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Light Up celebrates 25 years

Festival of Lights 25th Anniversary PDF

View photos of 25 Years of Ladysmith Light Up

Light Up celebrates 25 years

With an average attendance of 16,000-20,000 people, a warehouse of decorations, over an estimated 200,000 lights, and over 150 volunteers, The Festival of Lights has become Ladysmith’s single largest event and one of the biggest Light Ups in BC. It has generated pride in our community, economic benefit to our local business community and most importantly it was given us precious memories and new traditions that we collectively share.

Festival of Lights

On Thursday, Nov 29, we will wait in anticipation for the “turn-on” of the 25th Ladysmith Light up. “There are some additional surprises for the fireworks this year, along with an earlier start, and more street entertainment than ever before,” says Cliff Fisher, President, Festival Of Lights Society.
He has seen the festival grow immensely with newer building decorations, more intense colour in the trees along First Ave and in Bob Stuart Park. Additional LED lights are blended in with the regular lights.
The festival relies on the hard work of many dedicated hardworking volunteers and donations of in-kind material and labour. One such company example is Crane Force who donated $6,000.00 of in kind machinery, time and labour to relamp and reinstall lights on the Chuck Perrin tree last year. This help comes from them each year, with a smile
“Many volunteers stand out, and two of the volunteers that have been with FOL over 20 years are Tracy and Duck Paterson, plus we have Bill Drysdale and Dianne Edwards who stand out as strong volunteers over the last few years. There are many others that do smaller parts over the years, such as Gord Cargill, and it is these folks who, as a whole, contribute the greater continuity of volunteer time for the Festival,” says Fisher.
“There have been so many volunteers from our community over the years that it stays as a personal pride to each of them when we repeat it year after year,”
As they look forward to the next 25 years there are opportunities and challenges.

Increasing cost is an issue as is finding grant money to continue and grow, along with providing a legacy for the future.
“In order to maintain a brighter and more spectacular light show, we are going to have to look at LEDs or other products that will be greener, and still provide the brilliance that we are known for. The technology is starting to become affordable, but has a long way to go yet, cost wise.” .
A long time supporter, the Ladysmith & District Credit Union’s financial involvement grew significantly over the years, and then when BC Hydro pulled out as the main sponsor, the Ladysmith Credit Union stepped in to sponsor the fireworks each year.
“If we can get people to come here and marvel at what our town can accomplish, then perhaps we can inspire them to come here at other times of the year. In addition, if we can set the example as corporate citizens, then hopefully others will take up the same cause (or other causes) within our community. An involved citizenry makes for a better community as a whole,” says John de Leeuw, Chief Executive Ladysmith & District Credit Union. The LDCU staff volunteer their time in preparing the float, dressing up in Christmas apparel, and ensuring collections are taken up at the branch level. “In addition to the visible involvement, we have a tradition at the Credit Union where all staff are invited to a staff barbeque on the night of Light-Up. We prepare hamburgers, hot dogs, and management chili, (a staff favourite). Staff bring their families and after we eat we put on our costumes for the parade. It makes Light-Up night that much more special.
“It kicks off the Christmas season for myself and my family. It’s one of those occasions that is fun, spectacular and family friendly. There just aren’t that many of those nights out there anymore. It is a special night that is seldom duplicated.”
Duck and Tracy Paterson have been volunteers almost from the start. “I started going to meetings in 1989 when we meet in a tiny corner at the back of the old Chronicle building on Roberts Street,” says Duck.
One big noticeable change is the amount of volunteers who come and assist… not just on the work parties or light-up night but all year round. There is almost always somebody doing something for Festival.
He gets a kick out of not only seeing Ladysmith turned into a fantasyland but seeing the thousands of people who get a huge charge out of Light Up.
“Our family pretty well grew up with Light Up. The grandkids definitely have. Tracy is a member of the FOL board…has been for years. She acted as co-ordinator for a number of years. It has become a tradition for our daughters and their families to decorate the trees at Cenotaph Park on work party day as well as take the lights down when Light Up is over. Our grand kids also come out at times and help when we’re doing other projects for Light Up. My grandson went up to the top of the Chuck Perrin Tree when he was five to help put the angel up.”
Duck loves seeing downtown Ladysmith packed with families having a good time and waiting for Santa to turn on the lights. “To see the faces of all the folks… especially the kids and old folks when the lights go on… To have been a part, along with hundreds of others, to help make this happen is a huge charge.”
“It has evolved into something that people even beyond BC associate Ladysmith with. It has given the community even more of an identity. They see people come to their community and experience what a neat town it is and what neat people. It has given the community a sense of pride. Volunteers built Light Up and that core needs to continue. That is one of the great things that makes it unique… Light Up is home grown,” he says.
In the coming years Duck hopes to see Light Up go up the hillside above First Avenue. “We need to encourage all the folks that live along Second and Third Avenue to start putting lights up in their trees and houses..”
Paterson says “I would like to thank the hundreds of volunteers who help make it happen…but it’s not just the volunteers there are many organizations and businesses that step forward. I honestly don’t think that the community knows who does what for Light Up… I think it would amaze them. The support is amazing and it has shown… because after 25 years… it’s still the biggest Turn On in the province!”

You’ll have some fun and enjoy the pride you will feel in making the Festival of Lights the most spectacular town light show on Vancouver Island. To volunteer call 250-245-5888 or go to

Looking back

When Bill Fitzpatrick, who was the chairperson of Downtown Revitalization, saw Phase I completed, he realized that there were no festivals or lively activities in the heart of town.  Being a big fan of Christmas he was also horrified by the three strings of lights “decorating” the town. He remembers looking at the decorations and thinking “pitiful, absolutely pitiful.” It was time for a change.
Times were tough in the late eighties.  A number of businesses were closing and the idea of a Christmas Festival was seen by many as off the wall. But there was the commercial aspect; to encourage people to shop at home, and bring outsiders to Ladysmith. The last Thursday of the month was chosen so that payday would be the day after light up, and people would return with their money.
The first light up in 1987 was held under rainy skies. 500 people came out.

First Avenue, Ladysmith, BC in 2001 festival of Lights. Ladysmith Light Up!

In the second year, he hit up everyone for funds from a dollar and up.  “Chuck Perrin came on board with the biggest donation as did some societies.  The Old Age Pensioners were instrumental – members would throw “Screwing Parties” – where they replaced light bulbs.
1988 saw the formation of the Festival of Lights Society. The founding board members were President Bill Fitzpatrick, members David Walker, Joanne Dashwood, Joan Adair, Lorna Spanakis, Myfanwy Plecas, Nancy Lorentz, Lynne Declark as well as Linda and Bob Beattie, Debbie Ostle, Jan O’Neill. Lynn De Lucia was a huge help, recalls Fitzpatrick.
While looking for fundraising opportunities Myfanwy Plecas cooked up the idea for a Spaghetti Dinner.  She asked for donations of excess garden tomatoes and got them handed to her in bushels. Soon she with a group of friends were making sauce. “We ran out of room and stored pails in the freezer at the 49th Parallel Grocery store.” she recalls.
She also inspired the idea of a Light Up parade. “We were trying to come up with ideas to add to Festival of Lights and I said why not a parade?”
A night parade would need lights. “I begged and borrowed generators and put the word out we wanted entries for the parade.” Soon after the Ladysmith Kinsmen took over and FOL added a Santa House.
“It still has the same curtains made by Tracy Paterson,” says Plecas
Fitzpatrick had the idea to add fireworks in 1989. He ordered $1500 worth of fireworks but they didn’t have the money when they arrived.  Chuck Perrin dug deep.
The fireworks were set off from the rooftop of the Islander Hotel and Plecas remembers picking up the burned out casings around town. Our fireworks have been produced by volunteers Ron Burrows, Fraser Carmichael, and others through the years.
A fact not many people may know is that Ladysmith Light Up honours the memory of Juan Maria De Los Delores De Leon, Lady Smith.
By its third year, the FOL had become a community institution. The Town of Ladysmith joined in, as did the Richmond family of the 49th Parallel Grocery, the Ladysmith and District Credit Union, B.C. Hydro, Bruce Mason, Duck and Tracy Paterson, the members of the Old Age Pensioners Organization, Crane Force, Coastal Trucking, Island Hoppers, and many others.
Service clubs became involved. And it just took off from there.
“I could see that it was going to be a success,” says Fitzpatrick. “It was time to pass it on and let other people be involved.”
Thanks to all the volunteers who throw the years have contributed to making Light Up the success it is today.

Memories of Light Up

Over 25 years, the Festival of Lights has created lasting memories and traditions. Here’s a few!

As a classroom teacher, witnessing over the years a similar level of excitement and great anticipation from the students whether they were in my Grade 3 class at Ladysmith Primary or in my History 12 class at Ladysmith Secondary. I remember one year entering my grade seven classroom on the Monday (four days) before the Festival of Lights, to hear a student, exclaim, “Oh, Mr. H. I am so excited!” and I responded, “About what?” “Light-up of course!” was the exasperated response.
I remember the first time my grandson Seth joined me on the Ladysmith Ambassador’s float and the warm acknowledgement he received from the crowd. Forget the mayor. “Hi, Seth!” rang out down the parade route.
I distinctly remember in 1994, the year that the Angel was placed on the tree at Aggie Hall in honour of Chuck Perrin, one of the founders of the Festival of Lights, that the rain stopped just before the festivities, and the rain commenced as soon as the fireworks were completed, and wondering out loud, if Chuck was looking over us.
I am constantly delighted and amazed by the volunteer effort put in by so many to make the night a success.
– Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins

When unbeknownst to me, my son, Conor, was chosen to be the parade mascot, “Lampie”. This costume is only 7’ tall, so who better to fill it than my long, lanky 6’6-er? It was quite an experience to see my shy boy boldly go forth and shake hands and hug children (and parents!). – Julie Stewart-Boyle

At the Festival of Lights 1990 Santa was available for visits in the Credit Union parking lot. My husband and I were the last ones in line and what appeared to be much to Santa’s relief as he probably thought we were going to sit on his lap, from under the safety of Garth’s winter jacket we revealed our new born Tyler for his first visit with Jolly Old St Nick. – Loyola van Rooyen Buck

In the 2000’s the fireworks, that are a highlight of the Festival of Lights, used to be fired off from market square instead of the present site at the Aggie Hall. Those who were uptown got a great view of the explosions and colours. One year, my son and I were on the deck at the back of Johnson Shoes to watch the show. Suddenly we noticed flaming debris from the fireworks falling out of the sky on to our building. To prevent any chance of a fire we ran around with a spray bottle of water, making sure that no buildings caught fire. We did all this while still being able to enjoy the fireworks. – Rob Johnson

Having lived in England for the 12 years prior to our return to Canada we made many friends while there, so it was with great expectation and joy when we found out that our best friends were coming to visit us. They arrived in early November. We arranged to show them all the sights on the Island. We went to Tofino, Victoria and many of our beautiful parks on the Island. One of the must do things on our list was the Festival Of Lights. We lived on Bayview at the time, so we were able to watch the parade mustering in front of our home. This gave our friends an opportunity to get an up close and personal view of the floats. After a short walk into town we found an ideal spot to view the parade and the light up ceremony. After the parade we stood in awe with the thousand of others as the sky lit up with the fireworks display. Our friends were amazed at what a small town could do. When asked the highlight of their visit here in Ladysmith, they responded that by far the best thing was the Festival of Lights. Even today when we are in contact in November, they talk about their experience with fond memories. – Dan and Angela Spence

The first year my oldest daughter was away at university she missed Light-Up night. When she came home for the Christmas break she mentioned that it didn’t feel like Christmas. When I asked her why, her very first response was because she missed Light-Up night. When I asked how that impacted her, she said it was always the start of Christmas for her. I found that interesting because I hadn’t thought of it in that way, but she had been at every Light-Up night since she was 5 years old. – John de Leeuw

Years ago, there was a huge storm and the power went out. I got on the phone and told BC Hydro that Ladysmith needed to get power and needed it now. Shortly before Light Up was scheduled to start, the power came on in Ladysmith (saving the night) while our neighbours to the north and south sat in darkness.
There was no budget for a Santa costume. I had some red velvet curtains in the bedroom. Down they came, reminiscent of Gone with the Wind. Nita Grant made the outfit. – Bill Fitzpatrick
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About the author: The Boss

The Boss

Marina is Editor of TAKE 5 Magazine.

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