Crowds lined First Avenue for Light Up’s 25th anniversary Thursday night in spite of the cold and rain.
Old and young alike laughed, cheered and waved as they watched “70-plus” floats roll by, a record number for the Light Up parade, according to town councillor Duck Paterson.
Cliff Fisher, president of the Festival of Lights board of directors, said 15,000 to 16,000 people were lined up along the festival route by the time Santa dropped by to turn on the lights.
The festival draws between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors any given year, but Fisher was surprised by this year’s turnout nonetheless.
“When the heavy wind and rain first hit in the early afternoon,” Fisher said, “I thought we were doomed. But when the rain quit around 3:30 or 4 o’clock, a lot of folks decided they could come down and see the parade and not have to worry about parking. I think that helped swell the crowds. There were lots of young families.”
Fisher described the fireworks and parade as “spectacular,” and he was pleased that fewer children were handing out candy from the floats.
“There was better control of the kids behind the barriers,” Fisher added, “and that was really important.”
Festivalgoers and volunteers were equally enthusiastic.
Josephine Yuen, a student at Queen Margaret’s School (QMS) in Duncan, attended the festival with a group of fellow international students.
“It was amazing,” said Yuen, a native of Hong Kong, “the parade and fireworks both.”
Ting Ting, a fellow QMS student hailing from China, said the crowds were the highlight of the night for her.
Ray Gorley drove in from Parksville for Light Up, and he was definitely impressed with what he saw.
“I’ve seen lots of fireworks on Canada Day every year while growing up in Parksville,” Gorley said. “These were longer and they were louder, and it was so fun being close up. It was fantastic.”
Gorley was just as excited about the parade, adding that he’d “never seen a night-time parade.”
Addie Clark, a supervisor with Saint John Ambulance’s medical first-response unit in the Cowichan Valley, said this was her first Light Up. Clark and her fellow first responders volunteered to provide first aid services for festivalgoers, but she said it was a night with few incidents.
“Everyone’s had a safe time,” Clark said, “and they seem to have enjoyed the fireworks. It was awesome.”
Fisher expressed his gratitude to volunteers and Ladysmith town staff who helped set up and tear down barricades along the parade route and for those responsible for the post-parade cleanup.
“If you noticed,” Fisher said, “first thing this morning driving through town, there wasn’t any garbage. Those boys came out early to clean up the town, and now it looks just like it always does — a beautiful little community.”
Ladysmith will remain lit up until the second week of January, Fisher said, with a work party tentatively scheduled for the second weekend in January for take-down.