In 1987 Bill Fitzpatrick and some friends from the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce had an idea that would bring some sparkle to the town. Over three decades later more than 200,000 lights, 27 members, hundreds of volunteers, thousands of volunteer hours and an average of more than 20,000 attendees make this event one of the biggest small town Festival of Lights around.
Bill passed away in 2017 but he got to see that spark of an idea grow into a brilliant festival that is unrivaled on the Island.
Thursday night, Ladysmith will celebrate the 31st Festival of Lights.
“It is all about the people.” said Alex Cook, president of the Ladysmith Festival of Lights Committee. “When we put out the call for help we can count on 75 or 80 people, With the good weather we had this year more than 100 people showed up. Our volunteers take pride in their work and pride in their town.”
When asked why he does it, Alex, who has been involved for close to 6 years said, “because it feels so good to be a part of it, there is tremendous satisfaction in giving back.”
There are also lots of volunteers and donations of support from the business community. This year the entire staff and families of GNB Builders showed up to help.
Many people have been working on Festival of Lights for years for years, Duck Paterson and Bill Drysdale can always be found working with the people and equipment required to put up the lights.
In 2015 this writer had the pleasure of going to the top of the Chuck Perrin tree with Bill so we could measure the frame for the new top lights. We were lifted to the top of the tree by a large crane from RKM. Bill had no fear of stepping out of the bucket and walking on the old angle bar frame, I have to admit I was pretty nervous up there.
People in their 80s and parents with their children come and volunteer for the installation and setup of the lights. Installation started this year on November 4th while planning started long before that. Teacher Patty Cavers brought her grade 5 class to help put up the lights for the Ladysmith Resource Centre.
FOL Director Robin Francis encourages young people to come out and help.
“It would be great to have more high school students come and volunteer, they would enjoy taking pride and ownership in something that is so good for the community.”
Several committee members mentioned the importance of bringing more young people on board. “We are all getting older and we could use some younger faces around the planning table and to learn the ropes.”
Each year the Aggie Hall hosts a big Craft and Artisan Fair and 2018 is no exception. 35 tables showcasing handmade arts, food, textile and wooden gift items were booked and committed to early.
The Craft and Artisan Fair is open from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Thursday but come early if you don’t want to miss the best selection. Santa flicks the switch at 6:30 p.m. and the parade gets going about 15 minutes later.
Each year the Festival gets started with night time Light Up Parade organised by the Kinsmen Club. It starts at 6:40 at the top of 1st Avenue and continues to the Aggie Hall where the Grand Finale includes a massive fireworks display and the lighting of the Chuck Perrin Christmas Tree.
The Festival of Lights is so much more than a one evening celebration. People come from all over the Island to see and feel the spirit of “Christmas Town”.
The lights stay on and the visitors come every night until the 3rd week of January when the volunteers will once again show their commitment to this fantastic Ladysmith Community Event.