By Elizabeth Chorney-Booth

Every year the Calgary EXPO gives fans of movies, television, comic books, and gaming a chance to come together and celebrate the excitement of convening with fellow pop culture and science fiction junkies. Most people know that the EXPO attracts a high number of celebrity and comic book artist guests, but how can a family make the most of EXPO to create some lasting memories? I’ve taken my own family to geek out at the EXPO a number of times, and here are some tips for a full weekend of family fun:

Pro Tip: The EXPO makes it easy to bring the whole family because kids aged 7 and under get in free (must be accompanied by an adult, of course), and Youth tickets (age 8-12) are less than $10 a day.

1. Kids’ Zone

Spiderman at the Calgary Expo

While there is some content at the EXPO that is more for grown-ups, the event is extremely kid-friendly. There are lots of outdoor activities and demonstrations from Viking battles to Quidditch tournaments – you can even learn the moves to ‘Thriller’ as a family! Visit the Kids’ Zone for inflatables, games, crafts, and kid-specific programming that can also be a lot of fun for parents. And yes, there is some Harry Potter content — your little muggles certainly won’t want to miss the Hogwarts potion-making workshop.

2. POW! Parade of Wonders

Parade of Wonders down Stephen Ave Calgary

Proving that fandom is a community event for Calgarians, the annual POW! Parade of Wonders attracts EXPO celebrities and over 2,000 costumed participants strutting their stuff down a 30-minute route through Calgary’s Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall to the delight of over 10,000 spectators. Tiny superheroes, grown-up princesses, anime characters, and every era of Doctor Who take to the streets together to celebrate the launch of each year’s EXPO. Anyone of any age can participate — as long as you’re in full cosplay. This means dressing up in full costume as if you’re embodying the actual character; simply wearing a Star Wars t-shirt or a pair of Spock ears isn’t enough if you want to march in the parade, though you can wear whatever you’d like if you’re just planning to come down to watch. Everyone is encouraged to register online, especially large groups, but individuals can also register onsite at the starting point at 8th Avenue between 8th St. and 9th St. at 10:00 on Friday, April 28.

3. Witnessing Cosplay!

Costumes at Calgary Expo

Speaking of cosplay, checking out other EXPO goers’ costumes is the highlight of EXPO — many attendees put hundreds of dollars and months of work into their costumes. Most cosplayers are happy to pose for photos if you ask, but remember to treat cosplayers with respect and not as their adopted characters (no matter how gnarly their Klingon make-up may be!). Other than the POW! Parade the best time to see the cosplayers en masse is at the Cosplay Contest and Kids Cosplay Showcase on the Saturday at the Expo. And if cosplay isn’t your thing, don’t worry about putting together a costume: plenty of EXPO attendees show up in their civvies.

4. Merchants

Shopping at Calgary EXPO

The Calgary EXPO is about seeing, but it’s also about shopping! Merchants selling everything from comic books and fan memorabilia to unique works of art and jewelry set up shop on the showroom floor, giving fans a chance to snag niche goods that they’re not going to find anywhere else. Artists are often on hand to autograph comics or personalize artwork (which can be a real thrill for kids) and there are always plenty of toys, kid-appropriate comics, and items inspired by popular family-friendly franchises on sale so that everyone in the family can leave with a special keepsake. Pro tip: do your shopping on the Thursday night of the EXPO to get first choice of the merchants’ wares, and one-night only Thursday shopping deals.

5. TELUS Spark’s Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience

TELUS Spark Starfleet Academy Experience

If the kids want a change of scenery, get off site to visit TELUS Spark, which will be hosting a special Star Trek exhibit during EXPO weekend (and until June 4, 2017). Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience is an exhibit that puts guests through interactive activities — it’s a great way for kids to learn about science while imagining themselves as new Starfleet recruits. While you’re there, you can also explore the rest of Spark’s hands-on exhibits as well as the adjacent Creative Kids Museum and the outdoor Brainasium play park. TELUS Spark will have a booth on the EXPO floor with more information, or you can get the details and buy tickets here.

6. Autographs/Photo Ops

Celebrity autograph opportunities

Most people have heard the big names attending this year’s EXPO (John Cusack! Jeremy Renner! Millie Bobby Brown!) but if you haven’t attended an EXPO before, it can be hard to figure out how to access them. While most of the media guests do public interviews in big halls called ‘Panels’, the best way to get up close and personal is to attend an autograph session or book a photo op. What better way to remember EXPO than by getting a professional photo of your entire family posing with the star of a show or movie that you all love watching together? Check the EXPO’s photo op schedule for times and prices.

7. A City of Fans

While the bulk of the action takes place at EXPO central on the Stampede Grounds, EXPO really does make a mark throughout all of Calgary. Hop on a C-Train headed towards the core or go into a downtown restaurant for a bite and you’re likely to see a cosplayer or two — the Simmons Building, a family-friendly complex that features the charbar restaurant, a Phil & Sebastian coffee shop, and the Sidewalk Citizen bakery is within walking distance. Even our mayor, Naheed Nenshi gets in on the action — during EXPO Calgary truly is a city of fans.

8. Programming Lingo: Workshops, Panels, and Special Events

EXPO Workshop

EXPO newbies may be confused as to what “programming” or a “workshop” entails — in EXPO lingo it can mean anything from an onstage “Panel” interviews with a media guest or two (this is where most of the really big celebs appear) to a hands-on artists workshop where attendees can literally get their hands dirty or learn from professionals in the business. Special Events mostly take place outside of the EXPO and can be anything from evening concerts to the POW! Parade of Wonders.

The Calgary Comic and Entertainment EXPO runs from Thursday, April 27 to Sunday, April 30 at Calgary’s Stampede Park. Visit the Calgary EXPO website for more information.  

Book your perfect geek weekend getaway to Calgary now with Air Canada - Tourism Calgary's official partner airline, flying from over 35 destinations directly into YYC Calgary International Airport.

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