There are so many events that make Ladysmith a special and memorable place to live and visit. From the fun and excitement of Ladysmith Days, to the parade of gleaming classic cars at the Show and Shine, to our jam-packed Arts on the Avenue Weekend, Ladysmith has earned a reputation for rolling out high quality, family friendly events. Of course, our most prominent event is the Ladysmith Light Up, the kick-off to the six-week long Festival of Lights. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Light Up, which, over the past three decades, has transformed from a tiny community festival attended by approximately 500 people, to the festive season hot spot on Vancouver Island with over 20,000 visitors expected on November 30.
The Festival of Lights has a rich history and would have not been made possible without the vision and commitment of countless volunteers and in particular, one special Ladysmith resident: Bill Fitzpatrick. In the late '80s, Bill and some of his fellow Chamber of Commerce members were discussing their displeasure with downtown Ladysmith Christmas decorations and brainstorming ways to spruce up the downtown and attract visitors to local shops. The group decided to put some twinkle into Ladysmith by lighting up the stores downtown. Bill assumed the leadership role, rallying his many contacts and encouraging downtown business and building owners to participate. I'm sure he never imagined the initial spark aimed at attracting people to downtown Ladysmith would create a glow that would shine for decades, growing bigger and brighter each year.
As former Mayor Rollie Rose recounts, Bill tended to plan for the future. He knew an annual event would be costly and envisioned Town Council adding a line item for the festival to its annual budget. Times were tight and Council was reluctant, but Bill was not only charming, he was persistent. Council shared his vision, added the money to the budget and an annual community event was born. Former Mayor Rose says from then on, the Fitzpatrick name became synonymous with the Ladysmith Festival of Lights. I know when the lights are ignited at the end of this month, many attendees, including me, will be thinking about the late Bill Fitzpatrick.
I've been attending Light Up for most of my life – like many kids growing up in Ladysmith, it was a bright light in my childhood. Now that I can take my own family to the event, it has become even more meaningful. As a public servant and someone who has long been devoted to bettering my community, I can look at each decoration, at each string of lights, at each barrier installed to ensure people are safe, and realize that none of it would have been possible without the countless hours and selfless commitment of a huge team of volunteers. The time and effort it takes to plan, put up and take down an event of this magnitude is staggering and we are so fortunate to have so many amazing people in our midst.
When we gather November 30 to enjoy the parade, the spaghetti dinner, the craft fair, Santa’s visit, the fireworks and the thousands on thousands of twinkling lights, let's take a moment to give thanks that we live in such a safe and friendly town that really embodies the spirit of community. I also challenge you to build on the success of the Festival and think of other reasons for people to visit Ladysmith throughout the year. With our many established shops, restaurants and services, and proposed new amenities such as the boutique hotel and pub envisioned in the new draft Waterfront Area Plan concept, we can continue to build on the economic development spark that is lit during the Festival of Lights by offering unique and compelling reasons for people to visit, shop, do business, invest and play here. I know if Bill Fitzpatrick was still with us, he would agree that there is something very special about Ladysmith and its residents and we deserve to shine at the end of the month and all year long.
With my most heartfelt gratitude,
Aaron Stone, Ladysmith Mayor