Despite the move to a virtual candlelight stroll last Friday, Jan Ellis and her King Street neighbours weren’t about to let the yearly tradition pass without gathering and singing carols.
When Ellis heard of the cancellation of the popular holiday event for the first time in its 31-year history, she quickly purchased 30 candles and got the word out to her friends in the Kingsview Estates neighbourhood. Quickly, all 30 candles were spoken for, and plans were put in place to gather together and hold their own stroll.
Just before 6 p.m. Friday is when the action started. The doorbell rang at her home, as the first of her friends came calling. Jan donned her winter gear and grabbed her candle. As the pair stepped outside, their candles were lit, and their march through the subdivision began.
Like a snowball rolling downhill, the group got larger as they passed the other homes. Porch lights came on, garage doors opened, candles were lit, Christmas greetings were exchanged and the stroll around the island continued.
After two loops around the circle, the group of just over 20 gathered for a photograph under the streetlight. Then, full of Christmas spirit, they headed back off into the winter evening, singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas joyfully.
The Kingsview Estates group was just one of many through the town to take things into their own hands after the stroll was cancelled.
On Wednesday evening last week, Lord Mayor Betty Disero, NOTL Chamber of Commerce president Eduardo Lafforgue and Chamber vice-chair Andrew Niven gathered on the steps of the Court House to record their speeches for the Virtual Candlelight Stroll.
Lafforgue told The Local that when it was announced that there would be a recorded opening ceremony to air on Cogeco YourTV Niagara at 7 p.m. Friday, there was some confusion about the timing of the recording. The music had already been recorded, and the speeches were originally to take place for the cameras Friday.
However, a large number of calls and emails to the Chamber made it clear that many interpreted that to mean the entire program would take place live at that time, drawing crowds to the Court House to watch. This, in spite of the article in last week’s Local, when Lafforgue was quoted as saying “We really don”t want people congregating there.”
“We had various emails that were accusing us of creating an “authorized focus of infection,” said Lafforgue.
“We thought that the best thing was pre-recording even the speeches, and not only the carollers and the carriage ride.”
Lafforgue contacted Niven and Disero, as well as Jack Custers from YourTV Niagara, and the speeches were completed on the steps two days prior to the event. A drive through Queen Street at 7 p.m. Friday night confirmed that the plan worked, as there was no evidence of a gathering crowd.
Also present Wednesday evening for the opening speeches and the lighting of the candles were two representatives from Quest Community Health Centre. Executive director Nancy Garner and community health worker Moises Vazquez were on hand to light the first candles as Quest’s Seasonal Farm Workers Health Program is one of the recipients of the proceeds of this year’s candle sales.
In his opening speech, Lafforgue pointed to the challenges faced by Quest this year to continue offering health care and guidance to farmworkers. “Their health professionals were able to provide care virtually through digital platforms,” he explained. “There was also a significant increase in required mental health support this year.”
He continued, “Seasonal agricultural workers in Niagara are essential workers. They deserve the same respect and service as any citizen, including access to quality health care. They are our neighbours.”
Another $1,000 is being donated to the farmworkers’ Christmas gift program to help purchase welcome kits and reflective vests for offshore workers.
As of press time, candle sales, at $3 each, were sitting at around $4,000. Lafforgue said that is “much less than last year,” but it’s understandable. “Last year we got a lot of American money, and we had many tourists,” he explained. “There is also a donors’ fatigue. They have been solicited so many times this year by so many different causes. We are still proud of what we (the community) accomplished and the money will be in the charities hands by the end of the week.”
The chamber also held its annual food drive in association with the stroll, and donations were dropped off at Newark Neighbours Monday.
The Candlelight Stroll ceremony can still be viewed on the YourTV website, at yourtv.tv/niagara.