IBEW/ECAO Team Light up the Holidays

Celebration of Lights Castle
IBEW Local 530 Electrician volunteering at Celebration of Lights

“I can’t give them enough praise - and I’m an electrician myself! For this type of event, it’s important to have everything done safely..."
- Bill Suisham, Chairman, Sarnia-Lambton Celebration of Lights

On November 25, 2017, the Sarnia Lambton Celebration of Lights opened at Centennial Park. Over 30 volunteers from IBEW Local 530’s Next Gen committee were an essential part in keeping this important tourist attraction running.

Every year, Centennial Park becomes a holiday wonderland, aglow with 41 displays and over 250,000 lights. The Celebration is a favourite of the community and tourists alike.

Bill Suisham, Chairman of the Celebration, estimates that the festival draws in thousands of tourists during its six to seven weeks. “Every night the park is full, and I see tour busses and lots of out-of-province license plates.”

Visitors are coming from Canada, the US, and even Europe. “One visitor from France left a comment about the festival on our Facebook page,” says Suisham.

A part of Sarnia culture, the Celebration has roots in the 1950s, but took root at its current home in 1984. But it takes weeks of hard work by hundreds of community volunteers every year to make the festival happen.

“If we didn’t have the volunteers, this event wouldn’t exist,” asserts Suisham.

IBEW Local 530 Electrician volunteering at Celebration of LightsSome initial public and private money helped the festival earn a spot on the list of great tourist events, and as well an Ontario Chamber of Commerce President’s Award in 1988.

In spite of this and other awards, after 2000 the festival ran into financial pressures that threatened to keep the lights off for good. It’s a challenge that keeps surfacing, with an additional cancellation scare in 2016.

Thankfully, every year the festival has managed to pull together enough volunteer power and sponsor funding to put on a spectacular show.

IBEW Local 530 Electrician volunteering at Celebration of Lights

“I am happy and proud that so many from IBEW came out to help.”

Local 530 Puts Expertise at Service of the Community

That’s where IBEW Local 530 comes in. This year, over 30 volunteers helped to do essential wiring and safety checks to help the festival light up on time.

“I can’t give them enough praise – and I’m an electrician myself!” says Bill Suisham, Chairman of the Celebration. “For this type of event, it’s important to have everything done safely – and our electrical inspector is definitely much happier.”

“We’ve had members volunteer to help for about 20 years,” says Local 530 4th term apprentice Connor Loeven. “It’s really thrilling to be able to give back this way. It’s also a lot of fun, and an opportunity for us to come together outside of work.”

“It’s amazing,” says Local 530 member Renée Johnston. “I am happy and proud that so many from IBEW came out to help. As long as I’m on the Next Gen Committee, we’ll be coming back every year.”

Part of the work done by the members includes inspecting and replacing extension cords and other power supply lines, replacing worn out sections of lighting in the displays, and adding brackets to hold up the displays. Some important upgrades were also needed. “As of this year we’re 100% LED, which saves us about 80% of the electricity,” notes Suisham.

“I think it’s great that everyone came out to help our community. The Celebration brings in tourists, so it’s great for everyone.” says Renée.

IBEW Local 530 Electrician volunteering at Celebration of LightsSafe Power Supply System Designed by ECAO Contractor TJI

Part of the Celebration’s growing pains included making the transition to a safer, permanent power supply system in 2002.

Manager Ken McCormack of TJI and a member of the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO) helped with the project. “At the time they had ‘doghouses’ – large temporary power supplies that meant there were cables everywhere as a tripping hazard. We put in a safer, underground solution,” he says.

The new system was a custom design, featuring trenches for underground cabling. Three-foot high poles projected above ground so that receptacles could be accessed. Theft of supplies meant that the ambitious deadline was in jeopardy.

McCormack remembers that they were working right down to the wire. “For the opening ceremonies that year, Santa Clause was supposed to ceremonially switch on the lights on stage. I was with system designer Tom Collins (owner of Collins-Frazer engineering) in an outbuilding, waiting to hear back on the radio from the installer doing the final steps. We were sweating buckets! Luckily we finished with a minute or two to spare,” he recalls.

For McCormack, the final result is a source of pride, and still is. “I feel good every time I drive by the park. Mostly I look for the poles!” he laughs.

Switching On in 2017

The opening ceremonies this year included a Christmas Carol concert, a visit from Santa, and a fireworks display. Attendance was estimated at 4,000 to 5,000 people.

The lights switch on at 5 PM every night, and will remain up until early January 2018, where more volunteers will pitch in to disassemble the displays and store them for another year. You can visit the Celebration of Lights website and their Facebook page to learn more.

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Image credits:

  1. Image of Castle and video courtesy Celebration of Lights
  2. All other images courtesy IBEW Local 530