Holiday House Tours

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.”

Holiday House Tours return to big crowds


By Ron Giofu


The fifth annual Holiday House Tours returned over the weekend with large crowds joining in.

The two-day event, presented by an eight-person committee, is the largest fundraiser for the River Lights Winter Festival. There were eight private homes on this year’s Holiday House Tours as well as the House Youth Centre, the latter being used as the tea room stop and as the weekend home of the Christmas tree dress exhibit.

Gail Disher looks at a Christmas tree dress at The House Youth Centre Saturday afternoon.

“The better this fundraiser does, the brighter River Lights gets,” said Sarah Van Grinsven, co-ordinator of the River Lights Winter Festival.

Van Grinsven said many groups of people went through, including people from as far as Toronto.

“Ticket sales are higher than last year,” she reported. “Everyone is absolutely impressed by the houses and the Christmas tree dress exhibit is a hit. Every house is unique.”

(UPDATE: Van Grinsven told the RTT Wednesday morning that the event drew approximately 800 visitors and was “incredibly successful.”)

The Christmas tree dress exhibit originated last year when similar dresses were displayed in homes. Van Grinsven explained that the committee and the designers decided to have a full display of eight dresses this year and have it as a standalone exhibit as part of the Holiday House Tours’ fifth anniversary celebration.

Those who took the tour were pleased with what they saw. Paige Bezaire was part of a group of friends including Chas Bondy, Jenny Mayea and Laura Micallef and came away impressed.

Paige Bezaire, Chas Bondy, Jenny Mayea and Laura Micallef admire one of the table settings during the Holiday House Tours.

“It’s very nice,” said Bezaire. “It’s our first year on the tour. It’s nice to see everyone’s take on it.”

“It’s nice to see the different themes,” agreed Micallef, with Mayea adding “no two houses are the same.”

Gail Disher came in from Kingsville and enjoyed the tour, including the Christmas tree exhibit.

“It’s beautiful. It’s fantastic,” she said, as she viewed the dresses. “It’s very well done.”

Disher said volunteers were “very friendly” and “we’re really enjoying it.”

Janice Wingrove and Lynne Boley came in from Chatham to view the houses. Wingrove joked she needed to “go home, have a rest then start working around my house” after viewing the Amherstburg homes. She said they took similar tours in Chatham-Kent but the age of some of the Amherstburg homes added to the tour.

“I liked this one because the homes are a little more historic,” she said.

Janice Wingrove and Lynne Boley of Chatham admire a mantlepiece at one of the Dalhousie St. homes.

Boley added that the decorations that go along with the homes were also impressive.

Gloria and Ernie Bondy opened their Dalhousie St. home for the tour and were glad they did.

“I can’t believe how many people have come through,” said Gloria.

Bondy said they, as well as those on the tour, enjoyed the decorations. She added they were asked several years ago if they were on the tour and at that point said no, but when the opportunity to join in came this year, they jumped at it.

“Santa’s Bedroom” was decorated at the Stoyanovich home on Concession 2 North.

“It’s fun,” said Gloria. “I like meeting people. I’m a people person.”

The homes were decorated by private citizens – including the homeowners themselves like Jill and Matt Stoyanovich on Concession 2 North – and businesses like Dusty Loft Antiques, Canadian Tire, Anna’s Flowers, Sobeys floral, Country Bliss and Elmara Flowers. Committee members included Van Grinsven, Monica Bunde, Elizabeth Davidson, Jennifer Ibrahim, Corine Jones, Carla Lauzon-Abson, Michelle Lecours, Anne Rota and Annette Zahaluk.

River Lights, Canadian Tire team for Holiday House Tours



By Ron Giofu


The River Lights Winter Festival kicks off this Saturday and the Holiday House Tours follow Nov. 25-26.

To help celebrate the latter, a local business has teamed with River Lights’ Holiday House Tour committee to aid in the presentation of the homes.

Volunteers from the Holiday House Tours were at the Canadian Tire store in Amherstburg last Wednesday afternoon decorating three Christmas trees that will be displayed in the Sandwich St. S. store. River Lights co-ordinator Sarah Van Grinsven said that River Lights receives a donation in return for the tree decorations.

The fifth annual Holiday House Tour will see professional decorators showcasing their talent in nine locations including extravagant waterfront properties, to designated heritage sites, and grand country homes.

“With the donation from Canadian Tire, we decorate the homes with Canadian Tire products,” said Van Grinsven.

The Holiday House Tour
committee, which is part of the River Lights Winter Festival, was at Canadian Tire last Wednesday afternoon decorating Christmas trees that will be used in the store. In exchange for decorating the trees, Canadian Tire made a donation towards the Nov. 25-26 Holiday House Tours. Canadian Tire’s Stephen and Paige Pike and Scott Miller joined committee members Sarah Van Grinsven, Jen Ibrahim, Michelle Lecours, Corine Jones, Elizabeth Davidson and Carla Lauzon Abson.

Included in the $25 ticket price is tea service, a holiday craft sale and, new this year, a Christmas Tree Dress Exhibit.  The Christmas Tree Dress Exhibit will showcase eight individually designed creations, each made from spruce, pine, or fir and holiday décor.

“It’s fashion with a twist and cannot be missed,” Van Grinsven stated.

Tickets are being sold at Sobeys in Amherstburg, Country Bliss, Dusty Loft Antique and Collectibles, Windsor Crossings Premium Outlets, online at as well as the Gordon House, the latter being located at 268 Dalhousie St.

Stephen and Paige Pike, owners of the Canadian Tire store in Amherstburg, said they are happy to be involved.

“River Lights is a great community event we wholeheartedly support,” said Paige. “Sarah and her volunteers do a great job.”

Paige added that it is a “win-win” for all involved.

For more information on the River Lights Winter Festival, call 519-736-4642, visit or e-mail

About 500 from Windsor-Essex County attend Holiday House Tours


By Ron Giofu


People from Amherstburg and surrounding municipalities streamed through the ten houses that were decorated and on display for the Holiday House Tours.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo snaps a photo on his phone of some of the decorations at the Bondy House Bed & Breakfast. DiCarlo and wife Laura were two of the roughly 500 people that toured the ten locations that were decorated for Christmas.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo snaps a photo on his phone of some of the decorations at the Bondy House Bed & Breakfast. DiCarlo and wife Laura were two of the roughly 500 people that toured the ten locations that were decorated for Christmas.

The house tours, a part of the ongoing River Lights Winter Festival, saw ten houses on display with nine of them being private homes and the tenth being the Park House Museum. Monica Bunde, who helped co-ordinate the tours and was a decorator of one of the homes, said the Park House was the “tea room” stop on the tour with the other homes being clustered around the municipality.

The homes were decorated either by local businesses, by decorators or the homeowners themselves.

“We’ve expanded the footprint this year,” said Bunde. “We’ve expanded outside of the downtown core so people get the feel for all of Amherstburg.”

The homes were concentrated in different areas of the town with four, counting the Park House, being within walking distance in the Dalhousie St./Rankin Ave. area, three more within Amherst Pointe, one at the corner of Alma and Victoria St. S. and the other two in the former Anderdon Township.

Debbie Scott and Suzanne Shepley volunteered at the home on Front Road South.

Debbie Scott and Suzanne Shepley volunteered at the home on Front Road South.

“It made it easier,” explained Bunde. “You can park and walk to see three or four homes then go to the next section.”

Bunde said they not only wanted visitors to see the homes themselves, but visit the boutiques and restaurants in Amherstburg as well.

“People have been booking lunch or dinner,” added Anne Rota, the town’s manager of tourism and culture. “It’s a package. It’s not just looking at the homes. It’s an economic stimulus for the town.”

Homes that were considered somewhat “iconic” were featured on this year’s Holiday House Tour. Bunde said many of the homes have been the subject of people wondering what they looked like on the inside and the house tours gave people that glimpse.

A Park Ave. home was decorated on two floors, with the photo being taken on an upper floor.

A Park Ave. home was decorated on two floors, with the photo being taken on an upper floor.

Not only did people willingly open their homes this year, but Rota said there are already six requests from homeowners to be on the Holiday House Tours in 2017. She remarked there could soon be a waiting list for homes.

Rota added that early estimates had about 50 per cent of the attendees be from outside of Amherstburg as a lot of people from the Windsor-Essex County area converged on the town for the tours.

Carolyn Davies and Merv Richards had their home, the Bondy House Bed & Breakfast, as one of the stops on the tour. Davies, the current president of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC), agreed that it was a great event that brought hundreds of people to town. She said not only did it bring the people, but it strengthened the local economy in the process.

“It’s an event, it’s an experience,” added Bunde. “It’s for everyone.”

It is estimated that 500 people turned out for this year’s Holiday House Tours.

“Decorating Divas” team with Canadian Tire



By RTT Staff


For the third consecutive year, the River Lights “Decorating Divas” were at Canadian Tire making things more festive.

The Divas decorated three trees this year at the store with River Lights co-ordinator Sarah Van Grinsven pointing out it is done in conjunction with the Holiday House Tours, one of the events that is part of the River Lights Winter Festival.

In return for decorating the Christmas trees, Canadian Tire makes a donation to the Holiday House Tours, she added.

“We, in turn, decorate a home for the house tours with Canadian Tire products,” she added.

The River Lights “Decorating Divas” joined Canadian Tire staff in decorating three trees at the store last Monday. The Holiday House Tours are coming Dec. 3-4 and one of the ten homes will be decorated with items all found at Canadian Tire in Amherstburg.

The River Lights “Decorating Divas” joined Canadian Tire staff in decorating three trees at the store last Monday. The Holiday House Tours are coming Dec. 3-4 and one of the ten homes will be decorated with items all found at Canadian Tire in Amherstburg.

The River Lights Holiday House Tours are Dec. 3-4 from 1-6 p.m. each day. Van Grinsven said tickets are $25 and on sale at the Gordon House, Sobeys, Pied-A-Terre, the Village Shop and Park House Museum. There will be ten stops on the tour this year with mainland waterfront properties being the focus.

River Lights gets underway this weekend with the Downtown Holiday Nights starting Friday night and the tree lighting Saturday night. The latter follows the Super Santa Run, which starts at 5 p.m. on downtown streets.

For more information on the Holiday House Tours or River Lights in general, call 519-736-4642 or visit