BY LINDA MONDOUX
If you’ve noticed more Christmas lights in Ontario municipalities this year, you can thank LED technology.
The energy-friendly light-emitting diode, though still a young technology, is the star of the show in municipal parks and in residential neighbourhoods. In fact, most stores now only sell the LED variety, which use about 90 per cent less energy than their incandescent predecessors.
Holiday lights have come a long way since Edward H. Johnson, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison, created the first known electrically illuminated Christmas tree at his home while he was vice-president of the Edison Electric Light Company. His hand-wired Christmas tree, boasting 80 red, white and blue electric incandescent light bulbs the size of walnuts, was lit up on Dec. 22, 1882 inside his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Outdoor Christmas lights didn’t make an appearance in North America until the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that homeowners really embraced the tradition and strung up lights of their own en masse, with many a friendly competition among neighbours. But by the time LED Christmas lights started showing up about six years ago, it had become socially unacceptable to string up too many of those bright incandescent bulbs, with the over-zealous accused of wasting energy.
Bah humbug no more! With non-LED lights now banished to the energy-hog scrap heap, you no longer have to fear a blackout — or sky-high hydro bills and dirty looks from your neighbours — simply for displaying your Christmas spirit. Greening of Christmas is in, with LED lighting the way.
The CAA Winter Festival of Lights
in Niagara Falls — Canada’s largest illumination festival — began the switch-over to LED lighting about five years ago. “Quite a task when you have over three million individual lights!” says Dino Fazio, the festival’s general manager. “All of the festival’s illuminations introduced in the past six years use LED technology.”
Fazio says part of the reason for switching over to LED — besides the energy-efficiency and cost savings on electricity — was the desire to add more lights while decreasing power consumption. “Despite Niagara Falls being a hydroelectric powerhouse, there is limited power availability in certain areas of the festival illumination route,” he points out.
Wolves, snowflakes and Little Mermaids
The majority of the festival’s illuminations are found away from the Fallsview tourist section along the five-kilometre Niagara Parkway lighting area, dubbed Winter Wonderland. It’s here you’ll find the Dufferin Islands displays, also known as The Great Canadian Outdoors. You won’t want to miss the moose, buffalo, wolves, bears, beavers, whales, deer — and even dinosaurs — not to mention the Noah’s Ark display that features animals indigenous to Canada walking off the boat. The displays are complemented by close to 200,000 LED tree lights. You’ll also find the growing Enchantment of Disney display along this stretch — Winnie the Pooh, Tinker Bell, the Little Mermaid and friends are located in Queen Victoria Park at the bottom of Murray Street — along with a Religions of the World display just south of Clifton Hill, and a display offering a snapshot of life in Niagara.
Leading into the Winter Wonderland area are the 12-foot lamppost illuminations along Fallsview Boulevard and Stanley Avenue, including Murray Hill. In the Chippawa area of Niagara Falls, Cummingham Square is all lit up, with red and white LED displays new this year in honour of Canadian veterans.
So far, Fazio says about 95 per cent of the festival’s lights are now LED. But the Winter Festival of Lights, in its efforts to go green, has taken a step further, partnering with LivClean Carbon Offset Solutions to make the event carbon neutral. By purchasing carbon offsets in support of emission-reducing projects across Canada such as renewable energy, sustainable farming, energy efficiency, composting and recycling, the festival is eliminating its carbon footprint of about 48 tonnes.
“We recognize that visitors to the CAA Winter Festival of Lights are concerned about their environmental impact when travelling,” Fazio tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “The festival shares these concerns and is doing its part — however small — to make your visit to Niagara Falls a little greener.”
It costs the festival less than $2,000 to purchase carbon offsets. While there is no admission fee to view the festival’s lights — including more than 120 animated displays — donations are collected at the exit to Dufferin Islands. Money raised is used to purchase new LED lights and displays, and to fund the carbon offset program. The suggested contribution is $5 to $10 per vehicle.
“Ultimately, everyone needs to do their part for the planet,” says Fazio. “You can’t get away with hoping the next person will do it. Whether it directly lures tourists or not, in the end, it’s good for everyone.”
According to a recent study, the CAA Winter Festival of Lights received 1.3 million visits and generated $57.3 million in economic benefits for the Niagara region in 2009. Among the more “surprising” findings was that of all the visitors who travelled more than 80 kilometres to visit the festival, almost one in three was from outside Canada.
Along with the illumination displays, the festival features many other attractions and events, including the TD Rink at the Brink and the nightly Fireworks over the Falls. The festival, now in its 29th year, runs until Jan. 31.
Here are two other major light festivals worth the visit:
Alight at Night
Until Jan. 7, spend the evening strolling around the streets of Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, where the pioneer village will be lit up with more than 225,000 lights. Alight at Night is a much-anticipated annual tradition along the St. Lawrence River just west of Cornwall. The village is also home to the 3rd Annual Canadian Gingerbread House Championships, so don’t forget to grab a treat at the village’s own life-size gingerbread house. While touring the village on foot or by horse-drawn wagon, step inside the historic buildings for a Christmas concert, to buy maple syrup or enjoy dinner. There’s also a brilliantly lit up toy train, which will offer round trips through Crysler Heritage Park. Photos with Santa will also be offered on select evenings, and there’s also an outdoor skating rink.
Christmas Lights Across Canada
In Ottawa, capital cities throughout the country are brought together by the annual celebration of Christmas Lights Across Canada. In Canada’s capital city, the winter landscape glows with more than 300,000 multi-coloured lights, making this the perfect time to take a walk around historic Parliament Hill. The festival runs until Jan. 7. Don’t forget to dress warmly!
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — December 2011