Story by Karen Paton-Evans
Photography by Charlie O'Brien
Bright Lights Windsor will be radiating at full power this holiday season, advancing the City’s original vision for the spectacular festival that transforms Jackson Park into a winter land of enchantment.
While the inaugural Bright Lights Windsor impressed the thousands of people who bundled up to see it in 2017, the features have expanded in nearly every way. The area of the park that will light up the night sky is triple the size of last year. The number of displays has more than quadrupled. Over 200 trees will be illuminated. All of it is linked by two kilometres of trails lined with thousands of lights.
The enhancements have been made possible by the city’s release of the event’s remaining budget. In August 2017, the city approved $3 million for the festival, incorporating it as part of Windsor’s 125th birthday and Canada 150 celebrations. However, late summer flooding highlighted the need to address sewer problems and the decision was made to spread the Bright Lights budget over two years.
Jan Wilson, City of Windsor manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, has been busy the past several months reviewing suggestions submitted by the first guests to make the festival even greater.
With that valuable input, she and her team sourced and arranged new additions for the bigger than ever event. Installation of giant fibre optic snowballs, trees wrapped in colourful lights and other decorations and displays began in early November.
Jan and her team are excited to unveil Bright Lights 2.0 at the opening lighting ceremony, scheduled for 6:30 pm on Fri., Dec. 7.
“Bright Lights will again be a great opportunity for family, friends and visitors to come together and create a new tradition while celebrating under the warm glow of twinkling lights,” Jan says.
Just about everyone can take in the wonderful sights, now that the city has increased accessibility by paving all pathways throughout Jackson Park. Instead of trying to manoeuvre strollers, walkers and wheelchairs on some of the old gravel paths, now guests can roll along smooth pavement to reach displays, up close and personal.
Windsor’s residents and out-of-town guests have an open invitation to visit the free festival as often as they would like. Bright Lights is starring nightly from 5:30 to 10 pm, Dec. 7 to Jan. 6 at Jackson Park, 125 Tecumseh Rd. E. While every night is special during Bright Lights, Friday and Saturday evenings are delivering extra holiday joy.
The City of Windsor will be hosting the WE Made It: Holiday Market, sponsored by Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island and in partnership with Urban Art Market and Rose City Etsy Team. WE Made It: Holiday Market will be open 5:30 to 9 pm, every Friday and Saturday, beginning Dec. 7 through to Dec. 28.
Guests browsing in the market can savour hometown flavours by eating local foods and purchasing gifts and goodies created by makers and artisans from this area. W.E. Care for Kids is selling hot chocolate to raise funds for children’s health and wellness. The market’s variety of edibles and drinkables are a pleasant upgrade to the hospitality services offered by Bright Lights.
Junior revellers can have a blast with the children’s interactive display and share quality time with Santa.
Choirs, wandering minstrels and acoustic performers will entertain everybody.
Photo ops are all around. Two 2017 favourites are returning: the giant twinkling bulb that couples, families and groups can cluster inside; and the holiday elf figures. Whenever a guest finds one of the elves, takes a sELFie and posts it on Bright Lights’ social media, the person becomes eligible to win a weekly prize.
Then there are the illuminated characters from beloved storybooks, cartoons, movies and the North Pole – fun to spot and pose near.
The one feature that cannot be missed is the 64-foot tree, Bright Lights’ centrepiece, rising from the floor of the Queen Elizabeth II Sunken Gardens. It puts on its own, non-stop light show with racing, twinkling lights in ever-changing colours, dancing to music.
Brilliant, mesmerizing and outright fun, the festival proved it was hugely popular when its official Facebook event page reached 154,000 hits and received 5,700 positive RSVPs. There were 47,000 visits to BrightLightsWindsor.ca.
The 2017 Bright Lights Insider series of online videos, hosted by spokesperson Tam Nguyen and showcasing the festival’s many elements and numerous guests, were watched over 60,000 times across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Event organizers cheered when the term “Jackson Park” trended nationally during the event’s early days.
From toddlers who were so thrilled they could hardly express themselves to seniors who had never seen anything quite like this before, festival goers had enthusiastic messages to share.
The large number of selfies and videos that last year’s guests posted on social media did a credible job capturing the features that impressed them most. However, the best way to experience the festival fully is to dress in warm outerwear and participate in person.
To help guests stay warm this year, Bright Lights put a call out to local artists, architects, landscapers and designers, asking them to submit their plans for warming shelters. After selecting four different designs, the city commissioned the creators to install them by late November.
More than shelter from the cold, each of the small buildings incorporates natural resources in its construction. The design also utilizes natural processes to create a heat source and wind barrier for the warming hut.
To further showcase and celebrate homegrown imagination and ingenuity, the city also commissioned three artists and artist-led teams to each create a light-based, sculptural public art piece to be installed as part of the festival.
“This December, I am pleased to see Bright Lights Windsor return to our community for a second year. Last year, an extended run, rave reviews from guests of all ages, incredible social media buzz, and an estimated 60,000 visitors helped make our inaugural event truly unforgettable,” says Mayor Drew Dilkens.
“From the giant illuminated tree in the Queen Elizabeth II Sunken Gardens and the thousands of lights and a host of iconic holiday characters, to the holiday market and festive performances, Jackson Park will come alive this holiday season for what seems to be a new tradition in our community,” Drew says.
He had the honour of lighting the giant tree at the 2017 opening and is looking forward to everything the expanded event will offer this season.
“This festival is about bringing people together to celebrate and make memories. Our event speaks to the unifying theme of light, shared across holiday traditions of countless cultures and faiths around the world,” Drew observes. “From candles to illuminated trees, from family fireplaces to the lights that shine in our neighbourhoods...light symbolizes warmth, peace and togetherness across the planet. In a city renowned for its multiculturalism, the symbol of light is a perfect fit.”
Considering all the selfies, family videos and engagement photos that were taken by guests last year, Bright Lights Windsor is already featuring in great memories. Many more holiday memories are about to be made at the 2018 festival.
To learn about upcoming details about the free festival, parking, Transit Windsor bus access and more, please call 311 or visit brightlightswindsor.ca.