The only place you will find the likes of Wonder Woman and a nativity scene, the Wonders of Winter encompasses just about every kind of light installation you can think of.
“It’s something that appeals to the kid in everyone, it seems,” said Lynne Taylor, secretary for the festival, which runs from the last weekend of November until midnight on New Year’s Day each year in Waterloo Park.
The festival was created 28 years ago by local resident Bill Weiler, after he saw a similar light festival elsewhere and wanted to recreate it in Waterloo. It started with about 15 displays. That number has increased each year. This year, they have around 150 installations.
When it comes to adding new displays, Taylor says they typically try to come up with ways they can make the festival more diverse and inclusive, as well as ways to resonate with younger children.
“So we're looking at what kinds of movies are popular, what kinds of cartoons are popular, what kinds of things are showing up in the toy stores, to get some inspiration.”
Taylor says next year she hopes to have a Paddington Bear installation. This year, they tried to create more installations directed at young girls, including Wonder Woman and ballerinas.
“We did an ambulance this year in honour of the paramedics, in recognition of what they've been going through this last year and a half.”
They’ve also been building a forest scene on one side of the park, and an Arctic scene on the other, with things like bears and wolves and penguins.
Taylor said the festival has become a tradition for at least three generations of people who came when they were young, and are now taking their children and grandchildren.
“It’s just become so much a part of people's holiday traditions. And it's not just Christmas traditions, but it's everybody. Everyone loves lights. And in the dark that is December, this is something that just brings pure joy to people.”
Taylor jokingly refers to the woodshop behind the log schoolhouse in the park as their executive headquarters. The woodshop acts as one of their two workspaces, the other being in a retired fire hall on University and Westmount, where they store their displays larger than eight feet wide.
Though the festival only runs during the holiday season each year, it’s a year-long endeavour to keep it operating.
These workspaces are where their team of 20 volunteers repair and build new displays throughout the year. Repairs can take a few months.
“October is spent checking the electrical infrastructure in the park to make sure everything is operating, so that when we plug things in, they will actually turn on. On the first of November is when we start installing displays. And then right after New Year's, we start taking things down, take two weeks off, and then we start repairs.”
She said repairs usually take them into March, at which point they start building new displays. Then in September, they begin planning the festival again.
They also have a crew of volunteers who tend to the park each night, opening and closing the nativity scene, as well as checking and repairing the displays on site.
“It's a wonderful gift to the community. It's pure joy. That may not be the case in the midst of installation, if it's pouring down rain or something like that,” she joked, “but the end result gives such joy to the community. It's such such a hoot to walk around the park, and see so many people really enjoying something you've worked so hard on.”
The festival is free to attend, though they accept donations to help keep it operating and growing each year. You can find out more on their website.