ESTEVAN - There was hardly a time when there wasn't anyone checking out a wide variety of light displays at the Festival of Lights at Woodlawn Regional Park this holiday season.
The fifth edition of the popular Christmas event saw thousands of visitors. Another successful year wrapped up on Jan. 8 after the Orthodox/Ukrainian Christmas.
Woodlawn business manager Maureen Daoust said the community activity went really well.
"We're very pleased with the participation from the community. We had 10 additional participants, we had 41 last year, and we were up to 51 this year. We were pretty excited to have more people interested. The interest comes from all areas, it comes from non-profit organizations, places of worship, businesses. We had a couple of family groups enter again," Daoust said.
The core of the festival was local businesses, joined by service groups and non-profits. But the festival saw some private entries as well. Everyone participating had their displays set up prior to Dec. 17, and at 6 p.m. on that day, all lights went on, making Woodlawn so festive as it's never been before.
Several new participants joined the event for the first time, and many others put a lot of work and imagination into changing or upgrading their set-ups from previous years.
"Often, we see the biggest transition or, for lack of a better word, that kind of ramping up your game or improving, from people that come the first year, and then when they enter the second year. They get a good feel for what it's worth, or for what it's like and they see what some of the other participants have done. And they get a feel for the size of the space that they have. And often it seems like once they come in they're excited, and then they have more people from their organization or business that also want to join," Daoust explained.
She added that some participants even had a friendly competition within their organizations. For example, the Estevan campus of Southeast College competed with their Weyburn colleagues. Some groups started working on their displays in summer, to ensure they get where they want to be by the Christmas holidays, and it all paid out. Daoust heard nothing but positive feedback.
"People are giving us positive comments that we've outdone ourselves, and they're so happy that Woodlawn offers that and it was just beautiful, or we had family here, so we took them down, or our kids are requesting to go back for the 10th time. It's definitely heartwarming to receive that feedback," Daoust shared.
While there was no tracker for how many vehicles went through the festival this year, the event was well-attended and attracted many people from Estevan and other communities.
"There's never a time that you drive down there, when the lights are on, that there isn't a vehicle or somebody on foot. It's a very busy place for the few weeks that we offer it. So we know that the numbers are pretty high as far as the people viewing," Daoust said.
And while for residents it gave something to do over the cold holiday season at no charge and in most cases from the comfort of their own vehicles, for participants it was a great and inexpensive way to get exposure and promote what they do, while also making holidays brighter.
"We just thought that this is something that we can offer at no charge to our community and surrounding area and just spread that joy and the good feelings of the season," Daoust said.
If people were willing to make a donation towards the park and future events, there was a box at the exit. Daoust said they didn't have a donation box the first few years, but some people wanted to support the initiative, so they installed one.
While the Festival of Lights was a very positive event, which cheered many people, the first few days turned out stressful for one of the first-year participants. The Pro-Life Estevan and Area display was vandalized at the beginning of the festival, and the organization had to call the Estevan RCMP and redo their set-up.
"We encourage anyone that wants to enter. We don't have a set requirement of who can enter. We just hope that our community members can be responsible and mature and respectful in that, knowing that people pay to have their things there. I guess it's the golden rule, where you treat other people the way you want to be treated. So if those were your things, we would hope that you wouldn't want them damaged or destroyed or removed," Daoust commented on the incident.
"The participants that had the damage dealt directly with the RCMP because it was an act of vandalism, which is not legal."
It was the second case of vandalism in the history of the Festival of Lights at Woodlawn. The first time, something was removed from one of the exhibits.
Daoust said they don't have a surveillance system set up, but some participants have cameras installed by their displays, and the park may look into getting something similar for the next year.
"The park itself is a non-profit organization. So it's not like we have a bunch of extra money that we would be putting out for security or whatnot. But some of the sites have cameras set up, so there's talk that we might put a few of those up next year just to maybe deter people that are making poor choices," Daoust said.
She added that the event wouldn't be possible without participants, volunteers and also several businesses that go an extra mile to make it happen.
"I just wanted to do a shout out to our park authority members that volunteered for the event … I want to recognize some of our members that helped out with the event. And just to give kudos to all the participants. Everyone's so happy that Woodlawn does it and it takes some effort to organize and plan. But without having the actual participants, we wouldn't be able to host the events or be the venue. So just a shout out to them," Daoust said.
"And we have a couple of businesses that we recognize that contribute a little more and that's Henders Drugs, Energy Electric Ltd., Southern Plains Co-op and Estevan Chamber of Commerce. They all work in partnership to help get some of the things up and running to make the events successful."
While the festival just wrapped up, if someone knows they want to join it as participants this year or need more information, they can get a hold of Daoust already at firstname.lastname@example.org.