River Lights Winter Festival

River Lights Winter Festival to get underway soon with multiple activities

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The River Lights Winter Festival will soon return, and another full slate of activities will be on tap.

This year’s festival will see lights lit from Nov. 17 through Jan. 6 with displays in King’s Navy Yard Park, Toddy Jones Park and elsewhere in town. Residents and businesses are invited to get into the holiday spirit and decorate their homes and storefronts as well.

This is the first year the River Lights Winter Festival will be a town-sponsored event, though roughly a dozen volunteers are helping to set up the event with over 100 more expected to help present it once River Lights gets underway.

Sarah Van Grinsven, special events support co-ordinator with the Town of Amherstburg, said volunteers took only two hours to paint the walls of the Gingerbread Warming House before the walls were put up at the Toddy Jones Park pavilion.

“All of the light displays started going up on Tuesday,” Van Grinsven told the RTT last Friday morning.

Though not hooked up yet, Van Grinsven said roughly 80 per cent of them were erected.

“The larger ones will be put together in the next two weeks,” she said.

River Lights also gets supported through the town’s parks department, Van Grinsven noted.

The opening ceremonies for the River Lights Winter Festival will be Nov. 17. There will be the “usual awesomeness” that night, she noted, with that including the outdoor holiday movie, hot chocolate, tree lighting ceremony and fireworks. The River Lights official opening will be preceded by the Essex Region Conservation Foundation’s Super Santa Run, which starts at 5 p.m.

Bumble got his “pre-debut makeover” on the weekend at the home of Ray and Lori Bezaire. It was created by Lori for River Lights. (Submitted photo)

Telus will also be in town with its free interactive playground during the opening weekend, she noted. There will also be activities at the Park House Museum and the Commissariat that night as well.

“We always like to highlight the heritage of our community,” said Van Grinsven.

The gingerbread house contest is back again this year with entries due Nov. 15. A special scavenger hunt will also be part of River Lights this year, with details to come.

River Lights also hosts the annual Holiday House Tours. This year’s house tours are the weekend of Nov. 24-25.

“Ticket sales this year have been the best yet,” reported Van Grinsven.

Online sales have been going very well, she said, and “we’re still three weeks out.”

The Holiday House Tours is a self-guided event that allows people to get inside homes they wouldn’t normally be allowed access to.

“We have amazing homes every year, but we’re excited this year to offer homes that people have been interested in for many years,” said Van Grinsven.

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. St. Clair College design students will be helping create the dresses, said Van Grinsven.

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.

The Holiday House Tours help fund the rest of the River Lights Winter Festival, Van Grinsven added, as they want to keep the rest of the festival free for families.

Sponsors also help keep the festival free, she added, and they are grateful for the help of businesses, individuals and groups who help out.

“We’re always working on new projects,” stated Van Grinsven, noting King’s Navy Yard Park will be lit up in “an extra special way” this year.

For more information, visit their website at www.amherstburg.ca/riverlights, follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AmherstburgNow or like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/amherstburgconnection.

People can also phone 519-730-1309 for additional information.

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.

Enbridge steps up with annual donation towards River Lights

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Enbridge will once again be the presenting sponsor of the River Lights Winter Festival.

An official cheque presentation was held outside the Gordon House where the renewable energy company presented a cheque for $15,000.

“This will be Enbridge’s fifth year sponsoring the exceptional programs and some of the light

displays at the River Lights Winter Festival,” says Suzanne Shea, communications and

stakeholder relations senior advisor of power operations with Enbridge. “We are proud to have the opportunity to continue to partner with the town and share in the holiday spirit with the Amherstburg community.”

Shea told the River Town Times last Tuesday that they continue to sponsor River Lights “to celebrate the holiday season with the community and strengthen our partnership with the town.”

According to a press release, Enbridge supplies renewable power to nearly 2,400 homes in the region, thanks to its 15-megawatt Amherstburg solar facility.

Suzanne Shea, communications and stakeholder relations senior advisor of power operations with Enbridge, presents a cheque for $15,000 to Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale. Enbridge is once again sponsoring the River Lights
Winter Festival with the municipal tree lighting ceremony being Nov. 17.

“With Enbridge’s generous support, we are proud to continue the unique festival programming

our town has come to know and love. Old world charm in our vibrant community, with our

dazzling light displays, is the signature backdrop for historic Amherstburg during this event,” Mayor Aldo Di Carlo said in the press release.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said he appreciated the generosity and the fact companies like Enbridge step up and sponsor events like River Lights.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said DiPasquale.

The six -week long festival kicks off with the municipal tree lighting ceremony Nov. 17. Sarah Van Grinsven, the town’s special events co-ordinator, said the proceeds from the Enbridge sponsorship go towards making River Lights bigger and brighter. The money, Van Grinsven noted, will help offset some of the costs of opening night.

The Town of Amherstburg made the River Lights Winter Festival an official town event earlier this year.

Van Grinsven said roughly 6-8,000 people attend the opening ceremonies for the River Lights Winter Festival with about 30,000 coming to the event overall.

“We’ve become a family tradition,” said Van Grinsven.

 

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.