Your convention centre is a wonderland

In the week leading up to New Year’s Eve, Whitehorse residents may begin to notice a bizarre transformation seemingly taking place within the…

In the week leading up to New Year’s Eve, Whitehorse residents may begin to notice a bizarre transformation seemingly taking place within the Yukon Convention Centre.

First, the windows will become painted over with bright, unusual colour patterns. A mysterious sign mounted nearby will point the way inside, saying simply: “Wonderland.”

“I want people to see the convention centre a week before the party and go, ‘What is going on in there?’” said Emma Barr, the set designer for New Year’s Eve’s Wonderland.

To any passersby, the muted hammering, stapling and voices heard within the centre will indeed indicate a metamorphosis is underway.

Only in the final hours before 2009, will the doors be swung open, allowing patrons their chance to descend into Barr’s Wonderland — if only for one Cinderellian evening.

Revellers first enter Barr’s “hot room” — a small room done up in warm colours.

“Lots of parties have a ‘chill room,’ so I figured I would switch it around,” said Barr.

From there, they traverse a corridor lined with trees and interspersed with cutouts of Yukon animals and murals until, at last, they come to the main hall, a softly lit collection of trees, fountains and bizarre light sculptures — interspersed with nature murals and stylized animal cutouts. The smell of spruce is thick in the air.

For a second, the visitor feels as if they are outside, albeit without the requisite numbing cold.

“I’ve always wanted to party outside in the winter, and I hope I’m going to capture that here,” said Barr.

The environment strikes at all the senses. Barr’s visual tableaus are complemented by a painstaking collection of real spruce trees, giving Wonderland a genuine woody feel.

Birdbaths and fountains dot the interior.

“There’s a lot of natural elements going on — having flowing water was very important to me,” said Barr.

Barr plays with temperature and light motifs to give partygoers the sense that they are gradually descending into an otherworldly locale. The opening room is meant to be brightly lit and warm, the tree-lined hallway has a cooler, softer feel. The main hall itself mimics the muted peace of the Yukon winter night.

By forcing visitors through a graduated temperature progression, Barr aims to gradually allow them to descend into a sense of wonderment, like a journey down Alice’s rabbit hole.

The impetus for Wonderland began as far back as August, explains Barr.

“We wanted to create something different for Whitehorse for New Year’s — a party worth going to — and I started to see this wonderland appear, where there was no slack in attention to detail,” she said.

The décor, rather than orchestrating a themed escape from the Yukon winter — like, say, a tropical theme — is instead designed to be a stylized vision of all things northern.

“I wanted to create this sparkly, white wonderland of the outdoors, but with these interesting elements that are almost from a make-believe world,” said Barr.

Alice in Wonderland, as well as 2004’s Finding Neverland, each incorporated the dream-like ambience that Barr hopes to create.

Quirky facets of detail will punctuate the centre’s outdoorsy feel.

Glass patio tables will line the dance floor, but instead of being equipped with umbrellas at the table’s centre, they will instead have trees.

Chandeliers of gnarled willow branches will hang overhead, seemingly growing out of the ceiling.

At the stroke of midnight will be the evening’s coup de grace: a massive, ascending moon.

At Barr’s Porter Creek workshop, the raw materials of Wonderland seem notably understated. In truth, many of the whimsical trappings of Barr’s make-believe world are little more than recycled trash.

A fanciful oversized white flower hangs from the workshop’s ceiling; one of many light sculptures hanging around Wonderland’s main hall.

The flower gives off a soft, otherworldly glow, seemingly alive — yet it is merely a clever collage of LED lights mixed with packing foam from a Yamaha dealership.

Curious light sculptures will hang over the event’s bars, spewing out beams of light. Paint cans with holes punched in them, she explains.

One hanging light sculpture is designed only to reflect light, rather than generate it. It’s an artful cluster of old CDs, said Barr.

“We’ve tried to make things look amazing and delicate and dreamy without blingy or glammy materials,”

In an evening straddling two years, the idea of contrasts was important.

“I wanted to make it sunny and daytime, but also dark and nighttime, all in one place,” said Barr.

Wonderland starts at 8 p.m. at the Yukon Convention Centre on December 31st. Tickets are available for $60 at the Yukon Brewing Company.

Contact Tristin Hopper at