The Polar Express. Black Press file photo

Medically fragile children enjoy trip to North Pole on steam train

BOCC raises $10,000 to support critically ill children

By Emily Jaycox For the Independent

About 300 chronically-ill children, their families, and other community members from Central Alberta enjoyed a magical ride on the Polar Express in Stettler on Nov. 25.

The train ride was donated by Alberta Prairie Railway and the fundraising event was organized by Beads of Courage Canada (BOCC).

“(It was an) uplifting, magical, amazing opportunity for them to spend time with their family over the holiday season,” said Victoria Plouffe, executive director of BOCC.

“The children were certainly delighted,” she said, adding she saw a lot of smiles.

Seats not filled by BOCC members were given to less fortunate families, by invitation from local community organizations.

BOCC is a program that supports children who are undergoing medical treatment for serious illnesses such as cancer and Cystic Fibrosis.

The handmade, glass beads are a kind of narrative therapy.

Each different colour of bead represents a specific medical procedure, giving children a tangible way to “record, tell and own” their story.

RELATED: Stettler’s Prairie Steam Tours takes passengers back in time to the Wild West. Bandits hold up train looking for mine payroll

The Polar Express is a North Pole-themed experience based on the motion picture “The Polar Express.”

During the ride, the passengers are treated to hot chocolate, cookies, book reading and singing.

The train travels about 30 minutes outside of town and passes through an elaborate, lit-up North Pole scene where Santa boards the train.

On this ride, each person received two identical beads and a note to write an encouraging message or draw a picture to pass on to a sick child along with one of the beads.

Plouffe says it was a perfect way to begin the holiday season and bring in the spirit of Christmas.

Her favourite part of the event was seeing “all the families together and the younger children who truly believe.”

Back at the station, passengers received customized Christmas crackers with a bead inside, and a choir sang Christmas carols.

“We were endeavouring to give them a memory that would give them enjoyment,” said Don Gillespie of Alberta Prairie Railway.

“I think the kids got exactly what we intended.”

According to Plouffe, the BOCC raised $10,000 through anonymous corporate donations.

The money will be used to mail beads to those who may not receive them at a hospital and to fund three separate “Celebrations of Courage” leading up the Christmas.

The celebrations are part of the BOCC program and will be held at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.

For more information about BOCC, visit

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