Millarville Christmas Market returns after devastating roof collapse

It's a Millarville Christmas Market miracle.

The annual holiday sale kicked off on Thursday, seven months after the roof of the Millarville Racing and Agricultural Society (MRAS) riding arena collapsed under a heavy blanket of snow — a devastating loss for the community.

Built in 1985, the arena had housed horses, community events and the annual Christmas Market for more than 30 years.

But as families in the hamlet 55 kilometres southwest of Calgary prep for the holiday season, there's a glimmer of tinsel silver lining that the building will soon return to its former glory. 

The arena is being rebuilt, with the first phase of construction wrapping up just in time for the market's kick-off. About 260 vendors are selling holiday snacks and crafts in the space, which has been opened temporarily over the long weekend.

Community efforts to source contractors and raise funds for the rebuild helped turn the dream of hosting this year's market into a reality. 

Lisa Lloyd, executive director of the MRAS, said the old building was knocked down earlier this year, and work on the new building started in August.

'Right down to the wire' 

"It was pedal to the metal, so to speak," Lloyd said. "We were right down to the wire." 

She said the first of three construction phases have been completed. The next phases will focus on developing the riding arena and office space.

After the Christmas market wraps up on Sunday, the building will be handed back over to the contractor working on the project. The MRAS is hoping for permanent occupancy by the beginning of the new year. 

The agricultural society continues to source donations and corporate sponsors to fund the next stages of the $2.2-million project.

"We'll get it done," Lloyd said. "It may take a couple of years, but we'll get it done."

'We're not there yet'

Area resident Chris Pedersen last saw the arena in September, when construction was in the early stages.

"Nothing was closed in — it was just six beams," she said. "It's amazing how quickly they finished it."

Pedersen said community events took place in tents while the building was under construction. Having an intact arena is a win for the community, she said.

"The market is a huge part of our community," she said. "It brings a lot of people out."

Terri Trembath/CBC

Laurie Rowe is one of the vendors at the market, selling gourmet dipping sauces. Last year was the first time she had a booth at the market. 

Rowe said she was heartbroken when the roof collapsed in March. Without the building, she said the vendors would be out in the cold, and she couldn't sell her dips because they would freeze.

"There are so many things and so many user groups this affected," she said. "It's a huge undertaking and we're not there yet. We're running raffles — everyone has been donating."