In 1987, Bill Fitzpatrick and a couple of Ladysmith merchants agreed that the town needed some more festive street decorations to enhance Ladysmith’s heritage/revitalization project.
Times were tough in the late eighties. A number of businesses were closing and the idea of a Christmas Festival was seen by many as off the wall. But there was the commercial aspect; to encourage people to shop at home, and bring outsiders to Ladysmith. The last Thursday of the month was chosen so that payday would be the day after Light Up, and people would return with their money.
The first light up in 1987 was held under rainy skies; 500 people came out. In the second year, Bill hit up everyone for funds from a dollar and up.
Chuck Perrin came on board with the biggest donation as did some societies. The Old Age Pensioners were instrumental – members would throw “Screwing Parties” – where they replaced light bulbs!
In 1988, the Festival of Lights Society was founded, board members were President Bill Fitzpatrick, members David Walker, Joanne Dashwood, Joan Adair, Lorna Spanakis, Myfanwy Plecas, Nancy Lorentz, Lynne Declark, as well as Linda and Bob Beattie, Debbie Ostle, Jan O’Neill. Lynn De Lucia was a huge help, recalls Fitzpatrick.
While looking for fundraising opportunities, Myfanwy Plecas cooked up the idea for a Spaghetti Dinner. She asked for donations of excess garden tomatoes and got them handed to her in bushels. Soon she with a group of friends were making sauce.
“We ran out of room and stored pails in the freezer at the 49th Parallel Grocery store.” she recalls.
She also inspired the idea of a Light Up parade.
“We were trying to come up with ideas to add to Festival of Lights and I said why not a parade?”
A night parade would need lights.
“I begged and borrowed generators and put the word out we wanted entries for the parade.”
Soon after the Ladysmith Kinsmen took over and FOL added a Santa House.
“It still has the same curtains made by Tracy Paterson,” says Plecas.
Fitzpatrick had the idea to add fireworks in 1989. He ordered $1,500 worth of fireworks but they didn’t have the money when they arrived. Chuck Perrin dug deep.
The fireworks were set off from the rooftop of the Islander Hotel and Plecas remembers picking up the burned out casings around town. Our fireworks have been produced by volunteers Ron Burrows, Fraser Carmichael, and others through the years.
A fact not many people may know is that Ladysmith Light Up honours the memory of Juan Maria De Los Delores De Leon, Lady Smith.
By its third year, the FOL had become a community institution. The Town of Ladysmith joined in, as did the Richmond family of the 49th Parallel Grocery, the Ladysmith and District Credit Union, B.C. Hydro, Bruce Mason, Duck and Tracy Paterson, the members of the Old Age Pensioners Organization, Crane Force, Coastal Trucking, Island Hoppers, and many others. Service clubs became involved. And it just took off from there.
“I could see that it was going to be a success,” says Fitzpatrick. “It was time to pass it on and let other people be involved.”
Over 1,000 volunteer hours are put into setting up the festive decorations and 200,000 sparkling lights. The Town of Ladysmith has been a huge supporter of the Festival of lights since the beginning, helping make Ladysmith the Light Up Capital of Vancouver Island.
Service clubs like the Rotary Club and Eagles, along with many other organizations and downtown merchants have been major supporters of the F.O.L. for years. The Ladysmith Kinsmen Club even constructed a building to house the array of decorations for safe keeping each year.
The Festival of Lights also acknowledges their biggest “sponsors”, the residents of Ladysmith, whose ever-increasing core of volunteers enhances the essence of our community and makes Light Up what it is today:
A celebration of the spirit of the town and the coming of happy holidays and Christmas.