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Getaway in a Christmas Movie

How the Northland's small towns — and beyond — were transformed into film sets

Sandra Martin lives in Olathe, but she loves Kansas City’s Northland.

“Park University is so beautiful — actually all of downtown Parkville and Weston,” says Sandra. “The Northland is a movie maker’s dream.”

Sandra is a movie maker, specifically a director, and her husband, Isacc Alongi, is a cinematographer. Together they make those heartfelt movies that fill our cable channels during the holiday season and beyond. Some people find them sappy. Others are passionate. Either way, Hallmark Christmas movies, here in the hometown of Hallmark, are as much a part of the holiday season for some folks as mistletoe and candy canes.

As you are bundling up around a cozy fire with a cup of eggnog allowing your television to fill your heart with cheer, be looking for a few familiar scenes and faces that appear in Sandra’s movies.

It was hotter than blazes in August 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, when Sandra and crew descended upon Weston for the making of “Rebuilding a Christmas Dream,” which aired on the Lifetime channel.

It’s about a young woman who moves home to repair the old Victorian home her grandmother left her. She hires a single dad, they fall in love and Christmas is magical. It’s a similar format for many Hallmark or Lifetime Channel holiday movies. Someone always experiences a life-altering crisis, doubts the meaning of Christmas, but everyone always lives happily ever after.

“The people of Weston were so helpful, so nice,” Sandra says. “All of the merchants decorated for Christmas, all voluntarily.”

The Weston Firefly Inn, formerly the Weston Bed & Breakfast, was featured prominently as the Victorian home that was renovated during the movie.

“One day someone knocked on the door and said, ‘Your home would be perfect for a movie,’ and that’s how it started,” says Dorothy Emery, who, along with her husband, Dick, were owners of the bed and breakfast at the time.

“They were great to work with, put everything back the way it was,” says Dick Emery. “The only problem was getting rid of all of the plastic snow outside, but it was still fun.”

Jerry Gross, who is the head of the Weston Film Commission, and his wife, Keira Jones, were in the process of purchasing the bed and breakfast. Both were among the many local extras in the movie.

“Oh, it was hot for sure and here we were wearing scarves and winter coats,” says Jerry. One of the scenes Jerry and Keira were in was the Christmas store scene. “The air conditioner made too much noise, so they had to turn it off and we were just wiping the sweat off of us every minute the cameras were not rolling.”

More scenes were shot at the Weston Coffee Roastery and inside the high school wood shop, as well as all along Main Street.

A common question Sandra receives is a legitimate one: Why don’t you shoot Christmas movies at Christmas when it’s not 100 degrees outside?

The answer is simple and multi-faceted. The demand is high and Christmas lasts just a month or two at best. And filming in the winter months has its own challenges.

Also, holiday movies are always in some sort of production. A writer is writing, location scouts are scouting, actors are auditioning. Production on a new season of movies must begin in late spring/early summer to make it to the networks in time for the holidays.

Another Northland location that Sandra and her team chose was Excelsior Springs. Specifically, they were at the Christmas Ranch Tree Farm for “My Sweet Holiday” which debuted in 2020.

A particular challenge for shooting Christmas movies in the summer is green. Green trees, green grass.

“I loved that big red barn at the ranch because it covered up a lot of green,” laughed Sandra. Of course, the rows and rows of Christmas trees could be green, but by shooting at night with sparkling holiday lights strung everywhere and plastic snow, the other green disappeared.

Your next destination for Hallmark Christmas movies is just a bit farther north in the Northland. Head up I-29 all the way to the Canadian border. Yes, you’ll need your passport for this getaway, but it will be worth it.

Canada is a popular location for Hollywood productions of all types, in large part because of the numerous tax initiatives offered by our northern neighbors. The stronger U.S. dollar is also a contributing factor.

And face it — Canada is just beautiful!

Winnipeg, Manitoba is a particular favorite of the Hallmark Channel. Note, however, in Canada, the Hallmark Channel is known as the W Network. For some in the city, the holiday season is also known as the “spot that Winnipeg location in the Hallmark movie” season.

The city’s Exchange District, a 20-square block National Historic Site, features cobblestone streets, distinct storefronts, interesting architecture, and plenty of independent businesses. Recent Hallmark movies shot there include “A Brush with Christmas,” “We Wish You a Married Christmas,” and “Hanukkah on Rye.”

Those debuted in 2022 but will still run this holiday season. New from Winnipeg for 2023 include “Never Been Chris’d,” “The Santa Summit,” and “Holiday Hotline.” For a complete schedule of Hallmark movies this season, visit

A frequent set location in Winnipeg is the historic Fort Garry Hotel. A Canadian landmark since it opened in 1913, the Fort Garry is recognizable for towering windows and ceilings, a breathtaking lobby accented in gold and accessed by a curved grand staircase, and a ballroom with rich woodwork and gilded accessories. The front steps of the massive hotel also make a great shooting location.

They’ve made about 20 Hallmark movies at the Fort Garry, but few employees and even fewer guests have seen a production in progress.
“If they are using public spaces, like the lobby, they work throughout the night and everything is back to normal when most guests are out and about,” said Maria Cefali, marketing director for the Fort Garry Hotel, Spa and Conference Center.

The glamorous ballroom with its 23-foot-tall ceiling, chandeliers and velvet drapes is a common filming location. Guests never know anything interesting is happening behind closed doors.

Visit the Fort Garry during the holidays and you’ll be wowed by an 18-foot-tall Christmas tree in the lobby, but that’s not the one you might see in Hallmark movies.

“They bring their own decorations, set designer and crew, so we have very little to do with it,” Maria says.

Three Hallmark movies that highlight the Fort Garry are “On the 12th Date of Christmas,” “Once Upon a Christmas Miracle” and “A Kiss Before Christmas.” The hotel’s new spa, a co-ed Turkish bath, is sure to make an appearance in an upcoming movie.

The Fort Garry is an exciting place to stay for moviegoers, even if Hallmark Christmas movies are not your thing. Do we all love David Harbour who, among other roles, played Sheriff Hopper in “Stranger Things?” He spent weeks as a guest at the Fort Garry while shooting the 2022 action/comedy “Violent Night” in Winnipeg.

So you never know who you’re going to run into at The Fort Garry. Or the Northland, either.