River Lights Winter Festival

Town picks up three awards at Festival & Events Ontario (FEO) conference



By Ron Giofu


The Town of Amherstburg picked up some awards at the Festival & Events Ontario (FEO) conference in London.

Awards were presented last Thursday night as part of the FEO conference with the town picking up three of them.

Amherstburg was selected as the 2019 Municipality of the Year in the 50,000 or less population category. The award recognizes the “Best in Community Leadership and Festival and Event Partnerships in the Province of Ontario” with a press release from FEO adding that the award “is intended for the festivals and events industry to openly encourage, support, learn from and recognize positive local environments for festivals and events provincially.”

The award recognizes communities that “have worked, through concentrated efforts, to provide an atmosphere beneficial to successful festivals and events.”

Dr. Von Houligan’s Carnival of Calamities got the crowd going with some fire-breathing action at the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival in August. That festival won an award as did the town itself, which was “Municipality of the Year.” River Lights was also named at Top 100 festival in the province by Festivals & Events Ontario.

“The key word here is partnerships,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo in a media release. “Working together with our volunteers, our attractions, our sponsors and the collaboration of staff is paramount. Amherstburg is always looking to meet the highest standards in delivering quality experiences and quality of life to our residents and visitors alike. We thank FEO for this prestigious award!”

The winner of the Municipality of the Year award in the 50,000-150,000 category was the Municipality of Clarington while Hamilton and Richmond Hill tied for the award in the over 150,000 population category.

Amherstburg was also successful in the Best New Festival or Event category as the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival won in the $100,000 or less category. The winner in the $100,001-$500,000 category was the WTF Festival in Sault Ste. Marie while the winner in the $500,001 or more category was the Ride, Dine ‘N’ Stein event in Kitchener-Waterloo.

This year’s Amherstburg Uncommon Festival is scheduled for Sept. 27-29.

FEO also announced the Top 100 Festivals & Events in Ontario with Amherstburg having representation in that as well. The River Lights Winter Festival was named as one of the Top 100. Other Windsor-Essex County festivals or events included in the southwestern Ontario tourism region included the Hogs for Hospice event, the Carrousel of Nations and the Tecumseh Corn Festival.

Submissions from FEO members were received for consideration in the fall of 2018 and were judged by an independent panel of judges. FEO notes that festivals and events of all kinds from across Ontario were represented in the submissions, including community festivals to internationally recognized events.

For a schedule of the 2019 upcoming festivals and events, please visit Facebook.com/AmherstburgConnection or www.amherstburg.ca/en/Amherstburg-Tourism.aspx



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.

River Lights Winter Festival illuminates the town



By Christian Bouchard


The heart of downtown Amherstburg will continue to shine throughout the holiday season.

The 12th annual River Lights Festival was officially kicked off Saturday night with the lights of the town bringing smiles to hundreds of people. The festival lights, which are lit nightly from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. are located at the historical King’s Navy Yard and Toddy Jones Park.

The River Lights Winter Festival officially opened with the municipal tree lighting Nov. 17.

The River Lights once again partnered with the Essex Region Conservation Foundation’s Super Santa Run. Following the 5km race/walk, hundreds of Santas, families and friends gathered around Navy Yard parkette for the commodious tree lighting. The festival also encouraged all to explore the lights, decorate cookies and enjoy fireworks over the Detroit River.

River Lights was once again sponsored by Enbridge for the fifth year in a row. Enbridge supplies renewable power to nearly 2,400 homes in the region with its 15-megawatt Amherstburg solar facility.

According to Suzanne Shea, a representative for Enbridge, River Lights gets a little brighter every year.

The River Lights Winter Festival officially opened Nov. 17.

“Nothing kicks off the holiday for me like River Lights,” said Shea. “I’m not even from here but I come here every year to celebrate.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo was on hand for the event to help with the tree lighting. DiCarlo said the municipal tree lighting ceremony is a night to ring in the holidays, celebrating love, gratitude, and friendships.

DiCarlo added the River Lights committee, which helped brighten the town for the past 12 years, has worked tirelessly to beautify King’s Navy Yard Park and Toddy Jones Park with what only can be described as an outstanding program.

The River Lights Winter Festival, which opened Nov. 17, has illuminated displays in both Navy Yard Park (pictured) and Toddy Jones Park.

“These volunteers bring their passion and pride to this event,” said DiCarlo. “Year after year they’re responsible for putting smiles on faces for thousands of people who have made River Lights a yearly tradition.”

The downtown streets and historic parks of Amherstburg will stay lit until Jan. 6 when the six-week long festival comes to an end.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo brings greetings at the municipal tree lighting ceremony Nov. 17.

For more information on the River Lights Winter Festival and the upcoming events, please visit www.riverlights.ca.




“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.