December 16, 2016 Calgary Zoo

Transforming the zoo gardens into ‘Zooville’

The wonderful world of Dr. Seuss has come alive in the ENMAX Conservatory thanks to the efforts of our Horticulture team. The display has incorporated the zoo’s commitment to sustainability, and the team has been recycling and re-using products to create the amazing Zooville setting. Horticulturalist Corinne Hannah took the lead on an incredible project that took months to prepare.

Corinne is the owner of the ultimate green thumb, but her love of plants extends to decorating the gardens as well. Each year her ‘wrapping paper thumb’ gets to work planning the ultimate holiday display, and this season she really outdid herself.

Her co-worker Boyd Nave is the second ‘half of her brain’, and they have been planning a whimsical Zooville theme for years. They met with the event planning team in September, and then it was off to the races!


When creating the concept each year, the first thing that Corinne considers is what she can reuse or re-envision. Sustainability is a major priority at the Calgary Zoo, and that extends to the decorations for major events like ZOOLIGHTS. During the fall Corinne goes shopping for months, as she has thousands of items to organize, but many items are also recycled from past years.

The big tree in the butterfly garden is a testament to that tradition, as 75 per cent of the ornaments on the 2016 tree are from previous themes. “They’re all meeting for the first time” Corinne laughs.


The tree this year is 15 feet tall – it takes staff members using a lift to assemble it fully, and that isn’t the only big undertaking! The many boxes that form the presents under the tree are recycled packages from other decorations.

The horticulture team prides itself on their storing abilities, so the hundreds of meters of ribbon, 1,000 ornaments and re-used wreaths and garlands have been recovered and arranged in the new display.

ZOOLIGHTS-Zooville9WMWhat does she consider the most difficult to decorate? The Garden of Life of course, which due to the type of plants that it holds- it’s practically a jungle in there! Corinne doesn’t want to disturb the plants by walking through the beds, so decorating in that section is limited- and therefore more challenging. The butterfly Garden Gallery on the other hand is designed to changed frequently, allowing her to add an enormous Christmas tree, many hanging features, and a glittering selection of poinsettias- that literally do sparkle.

One element to consider is that all of the decorations are in live gardens- which ‘rain’ each day! All of the elements must be reasonably rain resistant in order to survive the humid atmosphere.


There is a two week install period, as everything had to be ready for opening day on November 25. All major pieces were finished in advance, but installing and adding decorations make the final ZOOLIGHTS countdown a grueling month. Corinne credits the success of display to her team – David is an accomplished carpenter who created frames, Bonnie made the trees, and volunteers worked many hours to help create feather boa trees and a giant tail.

She credits Boyd with being her ‘MacGyver’, who makes their plans come to life. Zooville’s creation was an impressive team effort, and she is so grateful for their help.


Visitors pre-ZOOLIGHTS definitely would have noticed the workers running around the gardens in order to prepare on time. Everyone wanted the space to shine, and look its best, and she knows that the positive attitude of her team carried them through. Plus, Corinne has a special skill. “There’s nothing I can’t sparkle, let me tell you.”

ZOOLIGHTS runs nightly from 6 – 9 p.m. until January 8, 2017. Entrance admitted at the zoo’s North Gate only. General admission (16 years and up): $14.99 (plus GST).
Children (3-15 years old): $11.99 (plus GST). Parking is available in the north lots for $7.

Tickets are available at the gate or by beating the crowd to purchase tickets online.

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