The Ladysmith Festival of Lights gets underway today at 3 p.m. with a Christmas crafts fair and a spaghetti dinner at 3 p.m. Santa hits the switch for the lights at 6:30 p.m.

Ladysmith turns on the lights for thousands with the Festival of Lights

How one bright idea turned into Vancouver Island’s signature Christmas event

  • Nov. 24, 2016 1:00 p.m.

Mike Gregory Ladysmith Chronicle

Bill Fitzpatrick had only just arrived in Ladysmith in the mid 1980s when he struck the idea that the town needed an attraction to promote its small businesses.

“I could see that the businesses weren’t doing as well as they could,” he said. “My catalyst was to provide that power, that draw.”

By any measure, he was successful. An estimated 15,000 people will cram the main street of Ladysmith tonight for the 29th-annual Festival of Lights. It has become the Island’s signature holiday season event — a far cry from what Fitzpatrick, a 78-year-old former real estate investor recalls of its humble beginnings

“I went downtown and it was around Christmas time and I looked at this pitiful display of lights from one building to another and that was it,” said  Fitzpatrick, also a former president of the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce. “I got some people who believed in my vision and away we went. It was not an easy job to sell.”

The first Light Up was held in 1987 and the committee of five organizers knew immediately they had the makings of a successful event.

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

The annual event, arriving on the final Thursday of each November, draws visitors from across the Island to see the town turn on upwards of 200,000 colourful lights, then welcome in the season with a fireworks display and a colourful holiday parade.

In addition to kicking off the holiday season, it has also met Fitzpatrick’s original goal of being an economic driver.

“It’s a very important festival both from a community pride point of view but also as something as we can look to in the region that’s attracting people throughout the holiday period,” said Cowichan Valley Regional District economic development manager Amy Melmock.

Festival of Lights organizers estimate attendance was upwards of 16,000 people in 2015. Building around the energy of this event, the Ladysmith Downtown Business Association follows up eight days later with the more laid-back Old Time Christmas, featuring horse and carriage rides and choirs. And the lights stay on for more than a month, attracting visitors to the sparkle throughout the holiday season.

“Light Up is a springboard into the whole six week period. It generates excitement and people get into the spirit,” said the LDBA’s president Paul Mycroft. “The lights become a real bonus for bringing people in during a quiet period when,  if it wasn’t happening, we’d struggle through the Christmas period.”

Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce president Mark Drysdale agrees that the exposure for Ladysmith as a result of the festival stretches as far as the mainland.

“Even if there’s not a direct economic impact on the night of Light Up, the fact that people become aware of Ladysmith through the event, there’s economic spin off of that down the road.”

Since opening their shop 13 years ago, owners Kamal and Therese Saab of the Worldly Gourmet Kitchen Store on 1st Avenue have been big supporters of the festival.

“Our focus on that day is to project to the people that there is a dedicated gourmet kitchen store in Ladysmith,” Kamal said. Worldly Gourmet has found Google and Facebook analytics improve annually as a result of exposure from Light Up.

“It’s super beneficial to us,” Kamal said, adding that 90 per cent of customers are from out of town.

“We get business for two or three weeks following.”

Fitzpatrick said he’s elated that festival continues to be a growing success  and gives 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.”

For information on the festivities, click here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

When crisis hits: How West Shore RCMP have dealt with the pandemic

More front-line officers on road in mobile offices

Sidney staff recommends additional outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes

Report before council also leaves open possibility of closing a portion of Beacon Avenue

French fries to juicy tomatoes, rock art brings joy to walkers in Victoria

James Bay yard filled with painted rocks delights all ages

‘Depression-era’ unemployment figures could hit Greater Victoria

South Island Prosperity Project launches new dashboard to measure effects of COVID-19

Langford bartender hosts singalong livestream for seniors

Live Senior Singalong takes place daily at 1 p.m. on Facebook

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Snowbirds to remain at Kamloops Airport indefinitely after fatal crash

small contingent of the Snowbirds team is staying in Kamloops, acting as stewards of the jets

Most Read