If ever Ladysmith’s Festival of Lights had an award for unsung hero, Gord Cargill would arguably be the strongest candidate.
Yet 20 years ago upon arriving in Ladysmith from Calgary, he had no idea he’d inevitably become a vital part of the town’s iconic event.
For umpteen years Cargill, now 72, has been making up directional signs used for drivers on Light Up night, in order to navigate them safely around town.
But it didn’t all start that way.
“Back around 1999, there was a room upstairs from where the library now is and a little something was happening,” told Cargill. “I walked in and introduced myself and Duck Paterson (now part of Ladysmith’s council) asked me to come to this meeting.”
To that meeting he went and, as a result, was placed in charge of rooftop operations for the festival by a man named Brad McCluskey.
Cargill admits he was surprised by the approach but decided to take up the offer alongside his friend Dave Reynolds.
“We were placed in charge of the rooftop operations. Basically we used to start in the middle of September and go around decorating the rooftops of service stations, traffic circles, 49th Parallel Grocery store, credit unions — one of the service stations we used to decorate was actually where Tim Hortons now is.”
However, despite the effort, the new lighting arrangement in town wasn’t welcomed by everyone initially.
“[At the start] we did get some trouble as people were like why are you putting all these lights up, Santa’s not here for another three months.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Cargill either.
“Every Saturday morning, Dave and I used to go around the rooftops month after month decorating. We had all sorts of decorations and lights and every Friday before the event we would test out the whole town [and turn on the lights].”
“We needed to do this so we knew that when Santa Claus turned up all the lights would go on. I remember the first year though, half the lights didn’t come on as we had a problem with the wiring.”
Nowadays, Cargill still has an instrumental role with the directional signs and even makes up some of his own with a bit of design work and paint.
“We use directional signs to help people get around Ladysmith on the night of the light up,” he said. “I really don’t know how I got into it, it just became part of my job. My son’s got involved recently too as he works for a sign company up in Parksville.”
Cargill explained that signs are placed “from the liquor store all the way up 1st Avenue” and signs are also displayed around many other traffic areas as well as the cemetery and some local churches that are used for parking on Light Up night.
The corner of Kitchener Street will also contain one of Cargill’s iconic signs to present an area for handicap parking.
“People often ask me when is it exactly that I put the signs up as I’m never seen by anybody. My wife and I start putting the signs up at 7 o clock in the morning the day of the light up.”
Light Up night this year is November 28.