Bright lights and smiles illuminate Brantford Lights festival

On Friday, Nov. 27, Brantford lit up the town with spirit when Glenhyrst art gallery opened up their annual holiday light show. More than 50 000 lights hung all over the Glenhyrst grounds, which were lit up at 7:15 p.m. Even with rain, a large crowd of families with young children anxiously awaited the unveiling. The town crier read the announcement of the starting of the light show from a scroll, dressed in full traditional crier clothing. After which, Mayor Chris Friel lead a count down to the flipping of the switch, counting from 95 to 99 in honour of Wayne Gretzky.

Mary-Anne and Edward Smith moved to Ontario 45 years ago and volunteered this year to work at the gates while the light show is running. They enjoyed having the night off gate duty for the opening ceremonies. “We have a rule in our house that nothing starts before December the 1st,” said Mary-Anne, “so we’re a couple of days early but I’ll forgive them this year.” The two of them have been coming to the light show for a few years, and believe that it definitely builds a sense of holiday spirit in the town. “Well yeah really,” joked Edward, “If it doesn’t, there must be something wrong with them!”

For the past four years, Glenhyrst has been putting on the light show. It was moved there by the city from Jeff MacDonald’s home on Joysey after he had been personally running it for four years. Since then the light show has boomed in popularity. Thousands upon thousands of locals pour through the gates while the exhibit is running, with more than 15,000 thousand guests having visited the show last. Some families even drive all the way from Detroit and Buffalo after hearing about the display.

“I think it’s become a big Brantford tradition now,” said Glenhyrst gallery director Ana Olson. “We actually have volunteers at the gate every night for 30 nights and we count and talk to everybody that comes through the gates. Over and over you hear people who have said, ‘this is my fourth year, great tradition, I come every year with my family’ and everybody who’s visiting ‘I come every night’ or ‘I come every other night’ or ‘I come once a week.’”

While the display does have events where Santa Claus visits the kids, the display itself is not specifically Christmas themed.

“We don’t want to turn into something that’s symbolic for any one group of people,” said Olson. “We want it to be a place for the entire community and that everybody can feel welcome and everyone can celebrate.”

Matthew Shaw was there with his family to kick off their holiday season. Their family has been coming to the light shows since it started on Joysey Street eight years ago. His favourite part of the display is watching his kid’s excitement. “I used to got to Simcoe as a kid all the time, my parents took me there and I’ve got a lot of good memories from there. I just enjoy watching them run around in awe over all the lights.”

The light show runs in tandem with an art display inside the museum featuring works done by students from Brantford and Brant county. “What we’re looking for,” said Olson, “is that people will come to the park and then come inside.” These students range from junior kindergarten to grade 12. The mediums are all mixed, with no certain type of art being featured. That being said, most of the younger students artwork were simpler class crafts that you would expect of kindergarten or grade one class.

“We’re now in our fourth year and it’s getting bigger and better, more lights, more people,” said Olson. “Some day we hope to be the biggest in the region and hopefully draw lots of people to the park.”

The exhibition runs every night from 6 to 9 p.m. between now and Dec. 27.

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