest of Mont Tremblant (tremblant.ca) and Tourisme Québec (quebecoriginal.com). Neither organization reviewed or approved this article.
More options under the moonlight
Can’t make it out to Tonga Lumina before its final run in October? Plan ahead for one of these other family-friendly winter night-light activities.
Illumi in Laval, Que. Downtown Laval will be transformed into a visual adventure filled with larger-than-life LED animals and nature displays. (Nov. 1-Jan. 5). The project by Cavalia, which is known for its popular Odysseo show, will transform an area that is the size of seven NFL football fields into three illuminated zones: a Christmas village, a gigantic interactive trail and a sound and light show; cavalia.com.
Fire and Ice Nights at Arrowhead Provincial Park, Huntsville, Ont. Far from the city lights, hundreds of tiki torches line an ice-skating trail that winds through the Muskoka forest. The 1.3-kilometre trail is open throughout the day, then closes before reopening on select nights from 6-9 p.m. for the Fire and Ice program. Can’t get to Arrowhead? Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery also has tiki-torch-lit skating on Saturday nights throughout the winter; discovermuskoka.ca.
Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Vancouver. Running from Nov. 22 to Jan. 26, Canyon Lights features hundreds of thousands of lights strung throughout the park. Walk through them on the suspension bridge, stare down at them from the Treetops Adventure or simply stroll the park. Part of your ticket price includes a donation to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund for fire and burn education in schools; capbridge.com.
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.