In the mid-1980s, Bob Wingfield and Marg Barrett began attracting people to their Newton-area home with a giant “Winter Wonderland” display of Christmas lights, just east of the old Surrey Public Market site, near 64th Avenue and King George Boulevard. Local firefighters eventually helped put up the display, and donations were collected for the burn unit at Vancouver General Hospital.
In 1997 all the lights were brought to Stanley Park for use in a new Bright Nights event, which opened for the 2021 season on Nov. 25.
Surrey fire captain Marc Fournier has volunteered his time to build, take down and help run Bright Nights over the past 33 years.
“I ran it there in Surrey for about seven years, as volunteer firefighters in the late 1980s,” Fournier recalled. “Bob and Marg approached us in 1987 – that was the first year when firefighters started helping them. We used to use the market lot for parking, and carved a trail through the woods there, to their cul-de-sac. It got really big at their house, just too big.”
Both Wingfield and Barrett died in recent years, Fournier reported.
“Marg’s daughter hadn’t seen Bright Nights yet, so the year before last we were able to get her and her daughter, Marg’s granddaughter, to the event for the first time,” he added. “The granddaughter was very excited, and she’s a young adult now. She got to see it just before COVID.”
Bright Nights in Stanley Park shifted to a virtual tour last year, due to pandemic restrictions.
This year, the train-themed “twinkling winter escape” runs until Jan. 2, with the help of firefighters from across the Lower Mainland.
“It’s great to get people in there again to see it all this year,” said Fournier, who lives in North Delta and works at Surrey’s Hall 1, at 88 Avenue and 132 Street.
The forest-area display features a cartoonish “Fire Hall 1271,” built by Surrey firefighters five years ago.
The whimsical structure is an eye-grabber.
“We get some good reaction to it, for sure, especially that first year when it was brand new to everyone,” Fournier commented. “We’re quite pleased with how it turned out.”
The firefighters involved “are all fairly handy people,” Fournier reported, “but honestly, none of us had done anything crooked like that,” he added with a laugh. “Building stuff straight is a little easier, right. Doing this was a bit more challenging. Through trial and error, we built it, and wanted to put it together without any screws, so it’s all done with bed brackets, and you only need a flathead screwdriver for those.”
The idea is, it will last longer.
“We assemble it every year, and we bring it back to Surrey every year to make sure it stays in good shape – it takes two pickups and two trailers,” Fournier added. “We’re getting good at it, and can put it up in about three hours now.”
The structure’s fire truck took longer to build than the fire hall, he recalled.
“We have one fellow here who is very gifted, Rick Olsen. He built the fire truck that’s in the South Surrey library, a fire-truck bookshelf he built. He’s also the brains behind that.”
Other builders include Vic Fisher and Dan Amos, and Ryan Smith did all the decal work. Cloverdale Paint supplies the paint, and Surrey Fire Fighters Local 1271 paid for all building supplies. “The work involved about eight people to build the whole thing, with the help of some others, with sanding and all that,” Founier noted.
The Burn Fund’s Bright Nights 50/50 also returns with a potential jackpot of $1 million. The raffle was created last year and reached a jackpot of $525,660. Tickets for the Bright Nights 50/50 went on sale Nov. 18, with all proceeds supporting Burn Fund programs.
Fournier has volunteered as a counsellor at Burn Fund camps over the past 12 years.
“Now I go and do counselling after burn camp, for adults, once all the kids go home,” he explained. “You know what, if you talk to anybody who’s gone to burn camp, it’s a very life-changing experience for kids and adults who go. It’s a big extended family, with the kids and firefighters from around the province. You see these kids grow up and become nurses, all kinds of things, so it’s cool that way, too, to watch them progress in life.”
Established in 1978 by the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, the Burn Fund is supported by more than 4,000 professional firefighters from 53 communities in B.C. and the Yukon.
Bright Nights in Stanley Park, the Burn Fund’s largest annual fundraising event, is a partnership between the Vancouver Park Board and the Burn Fund.