Sarah Van Grinsven

Town hosts second BIA information meeting



By Ron Giofu


About 25 people attended a second information session about a proposed BIA in Amherstburg, though the organizers of the meeting state they are not the ones pressing for a BIA.

The meeting was held last Wednesday night in the upstairs community room at the Libro Centre with presentations being made by representatives of the Kingsville BIA and Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI). Local lawyer Anthony Leardi and local car dealer Ken Thrasher both questioned who is seeking a BIA in Amherstburg.
“I’d really like to know who is driving this,” said Thrasher.

The tourism department organized the meeting but manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota replied that there was no driving force behind the meeting. Rota said there were inquiries regarding a BIA from some businesses and the town was asked to present information sessions.

“It would not be run by the Town of Amherstburg,” special events support co-ordinator Sarah Van Grinsven added of a potential BIA.

Representatives from the Kingsville BIA presented to business owners in Amherstburg last Wednesday evening at the Libro Centre.

Christina Bedal and Beth Riddifrod represented the Kingsville BIA and outlined their work, including management of BIA district beautification projects, promotional opportunities, education, maintenance support, networking and town representation.

“Our board of managers are volunteers,” said Bedal. “They are a committee of council.”

The levy is determined by the board and becomes the operating budget for the BIA, with Riddfrod noting that are a minimum and a maximum amount that a business within the district could be charged. Bedal and Riddifrod noted the levy is reviewed annually so that increases aren’t large and shocking to the members. Each BIA would work to determined how a levy would be calculated.

In Kingsville, the BIA has two members of its council on the board and those members are assigned by Kingsville council. The Kingsville BIA allows up to ten additional board members though each BIA has control over the size of their own boards.

One full-time BIA co-ordinator is employed in Kingsville and performs administrative work, research and implementation of programs, educates members, raises concerns to the board, promotes the town through programs and social media, networks with members of the town and whatever else is required of her by the board.

Lynnette Bain, vice president of tourism programs and development with TWEPI, said they work with BIAs and do so to “understand strategic priorities” and “find commonality.”

“The more we know about you, the better we can market the region,” said Bain.

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.


“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

The River Lights Winter Festival got underway Nov. 17.

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

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, follow them on Twitter at or like them on Facebook at

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

Town honours volunteers with special luncheon



By Ron Giofu


The Town of Amherstburg and its tourism department took time out to pay tribute to community members that give back.

A special volunteer luncheon was held at the Libro Centre last Thursday where approximately 70 volunteers were recognized. Tourism co-ordinator Sarah Van Grinsven said it was a town event but the tourism department has the data on the volunteers that help at town events.

Van Grinsven added that community groups were also consulted in order to get their volunteers as well. Sports teams and groups were also part of the event with volunteers receiving recognition.

“We really wanted to recognize volunteers that make a difference in our community,” she said.

Van Grinsven said the hope is to make it an annual event. They know there are a lot more volunteers out there but there is only so much room to hold them at any one time.

Roughly 70
volunteers from around the Amherstburg community were honoured last Thursday
afternoon at the Libro Centre.
A special volunteer luncheon was presented by the Town of Amherstburg and the town’s tourism

“Hopefully we can recognize more next year,” said Van Grinsven. “There are thousands of people who volunteer  in the community and help out. Our goal is to recognize volunteers every single year and let them know they are appreciated.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, who presented certificates from the town. “It came from the tourism department. They are the department that is the most affected by the number of volunteers in town.”

DiCarlo said special events and groups couldn’t be presented or do what they do without the assistance of volunteers.

“I think it’s a great initiative on their part to finally recognize the volunteers in a formal way,” DiCarlo added. “We could not do what we do without the number of volunteers that we have.”

Van Grinsven added that that” we are always encouraging people to get involved and volunteer.” If they would like to fill out an application to volunteer they can go to