This year, 2017, was the 30th anniversary of the famous Ladysmith Festival of Lights. Again, a very small community event that started as an opportunity to bring locals downtown to see the stores they have in their community, before they went to the “big city” to go shopping… and the first Light Up in 1987 managed to bring 500 people down to see a few decorations and three cross street stringers.
In 1992, the Ladysmith Kinsmen were asked to sponsor a parade for Light Up. The event had started to grow and the organizers thought a parade would probably be the piece that would make Light Up famous and the five to seven thousand people it attracted annually would be as large as it would get so let’s try and add highlights to it.
What started as a couple of school quartets and a local food store “float”, in 1992, has turned into the largest Christmas parade in B.C. This past November 30th saw OVER 100 entries into the parade! The entries ranged from 4×4 trucks with lights to dancers, to Hydro trucks totally covered with lights to the Vancouver Island University having over 200 students dancing and singing to an actual running cement truck covered in over 75,000 coloured lights to almost everything in between!
According to parade chairs, Kinsmen Mike Sumpter and Duck Paterson, it takes us about 10 hours to organize on paper, get all the entries mailed and then as they come in start selecting where we would position them. Sumpter said “Ladysmith wasn’t built for parades, especially something like this one. Built on a very hilly part of the Island we don’t have a lot of room to line up the floats and stuff!” He went on to say “with Light Up always being on the last Thursday of November it’s kinda hard to get members here on time to help organize. Lots of guys work till 4 or 5 and getting back into town is really really tough.”
Paterson, who has also been a member of the Light Up committee for 28 years, says “the highway leading into town, both north and south, comes to a snail’s pace around 4 in the afternoon as folks start coming. We even get bus loads from the mainland.”
“The club has to close off 4 side streets in order to get all the entries in some sort of a line up, and then we still get jammed up” stated Sumpter. “It takes our whole club and then even their families and friends to help make sure it goes off without a hitch”, he said.
Paterson said, “Mike’s wife, Marie, is a godsend for us. We look good, but Marie does a lot behind the scenes and really does a huge amount of the paper work”.
When we were first asked to do the parade we figured it was a goofy idea… Who has a parade at the end of November out here??? It rains all winter” Paterson said. “Well in fact, for the 25 years the club has done the parade we’ve only had five nights where it’s rained” he went on to say.
Sumpter said “Probably the biggest event on Light Up Night is when Santa turns on all the lights (over 250,000) in Town but the Kinsmen Parade has become a very HUGE part of the entire family evening that is wrapped up by an amazing fireworks show”.
The Ladysmith Kinsmen have been a very large part of Light Up as it was the Kinsmen that built the building that houses all the lights and decorations. In fact 5 years later they added and additional 36 feet to the building, which is now 48 feet by 90 feet. It was also the Kinsmen that did all the infrastructure work to get lights and an angel into the “Chuck Perrin Memorial Tree” which is a 110 foot tall Douglas Fir that has over 15,000 lights in it!
According to Sumpter “The Ladysmith Kinsmen like to think that we have been a part of the success of this amazing family event! Ladysmith is famous for it’s Light Up and knowing that we have been there from almost the beginning is a huge feather in the Kin hat.”
Light Up 2017 attracted over 30,000 people to Ladysmith (which has a population of 8,500) and over the eight weeks that the lights are up it’s estimated that a further 125,000 people visit Ladysmith to see the lights.