Sarah Van Grinsven

Tourism department highlights trio of events for the coming season

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town’s tourism department has highlighted a trio of upcoming events it is planning, including two new ones that have joined the schedule.

Tourism co-ordinators Sarah Van Grinsven and Anna Cabrera met with business owners at the Libro Centre last Tuesday and went over what is in the works. Roughly ten people attended the afternoon session with slightly more reported to have attended the morning session.

The first of the new events will be the Rhododendron Garden Tea Party, with Cabrera explaining that they want to showcase the town using one of the more popular assets, which is the rhododendron gardens in King’s Navy Yard Park.

The Rhododendron Garden Tea Party is planned for May 27 with the event having a “Downton Abbey”-type feel, Cabrera added. There will be two sittings – one at 11:30 a.m. and the other at 3 p.m. – in Navy Yard Park.

Van Grinsven said a similar event was held in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and that went well, with people asking for more of those type of events in the future.

“It’s giving people what they want,” said Van Grinsven.

That event is being held in conjunction with the Belle Vue Conservancy.

There will be a Downton Abbey inspired costume contest for women, men and children as well.

“The rhododendron gardens are one of the focal points of the King’s Navy Yard Park each spring,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “We will be honoured to welcome visitors with the added garden tea program. When the gardens are in full bloom, it’s an amazing spectacle for the region.”

The second new event will be the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival, planned for Aug. 3-5. The event, which is proposed as an annual festival, will combine Harry Potter with steampunk, the latter being described by Cabrera as “Victorian-era science fiction.”

“Think of what the past might have looked like if we had today’s technology,” she said.

Cabrera stated that millennials “spend money on experiences rather than material goods” and that there is a hope that photos and videos of the event will “live forever” if put online.

“We didn’t pick this at random,” she said of the theme for Amherstburg Uncommon. “There is a rhyme and reason.”

Sarah Van Grinsven, one of the town’s tourism co-ordinators, goes over a map of the downtown core detailing proposed road closures for the Aug. 3-5 Amherstburg Uncommon Festival.

The bulk of the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival will be free with roads in the downtown core closed off. Van Grinsven indicated the only ticketed event will be a magic show under the “big top” tent that will be set up in Toddy Jones Park. Also proposed for the three-day festival will be aerial demonstrations from the Canadian Historical Aircraft Museum, rickshaws, live entertainment, craftsmen, a “quidditch” ball throwing activity, children’s games and entertainment and other attractions.

Many of the activities will focus on science, technology, engineering and math, Van Grinsven stated.

“We want the town to be transformed,” she said. “It’s all about the look. It’s all about the feel.”

Vendors will be screened to ensure they fit the theme, added Cabrera, and organizers hope to work with restaurants for themed menus and food items re-named to fit the steampunk or Harry Potter eras.

The Park House Museum will also be partnering with the tourism department for the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival.

Van Grinsven told business owners that “we want to bring business to you” and that Amherstburg Uncommon will be a family-friendly event.

“There is definitely no alcohol,” she said.

Restaurants and businesses may be able to expand patios but that has to be done in conjunction with the town’s licensing department.

“We want to facilitate the success of the businesses,” she said.

Some business owners voiced concerns with road closures and the ability to get back and forth to their businesses while others didn’t want to bring in products that organizers or vendors will be selling.

“We’re creating fun,” said Van Grinsven. “We’re creating a fabulous atmosphere for people.”

The third event highlighted at the meetings was the Canada Day event. That is scheduled to return to the grounds of Fort Malden National Historic Site July 1. Events like the Canada D’Eh run, which is presented by Running Flat, and the Ice Cream Festival for Toddy Jones Park are also planned for Canada’s 151st birthday.

For more information, call 519-730-1309.

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.”

River Lights teams with Belle Vue Conservancy to spruce up historic home

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The historic Belle Vue home is being lit up for the holiday season.

The River Lights Winter Festival has stepped up and helped decorate the home with festive decorations and solar lights. Jennie Lajoie, who is involved with River Lights and the Belle Vue Conservancy, said the former agreed to take on the project.

“River Lights has kindly agreed to light up Belle Vue for the festival,” said Lajoie. “Most of the greenery came from the back of the property.”

Conservancy member Linda Jackson said they are “very excited” that River Lights took on the project.

Jennie Lajoie, Linda Jackson and Sarah Van Grinsven stand in front of a decorated Belle Vue.

“We cannot thank River Lights enough for what they are doing for us,” Jackson stated.

Sarah Van Grinsven, co-ordinator with the River Lights Winter Festival, said the decorations are connected to the period and they are not as “flashy” as some of the other River Lights decorations. She added that both groups wanted to work together to create the partnership.

“Everyone loves to work together in Amherstburg,” she said. “That’s what makes it so great.”

Lajoie noted that “every single dollar” the Belle Vue Conservancy raises goes straight to the 200-year-old home’s restoration. That is why River Lights stepped up to take care of the Christmas decorations, she added.

“It’s the re-birth of Belle Vue and the lighting up of the old girl,” remarked Lajoie.

For more on the River Lights Winter Festival, call 519-736-4642 or visit www.riverlights.ca. For more on the Belle Vue Conservancy, visit www.bellevueconservancy.com.

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 officially opened after one-day rain delay

 

 

 

By Jolene Perron

 

What started out as a way to attract visitors to the downtown core during the slowest time of the year, has grown into an all encompassing festival with layers of economic involvement and holiday spirit.

“River Lights is so important for many reasons,” explained River Lights coordinator Sarah Van Grinsven. “One, community spirit.  River Lights brings people out of hibernation and enjoying the holiday season with their fellow citizens. Two, community partnership. So many groups work together to make River Lights work, from museums, galleries to other not-for-profits. And of course the sponsors who show they care through in kind and cash sponsorships. Three, economic development. The more action in the streets, the more in our downtown businesses.”

Ajay McGowan (right), Ryleigh Labutte (centre) and Colton Labutte (left) get an up-close look at the lights during the opening ceremony for the River Lights Winter Festival last Sunday night.

The opening weekend of the festival included the Super Santa Run, which was held Nov. 18 as planned despite the rain. The outdoor holiday movie and municipal tree lighting were rescheduled to Nov. 19, which turned out to be a much drier evening. Van Grinsven called the festival a “magical event” because of how it spreads joy to all those who visit and how it brings the community together. Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo echoed those thoughts and feelings.

Town crier Frank Gorham welcomes the crowd to the River Lights opening ceremony.

“People love the event,” said DiCarlo. “It’s family friendly and seems to have become Amherstburg’s official launch of the holiday season. I’ve also heard from visitors who come from outside the region for the event. Every year we add more to see and do, and clearly this is translating to the people who look forward to the event. Personally, my family has been attending since the first year, and we still look forward to it, especially when it’s not as cold.”

The municipal tree is lit at the Richmond Street entrance of the King’s Navy Yard park for the first time Nov. 19 during the opening ceremony of the River Lights Winter Festival.

The festival also includes the lights and displays around the Town of Amherstburg, as well as the gingerbread warming house, which will also be open in Toddy Jones Park every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5:30-8:30 p.m. until Christmas.

Free carriage rides will be available Dec. 2, 9 and 15, and the Holiday House Tours will also take place next week, Nov. 25 and 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.riverlights.ca.