The Ladysmith Festival of Lights is worth planning ahead for and making the commitment to get to the Island from wherever you are. This is the 30th annual light-up that involves 1,ooo volunteer hours and tons of fun!
For a small town of 8,000 Ladysmith, located on the east coast of Vancouver Island between Nanaimo and Duncan, knows how to do it up right when it comes to kicking off the Christmas season.
The town’s annual Festival of Lights, always held the final Thursday of November (weather permitting, this year November 30), is a great family outing and a huge attraction for those from far and wide. Upwards of 20,000 people attend, coming from all over Vancouver Island as well as from the Lower Mainland/Vancouver area and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.
The afternoon gets under way with a big craft and gift sale at the Aggie Hall, and there is a community spaghetti dinner hosted by one of the local service clubs. As dusk falls the bright Christmas lighting and displays in the store windows come into play. The merchants located all along the town’s main drag (First Avenue) and on several of the small side-streets stay open throughout the evening. By 4 p.m. there is street entertainment on First Avenue, complemented by various concessions hosted by local businesses and service clubs.
While many visitors to the area attend the community spaghetti dinner, we tend to opt for a quick, tasty and very inexpensive meal at Appetit, a tiny hole-in-the-wall in the middle of the business district on First. Quick service and a table shared put us in a happy frame of mind for the rest of the evening. We spend quite a bit of time checking out the many unique shops on First, then head up the hill to the area occupied by the mobile entertainment stage. It is a perfect location – we have a great view of First Avenue all the way down the long, gradual slope, and also are almost directly across the street from the building atop which Santa appears promptly at 6:30 p.m.to ‘plug in the town lights.’ The light-up is spectacular – 200,000 Christmas lights blaze to life to the cheers of the crowd.
The light-up is followed by a really great parade full of brightly decorated floats, clowns and participants from a wide variety of community organizations. It lasts a good solid hour, and is special enough to keep any kid (or adult!) enchanted. The evening wraps up with a huge fireworks display, providing the weather behaves itself and there isn’t too much wind. It can get cold, but the various concessions offering hot chocolate and other goodies help to keep energy levels up. A visit to Ladysmith’s Old Town Bakery for some of their scrumptious baked goods isn’t a bad idea either, we have discovered.
For anyone who is a Chrismaholic, loves parades and/or grand community events, this one is a great bet. The historic town, founded in 1900, has lots of interesting nooks and crannies (be sure to check out the antique store in the old Post Office/Customs building on the highway – even if you aren’t an antique aficionado, the building itself is full of history and an interesting look into the past)
Further information on Ladysmith and the Festival of Lights can be obtained by going to www.ladysmithfol.com/ or visit the visitor information centre at 411B First Avenue, phone 250-245-2112.
The GPS co-ordinates are:
S 124 26.022 W 123 48.982