Category Archives: Spotlight

Spotlight on… Bill Fitzpatrick, Master of Festival of Lights

Born: July 23rd, 1938
Passing: June 20th, 2017

By Lynne Delucia

Bill Fitzpatrick

The idea of a Festival of Lights took root after a Chamber of Commerce meeting held at the Omega Restaurant in 1986. A few diehards remained (Bill Fitzpatrick being one of them) and began to discuss, with disgust, the state of Ladysmith’s downtown decorations for the Christmas season. Those old ratty candy canes just had to go.

Bill quite naturally fell into the leadership role to get the lights twinkling. He had contacts with a number of talented, professional people and his friend Gary Turner stepped into the picture with suggestions on how to illuminate the downtown core with the best visual effect, but at the least cost. Aside from ordering new wreaths for our heritage lamp standards, Bill rallied, cajoled, smiled and used every whim imaginable to encourage the downtown business/building owners to participate.  He wanted each building to use one colour of light ( i.e: building 1: red lights, building 2: green lights, etc.), interspersed with clear twinkle lights.

The theme worked – twinkle lights made our community decorations unique and more importantly ALIVE.

And so it began…

Kick off, year one, 1987, of Festival of Lights was a success, despite a wet blustery night.

Bill  gathered and directed  a crew of volunteers to provide a fun, inexpensive family event on the last Thursday night of November. Free hot chocolate and popcorn, Christmas carols, and the first countdown to turn on the lights, were enjoyed by a few hundred people. Sweet talker Bill even invited a RCMP member, in red serge no less, to assist in the formalities.

Bill had a vision to light up Ladysmith for Christmas. It was a dream but I don’t think any of us, including Bill, who started on this adventure, anticipated the phenomenal growth and attendance by thousands and thousands of visitors. It has been exciting and fun. But it also means year round hard work to maintain the fund raising, explore new ideas, prepare for installations and of course the take down.

And guess what, I most emphatically believe Bill would agree it was all worth it.

Bill Fitzpatrick

Thank you, Bill!

. . . .

From the Ladysmith Chronicle:

Recovering from a broken hip, Bill Fitzpatrick arrived at the 49th Parallel Grocery store this past November where he’d planned to watch the Light Up parade from owner Wayne Richmond’s second floor office as the two had so often done in the past.

“I’d arranged for a wheelchair and for three of the big guys to pick him up and get him up the stairs (to the office),” said Richmond. “Bill wouldn’t have anything to do with it… he walked up the stairs. There was no way he was going to ride in a wheelchair.”

The colourful glow of lights reflected back in his eyes one last time. Fitzpatrick, the visionary of the Festival of Lights, died on June 20 at the age of 79.

His determination, or pitbull personality depending on who you asked, was a hallmark of why he was so well known in the community.

He moved to Ladysmith in the 1970s and was involved with a committee that was struck in an effort to revitalize the downtown core during a period of transition for the town.

“I got some people who believed in my vision and away we went. It was not an easy job to sell,” Fitzpatrick told the Chronicle this past November.

Light Up aimed to persuade local shoppers to open their wallets and support local businesses. It’s since grown to be a major tourist attraction for Ladysmith, each year attracting thousands on the last Thursday in November.

A team of a handful of volunteers helped put on the first Light Up, among them were Lynne De Lucia and Chuck Perrin.

Mason remembers Fitzpatrick saying to him one day during the lead up to the inaugural Festival in 1987: “What are you doing on your day off?… You need to come and help me hang lights. He said ‘I need somebody to climb ladders. I don’t do ladders’.”

By the same token, Fitzpatrick phoned up Duck Paterson and asked him to pay a visit to his big house on Second Avenue to talk Light Up.

“I knock on the door and he’s got his white bathrobe on and he had these these pink slippers that were bigger than a Persian cat….I just looked at these slippers and said ‘fuzzy slippers’,” Paterson said, recalling how Fitzpatrick had a vast antiques collection.

“That’s really how I got involved was because Bill asked me if I could handle the volunteers.”

Fitzpatrick had a vision that involved a colour scheme and often dropped off boxes to businesses downtown to have them help with replacing bulbs. He also organized “screwing parties” where volunteers gathered to swap out bulbs and ‘screw’ in the new ones.

Light Up became something Ladysmith could rally around.

“I was the one that threw the switch and I just listened to the crowd and they were clapping and just really excited,” Fitzpatrick said of the first year.

“That was first moment really where I could see that this is definitely going to work and so it just kept on going.”

He stayed closely involved with Festival for another seven years before finding the climate of Thailand suited him better than the damp Vancouver Island winters.

Fitzpatrick also owned commercial real estate on First Avenue that he rented out and returned to Ladysmith for a couple of months each summer, staying with friend Bruce Mason.

The two met while Mason was working at Home Hardware on High Street in the 1970s. He remembers very clearly meeting Fitzpatrick for the first time.

“What he wanted was escargot tongs,” Mason said. “I told him I really think nobody is going to carry them around here because we’re really not that posh, and he said ‘well I am’.”

In those early days Fitzpatrick worked in a construction camp when the Revelstoke Dam was being built between 1978-1983 and would only really be in Ladysmith on weekends.

Fitzpatrick lived until his mid-teens in a northern Ontario town called Blind River, where he said ‘all everyone ever does is chop wood and trap beavers.’

A city boy, he left in his mid-teens and would eventually end up in Vancouver before moving to Ladysmith.

“Bill just found he got accepted for who he was, not what he was, and so he became part social fabric of the town,” Mason said.

Shortly after he retired in the 1980s was when Fitzpatrick became more interested in getting Ladysmith to ‘think big’ and served as president with the Chamber of Commerce.

“He was a big promoter of Ladysmith and was always looking for that angle,” said Mason, remembering that Fitzpatrick once suggested to city council when the trees were being planted along the Trans-Canada Highway that they should put in palm trees.

“The town didn’t see it that way and he always kind of grumbled about that and that at least every second tree should have been a palm tree.”

Following his return from Thailand after several years of living on and off abroad he became involved in the Ladysmith Little Theatre, serving on the board.

“He always had really good smarts about the right way to approach difficult situations,” Mason said. “He was always very proud of the theatre and I think in his mind it was equal to the Light Up as a success.”

The two were great friends so much so that Fitzpatrick once pulled up in his white Cadillac one day while Mason was visiting his mother. He told him they needed to skip town because he was so flustered to the point of having heart palpitations.

“I asked if I should pack an overnight bag and good thing I said that because we ended up in Ontario,” Mason said. “He was like that, bigger than life.”

In his later years Fitzpatrick moved to Duncan and still found ways to give back to the community, and in particular the Cowichan Tribes.

“He was kind of considered an elder of sorts by the Cowichan Tribes because he had been really kind to them,” said Mason.

Fitzpatrick once visited a First Nations man for months while he was in hospital to read him the newspaper because nobody ever came to see him.

Fitzpatrick’s own health had started to deteriorate after suffering a fall last September and he developed a bad flu while being treated in hospital.

He was then diagnosed in January with pancreatic cancer.

“True to Bill’s philosophy in life he said to me ‘well, I don’t know any other way to live but when things get tough you just put your head down and move forward’,” Mason said.

Fitzpatrick told the Chronicle last year that he’s elated that Festival continues to be a growing success and gave credit to the volunteers.

“Ladysmith is a wonderful town for support,” he said. “We’re a small town but that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t think big.”

Paterson said he hopes his friend knew how ‘big’ of an impact he had in the community.

“I just hope that he knew what he’d done because it made a mark,” Paterson said. “He saw Ladysmith as a place that people want to come to. There’s something special about the community and he saw it right.”

Source: Ladysmith Chronicle

Spotlight on… The 2016 Exec

The Ladysmith Festival of Lights held their Annual General Meeting on Thursday, March 17th and elected the new Executive.

2016 Exec

The 2016/2017 Ladysmith Festival of Lights executive board (from left to right) Duck Paterson; Director, Tammy Leslie; Treasurer, John Lees; Director, Linda Edwards; Director, Jean Watt; Director, Ed Veys; Director, Gail Schuler; Secretary, Jim Hall; director, Cliff Fisher; Past President and Robin Francis; Vice President. Missing from the picture is Jonathan Zeiler, President.

As well, at the meeting, the membership were totally behind the Adopt-A-Tree project.  This past year the program was a huge success and enabled the community event to move faster into having an “all LED” light up. Initiated by the Nanaimo Airport getting on board and sponsoring the total “re-build” of the Chuck Perrin Memorial Tree in Aggie Field, the Adopt-A-Tree initiative carried way beyond the societies plans.  The airport sponsored over 4,000 new-generation LED bulbs in the tree as well as the new topper.  The members of the FOL carried that initiative to the public and it we a huge success. Almost 45 of the trees in downtown Ladysmith were adopted, for the Light Up period, and Festival had the opportunity to also light up those trees with the new-generation LED bulbs.  Those bulbs have 5 LED diodes and are much brighter and on top of that they are solid so virtually indestructible.  That in itself is a great savings for Light Up.

One of the goals for 2016 is to have all the rest of the trees downtown done up in the same bulbs and it is hoped that businesses as well as individuals, who missed out last Light Up, take advantage of the Adopt-A-Tree program this year. People who adopt get to have their name on their tree, during Light Up, for five years.

30 in 2017

The FOL society is also gearing up with plans for their 30th Anniversary in 2017. Ideas of new decorations, etc. are being discussed but it is hoped that the community will help come up with ideas on what can be done to make the 30th Light Up one that folks will remember for years!

Festival members have already installed “Easter” lights in trees in the downtown core and will soon be out putting lights in select trees along First Ave. for the “out of season” light up. The members believe that having lights up during the year not only gives downtown a bright, inviting atmosphere in the evenings when folks are out walking around as well it also reminds residents and visitors alike that Ladysmith IS the Light Up Capital of Canada.

Anybody that is interested in coming out and helping the Festival can attend the meetings which are held on the third Thursday of every month in the FOL building on Fourth Ave. right beside the cemetery.

Spotlight on… The Chuck Perrin Tree

In the fall of 2015, members of the Festival of Lights were trying to figure out how they would again tackle the issue of replacing all the lights in the Chuck Perrin Memorial Tree (the large fir tree at the Aggie Hall), which had 3,000 bulbs in it.  The FOL committee had worked on a three-year plan to re-string and re-bulb the tree.

Chuck Perrin tree
Chuck Perrin tree

RKM CranesFestival has been fortunate that the folks at RKM Crane have always been there, when needed to help, in re-bulbing as well as putting up and taking down the tree-top every year but the tree is always growing and needed refreshing.

Nanaimo Airport Steps In

Nanaimo Airport

We were very fortunate when the folks from the Nanaimo Airport came along and asked Festival if they could become a partner and what could they do that could make a difference. The first thing that came to mind was, “Re-doing the Chuck Perrin Memorial Tree in LED lights”!

After a couple of meetings and an official proposal the Nanaimo Airport Commission came back and said they would be thrilled to take on that project and anything Festival needed to make it happen… just let them know!  That very generous overture has turned into a five-year agreement between the FOL and Nanaimo Airport and has enabled us to put in over 4,000 of the new generation five-diode LED lights as well as all new strings and even a new tree topper.

As well as the new lights, which FOL members will not have to worry about for at least five years the tree has a whole new look. Many folks had said the tree was looking “sad” at Light Up so with the new lights and the “new design” this year the turn on  of the Chuck Perrin Tree was amazing … and this had become possible because of the huge support from the Nanaimo Airport.

BC HydroHaving all this happen… though… still takes volunteers and when we took all the old lights down and put up the new ones… we not only had the donation and support from RKM Cranes, in Chemainus, but AGAIN … the employees from BC Hydro stepped forward and really helped.  For two days we had six or more volunteers from Hydro come down and help out.  Hydro donates the use of the bucket trucks and supplies fuel and their lines people come out and really do a great job for us.

This really shows what Light Up is all about… with folks like the Nanaimo Airport stepping forward to help Festival make it grow to companies that volunteer their equipment, like RKM and BC Hydro, to the many volunteers that come and help even in terrible weather.

Ladysmith is very fortunate to have people like all of them.

Spotlight on… RKM Cranes

RKM CranesIn this picture , Bill Cottrell from RKM Cranes, readies the man basket so that the members of FOL can start the taking down of all the lights and angel from the Chuck Perrin Memorial Tree at the Aggie Hall.

RKM Cranes has stepped forward for years when it’s time to put the angel up and take her down.  They have donated the crane and driver and time for however long it takes.

In April, members of the Festival of Lights as well as members of the Rotary Club and RKM proceeded to take down EVERYTHING in the tree. Over the years the tree has grown beyond the “lighting infrastructure” and the Rotary Club has volunteered to rebuild it so that all the lights will no longer be buried in the tree.  The whole project took the better part of the day and now it’s time to start rebuilding.

Festival normally re-bulbs the tree every three years, as it’s a fairly labour-intensive project, but this year with the help of the Rotary it’s been decided to redo everything and the goal is to replace all the lights with LED bulbs.

Spotlight on… Dianne Edwards

There are many volunteers who make the Festival of Lights happen. We focus on Dianne Edwards who has helped greatly and is a valued member of the team.

Cliff, Dianne, Bill
Cliff Fisher, Dianne, Bill Drysdale (photo: Marina Sacht/TAKE 5)

1. How long have you been associated with Festival of Lights?

I joined Ladysmith Festival of Lights as Secretary in 2002 and became the Coordinator in September 2006. November 2006 was my first Light-Up as the events Coordinator.

2. What is your role?

Coordinator.

3. What is your favourite part of the Festival?

It is very gratifying when everything comes together and Santa flips the switch to light up the town. The excitement of families and friends cheering Santa, having fun, enjoying a grand parade, and completing their evening with fantastic fireworks.

It is a good feeling to know that I have contributed to the success of the day.

4. Which decoration is your favourite?

Do not really have one favourite, every decoration is unique in it’s own way. Each year I spend several evenings driving around, stopping and adding to my photo collection, and just generally enjoying the festive scenery.

5. Favourite bulb colour?

My favourite bulb is the twinkle light – little diamonds twinkling into the night inviting folks to visit our town.

6. What main challenges face Festival this year and beyond?

Involve more volunteers. We will continue to require more volunteer assistance as we welcome residence and visitors to participate in Light-Up festivities.

A safe and happy environment allows us to continue having successful and memorable celebrations.

Thank you, Dianne.