gingerbread warming house

Town council agrees to honour River Lights volunteers

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A couple who have been integral parts of the growth of the River Lights Winter Festival will be honoured.

Mark and Karen Usher will be honoured with a plaque at the pavilion in Toddy Jones Park as it will be dubbed the “Karen and Mark Usher Gingerbread Warming House.” Jennie Lajoie, a member of the River Lights committee, appeared before town council to make the request and called the Gingerbread Warming House “a much loved and integral part of the festival in which thousands of families have visited Amherstburg to not only enjoy the lights, but to partake of the activities and beauty of the Gingerbread Warming House.”

Volunteers, including the Ushers, put up walls and decorations on the pavilion every fall to get it ready for the River Lights Winter Festival.

Lajoie pointed out that the Ushers spend “hundreds of volunteer hours” getting the warming house ready and Lajoie pointed out that it is the venue for the gingerbread house contest and other events during the River Lights Winter Festival. The events are mostly free in part “because of the hard work and efforts of Karen and Mark Usher for over 11 years!”

The Ushers have lived in Amherstburg for 43 years, Lajoie added, and Karen was a nurse at a medical clinic while Mark taught for 32 years at General Amherst High School.

“Both have dedicated part of their retirements to giving back selflessly, graciously and warmly to their beloved community so that others can enjoy a magical, family tradition at Toddy Jones Park,” Lajoie stated.

Councillor Patricia Simone questioned whether the plaque would be displayed all year, or just during River Lights. Lajoie said they envision a permanent, all-year plaque.

Simone voiced a concern that others may start coming forth with similar requests, noting that most town events are run by volunteers. She said she didn’t want to exclude anyone if someone else should come forward.

The Gingerbread Warming House will be named for River Lights volunteers Mark and Karen Usher. (Special to the RTT)

Lajoie promoted the Ushers by stating they have been volunteering for River Lights for 11 years and “they are busy all year round.” CAO John Miceli added the town has started yearly events to recognize the town’s many volunteers.

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche pointed out there are other recognition events, including a yearly tree planting ceremony at Co-An Park in McGregor.

“I see no harm in doing more of that,” said Meloche.

Councillor Michael Prue wanted to know if the town had any sort of policy regarding recognizing residents and groups.

“If we have a policy, we should follow it,” said Prue.

“There is not a policy,” noted Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “We are working on a policy.”

Prue followed up by wondering what the specifics were of the plaque, including size, location and what it is made out of. Lajoie said it will be a 12×18 metal plaque.

Mark Usher attended the meeting and thanked council for agreeing to the honour.

“River Lights is super special,” he said, adding families come down to look at the lights and enjoy themselves.

“It’s all about families,” he said.

DiCarlo envisioned the town hosting an event for the Ushers after the plaque is installed.

Attendance up at this year’s River Lights Winter Festival

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The River Lights Winter Festival has officially concluded and its co-ordinator is reporting an increase in attendance.

Sarah Van Grinsven estimates that approximately 28,000-30,000 people passed through this year, “which is awesome.”

“Visitation was definitely up this year,” she reported. “Every year, it goes up. We’ve become a tradition for families to come out to. A lot of people don’t celebrate their holidays without River Lights being involved.”

The 2017-18 festival didn’t get started in a traditional way, as Mother Nature brought a soaking rain the Saturday of opening weekend.

“This year started with a twist because we’ve never had to postpone opening night at River Lights,” said Van Grinsven. “That really got us hopping trying to make alternative plans.”

The River Lights Winter Festival drew an estimated crowd of 28,000-30,000 people in 2017-18.

Van Grinsven stated that vendors and partners were able to push things back one night in order to have opening night on Sunday.

“Everyone likes River Lights and wants to see it run smoothly,” she said.

While the fireworks weren’t able to be rescheduled this year, plans call for them to return next year. Van Grinsven said they will plan for a rain date as well.

“We’ve never had to have a rain date before,” she stated.

The Essex Region Conservation Foundation’s Super Santa Run was also held opening weekend and took place as scheduled, even with the rain.

“It was pretty awesome to see how dedicated people were,” said Van Grinsven.

While 2018-19 plans still have to be worked on and finalized, Van Grinsven said the committee always finds ways to improve it and make the winter festival brighter. This year included the addition of trees wrapped with lights in Navy Yard Park between Richmond St. and Rankin Ave.

The view from the intersection of Dalhousie St. and North St., looking into Toddy Jones Park.

“That really seemed to bring the two parks (Navy Yard Park and Toddy Jones Park) together,” said Van Grinsven. “I know we’ll be able to do more of that in the future. We’re always adding to River Lights.”

The Holiday House Tours were “fabulous” this year, she reported, adding praise for the decorators of the homes. The Christmas tree dresses were a hit there and were later transported to Windsor Crossing outlet mall in LaSalle where they helped promote Amherstburg and the festival, she added.

“Having all of that cross-promotion showed Essex County what we can do in Amherstburg,” said Van Grinsven.

The gingerbread contest was popular again this year, she continued, as was the warming house. The House Youth Centre helped run the warming house as volunteers provided hot chocolate for the attendees.

The parkette at King’s Navy Yard Park was lit up for River Lights. The annual winter festival officially concluded Jan. 7.

“It’s great for youth to be involved in it,” said Van Grinsven. “They enjoy doing the activities with us.”

Telus helped sponsor the hot chocolate program with Van Grinsven thanking all sponsors for their assistance with this year’s event. Enbridge sponsored the entire festival for the fourth straight year and will be back for at least another year, with Van Grinsven adding that knowing Enbridge is back for another year helps River Lights plan next year’s event.

“Thank you to everyone who made this work,” she stated. “We have over 100 volunteers and community partners. All of the organizations (that assisted) are made up of volunteers. River Lights works because of the volunteers in Amherstburg. It’s wonderful to see how the community comes together and how important this is to the quality of life in Amherstburg. Thank you to everyone who made it happen.”