38th Annual Ontario Power
Generation Winter Festival of Lights
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography Courtesy Niagara Falls Tourism
There is no place quite like it on earth. Niagara Falls. Mark Twain set the Garden of Eden there in his story “Extracts from Adam’s Diary”, published in 1893 to commemorate the 1893 Buffalo Pan-American Exhibition.
A stunt man has walked across it on a high wire. Madmen have gone over it in barrels. And the genius, Nicola Tesla, used it as the test ground for his ideas about the polyphase system for electric power generation in 1896 (even though Tesla’s work occurred on the “American side” of the Falls, there are multiple monuments commemorating his life and work on the “Canadian side”). The region has a history of combining electrical power and spectacle.
The two come together, once again, beginning on November 14, when one of the most spectacular attractions in the country opens to the public: the 38th annual Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights. In a year where so many public events have been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, the OPG Winter Festival of Lights will not be denied.
This is Canada’s largest free outdoor light festival, filled with stunning displays, illuminated by 3 million lights along the Niagara Parkway, Dufferin Islands and across Niagara Falls.
The Festival runs nightly, 5 pm to midnight, until January 10, 2021.
The events were kicked off with The Niagara Falls Santa Claus Parade Drive-Thru on November 14. It’s a unique idea, referred to as a “reverse parade”, where performers and displays remain in one location and spectators drive past in their vehicles on Queen Street in downtown Niagara Falls. The parade featured dancers, jugglers, stilt walkers, superheroes, colourful inflatables, community groups, music and, of course, good old Santa Claus as the Grand Finale.
In previous years, there has been an opening ceremony, but due to the ongoing global pandemic, that aspect of the festival was cancelled this year.
The first Festival of Lights was organized in 1982. It is now produced by Niagara Falls Tourism, in partnership with Niagara Parks Commission and business improvement areas within the tourism districts of Niagara Falls.
“As a founding partner in the Winter Festival of Lights, I am excited to once again welcome families for a special holiday tradition in Niagara Falls and in Niagara Parks,” parks commission chairwoman, Sandie Bellows, says in a Niagara Falls Review article.
“I am so pleased that there are many safe ways to explore the festival this year and we look forward to creating special memories for everyone this season.”
In past years, the festival has drawn crowds of over a million people, but it is likely that those numbers will drop this year because there are few, if any, international visitors. Ontario residents, however, can enjoy the lights either from their car, or the more hale and hearty can bundle up and stroll the wide-open park spaces—all the while maintaining safe social distance from other visitors.
Human beings have such a primal response to light in the night. Anyone who has spent a night in Algonquin Park, or other such place, or even ventured down into a windowless cellar to grudgingly fetch a canned preserve, knows the human response to a dot of light in the darkness. Briticannica.com offers the sterile observation: “Light transmits spatial and temporal information.” Electric light is the center of civilization. The discovery of fire turned it all around for the first human beings. Cooking food and deriving warmth were world-shaking developments, but it was the staving off of the devouring dark that probably had the greatest psychological impact. But it’s more than that.
To stroll through the frigid dark and then encounter a 12-foot tall lighted moose is exhilarating. There is an innate thrill in defying two immutable aspects of nature: cold and darkness.
The “Displays” page of the wfol.com website shows no less than 50 gorgeous light displays. These range from the Zimmerman Fountain in Queen Victoria Park, Inukshuks on Dufferin Islands, the Floral Showhouse at the Floral Showhouse-Niagara Parkway, trees wrapped in lights along Niagara Parkway and Dufferin Islands, a family of moose at Queen Victoria Park-Niagara Parkway and, of course, the illuminated Falls, themselves.
There is also the light show on the Toronto Power Generation Station. According to the wfol.com website, the Toronto Power Generating Station was completed in 1906 and was a central component of Ontario’s energy production through the first half of the 20th century. The plant closed in 1974. In 1983, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. In 2007, ownership of the plant was transferred to the Niagara Parks Commission. Beginning in 2015, 72 programmable DMX lights were installed on the historic building for the OPG Winter Festival of Lights, creating a spectacular sound and light show which occurs during the Festival Season.
Quoted in a Niagara Falls Review article, Janice Thomson, president of Niagara Falls Tourism, says “Niagara Falls has earned an outstanding reputation as a reliable destination to create long-lasting memories and the Winter Festival of Lights is one of the signature events the city is known for.”
With the province of Ontario fully into its Stage 3 opening, visitors to the Niagara Falls area are permitted to stay in hotels. What can they expect? Are the hotels taking extra measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19? Have they instituted any new safety policies?
The most accurate answers to those questions can only be obtained on a case by case basis. Visitors considering traveling to Niagara Falls to see the Festival of Lights, or for any other reason, should be vigilant and proactive, asking their questions before making the reservation.
In general, hotels—like every other business—have implemented measures to protect their guests’ health.
Marriott, for instance, has a slickly produced video on its corporate website that assures guests that it provides all visitors with a safe environment “that aligns with expert protocols for working to defeat COVID-19”. The venerable hotel chain claims to have substantially revamped its cleaning and safety standards. From its public space and high traffic areas, surfaces are being cleaned more frequently, using “recommended cleaning agents”. Hand sanitizing stations have been or are currently being installed at hotel entrances, front desks, elevator banks, and meeting spaces. Visitors can expect to find plastic partitions at the front desk, as are found in most businesses that transact face-to-face with the public. They have added rigorous protocols to the cleaning of guest rooms, that all surfaces are cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectants. The video even claims that they are leaving packets of disinfecting wipes in the room for guests to use at their own discretion.
Is this happening at all hotels? Visitors will have to investigate that for themselves.
To see an overview of the OPG’s Winter Festival of Lights attractions, visit wfol.com/lighting-displays/.
For general information about the Festival, visit wfol.com. To learn more about health and safety guidelines within the Niagara Falls region, visit safetoplay.ca.