Holiday House Tours

River Lights organizers pleased with 2018 event

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The River Lights Winter Festival has wound up for another year and organizers have few complaints.

Sarah Van Grinsven, special events support coordinator with the Town of Amherstburg, said walls and lights started coming down this week. The weather has been nice and often times unseasonably mild, but that is also a disadvantage when talking about River Lights.

“The lights always look great with the snow on the ground,” said Van Grinsven.

Nonetheless, Van Grinsven added “they looked really good this year.” She said crowds were strong, estimating that 35,000 people visited Toddy Jones Park and Navy Yard Park over the six-week period.

“We had so many people running out of hot chocolate all the time,” she said. “We went through a record number of hot chocolate.”

The Super Santa Run in mid-November, presented by the Essex Region Conservation Foundation, “is always fabulous” with Van Grinsven adding that is when River Lights “really comes alive.” The Holiday House Tours were “amazing” and that is the main fundraiser for River Lights.

The River Lights Winter Festival has concluded for another season with the town pleased with the results in 2018-19.

“Everything really comes together for the House Tours,” she said. “We’ll have to work really hard to beat this one. It really helped River Lights shine.”

Van Grinsven noted they have worked with many community partners over the years and have made donations to several museums and non-profit agencies through the House Tours and the tea room that is provided as part of it. This year, the River Lights Winter Festival raised $2,500 for the Belle Vue Conservancy.

“We’re hoping to one day host the House Tours out of the Belle Vue,” said Van Grinsven. “That is our goal.”

There was also a tremendous show of support for the gingerbread house contest, as 69 people or groups entered.

Planning for 2019 starts with a Jan. 9 meeting, she added. Van Grinsven also noted it was the first year for the Town of Amherstburg to host the event as it was independently run in prior years, but indicated that it is still about the volunteers. She said working with the volunteers is always one of her favourite festival-related duties.

“We’re always looking to better ourselves,” she said. “We’re always looking to attract new visitors, which in turn attracts new residents and investment to our community.”

Van Grinsven said “we have a few things in the works for 2019,” adding that Enbridge has agreed to be the title sponsor again in 2019.

“It shows we’re doing a good job and that everyone wants to be involved,” said Van Grinsven.

 

Holiday House Tours popular again this year

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The sixth annual Holiday House Tours were presented over the weekend and were once again popular with those who attended.

Nine locations were featured as part of this year’s house tours, seven of them being private homes. The other two included the tourism booth on Sandwich St. North as well as Vivace Estate Winery on Concession 5 North, the latter also housing the Christmas Tree Dress Exhibit that was done in conjunction with St. Clair College design students.

“We’ve seen some beautiful things,” said Judi Rocheleau, as she toured a Rankin Ave. home with Bern O’Mahony. “This one is gorgeous. This is really beautiful.”

Rita Azar looks at the “Island View” home on Front Road North as part of this year’s Holiday House Tours.

Rocheleau said they had been through “Island View,” the featured home on this year’s tour, located at 671 Front Road North and owned by David and Deanna McDowall. She said that was worth the price of admission alone.

“What we’ve seen so far is beautiful,” she added, noting the homes were decorated “perfectly without being overdone.”

As for whether she picked up any ideas for her own home, Rocheleau replied “you’ve got that right.”

“I like to look for new ideas for decorating,” agreed O’Mahony.

Rocheleau added she enjoys the River Lights Winter Festival and wanted to contribute to it by going to the Holiday House Tours. The tours are just one part of the festival’s itinerary.

Rita Azar called the homes and the greetings at each of them “very friendly” as she toured “Island View.” She said she enjoyed the “uniqueness of each home” on the Holiday House Tour.

“It has been amazing,” said Azar. “It is my first tour and it is out of this world.”

Andrew Gruening and Sherry Boxall stand in the dining room of their Front Road North home during the Holiday House Tours.

“Island View” wasn’t the only Front Road North home on the tour, as Sherry Boxall and Andrew Gruening had their home on the tour as well, with it being just north of the featured home. Their decorator brought the idea to them last year, Boxall explained, and they decided to go on the tour with the McDowalls.

Boxall said people were very friendly as they went through their home and it was a nice experience. The couple has a lot of Amherstburg and Essex County antiques and that was one of the many highlights of their home.

Anne Rota, manager of tourism and culture with the town, said things went well.

“We’re probably looking at about 1,000 people this year,” she said. “We’re noticing a lot of people from out-of-town this year.”

Judi Rocheleau and Bern O’Mahony look at a decorated dining room table at a Rankin Ave. home on the first day of the two-day Holiday House Tours Nov. 24.

While it was their sixth year, it was the first year the Holiday House Tours involved a winery. Vivace Estate Winery was able to get some exposure, with Rota adding the tours also led to spin off business in town as she knew some people were headed to local restaurants and businesses. Rota added that is “what it’s all about – showcasing our community and bring business to town.”

Proceeds from the Holiday House Tours help fund the River Lights’ programming, including activities at the Gingerbread Warming House in Toddy Jones Park.

“We are so happy to be part of River Lights,” added Jean Qian, owner of Vivace Estate Winery. “Everyone looks so happy.”

“It’s a really great experience and nice to celebrate the holidays with the community,” added Vivace staff member Madison Vandenham.

“Decorating Divas” getting trees ready as part of Holiday House Tour preparations

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A team of volunteers known as the “Decorating Divas” were busy recently helping to welcome the holiday spirit.

The volunteers are part of the Holiday House Tours committee and they were decorating Christmas trees at the Canadian Tire store in Amherstburg. It is at least the fifth year they have participated with Sarah Van Grinsven, special events support co-ordinator with the Town of Amherstburg, noting it is a partnership between the River Lights Winter Festival and Canadian Tire.

Van Grinsven said the trees are decorated with Canadian Tire products while two of the homes that will be on the Nov. 24-25 Holiday House Tours also being decorated by décor and products that come from Canadian Tire. The House Tours are part of River Lights.

“It works really well,” Van Grinsven said of the partnership.

Local Canadian Tire dealers Stephen and Paige Pike have been very supportive of the partnership since taking over the Amherstburg store, Van Grinsven added, and that has been very helpful for the Holiday House tours.

“Their store has a lot of Christmas items to offer, which is wonderful,” said Van Grinsven, noting there is a variety of different décor on hand.

The “Decorating Divas,” who are part of the Holiday House Tours committee, helped decorate trees at Canadian Tire. The Holiday House Tours are Nov. 24-25.

“It’s a fantastic community event,” Paige Pike said of the Holiday House Tours. “We’re just happy to be part of it.”

Pike said that Canadian Tire gets a boost from having their products showcased and she also praised the “Decorating Divas,” whom she said does a “great job” decorating the trees in the store every year.

Tickets for the Holiday House Tours are $25 per person, and are available at the Gordon House, Sobeys Amherstburg, Dusty Loft Antiques and Collectibles, Country Bliss and Windsor Crossing Premium Outlets. They can also be purchased online at www.amherstburg.ca/riverlights.

The River Lights Winter Festival got underway Nov. 17.

Holiday House Tours return Nov. 24-25

 

Special to the RTT

A popular part of the River Lights Winter Festival is set to return in late November.

On Saturday, November 24 and Sunday, November 25, the popular and beloved River Lights Holiday House Tours is making a return this holiday season. The town states that tickets are now available for purchase.

The self-guided tour, which features some of Amherstburg’s most spectacular private homes, allows the public to view these spaces decked out for the holidays. There are eight homes featured this year, as well as a stop at Vivace Estate Winery, which is hosting the Christmas Tree Dress Exhibit, as well as providing complimentary tea, treats and wine tasting.

Paige Bezaire, Chas Bondy, Jenny Mayea and Laura Micallef admire one of the table settings during the Holiday House Tours last November. The 2018 Holiday House Tours are Nov. 24-25.

Tours run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

Tickets, which are priced at $25 per person, are available at the Gordon House, Sobeys Amherstburg, Dusty Loft Antiques and Collectibles, Country Bliss and Windsor Crossing Premium Outlets. They can also be purchased online at www.amherstburg.ca/riverlights.

Tickets sell out fast, so people are encouraged to get their tickets early.

For more information, visit www.amherstburg.ca/riverlights or www.facebook.com/amherstburgconnection. People can also phone 519-730-1309 for additional information.

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.”