White Rock Festival of Lights organizers have one week to receive approval from the Ministry of Health to set up a waterfront display, otherwise the event will be cancelled.
The annual event, which organizers are now promoting simply as a Christmas display, was initially scheduled to start Nov. 28 and be featured in White Rock’s Memorial Park. However, provincewide health orders, set in place Nov. 19 until Dec. 7, postponed the event.
Organizer Gary Gumley told Peace Arch News last month that his plan was to wait until Dec. 7 to see if the order would be lifted, allowing his organization to move forward with the event.
However, on Dec. 7, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry extended provincial health orders until Jan. 8.
In Monday’s City of White Rock council meeting, councillors initially discussed cancelling the event altogether.
However, they ultimately voted unanimously in favour of a motion that gave Gumley and his organization until Dec. 14 to receive approval from a provincial health officer to hold the event. In the event that Gumley is unable to secure approval from the ministry, the event would not be supported by the City of White Rock.
During the course of council discussion, city CAO Guileermo Ferrero assured councillors that the event would not go ahead if it wasn’t approved by a health officer.
Contacted Tuesday morning, Gumley said he was disappointed that provincial health orders meant he wasn’t allowed to proceed with the event, however, he said there is still a “glimmer of hope.”
“I would say we’ve maybe got a 30 per cent chance of still having something happen,” Gumley said.
The provincial health orders don’t allow gatherings or events, whether outdoors or indoors. However, an adjustment to the order Dec. 7 allows drive-thru events.
“And the problematic piece for us is you can’t drive your vehicle on the promenade,” Gumley said.
During the council meeting, several councillors raised concern about the number of people that visit White Rock on sunny winter days.
Coun. David Chesney noted that last Saturday and Sunday were akin to summer days in August or July.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s a destination, ladies and gentlemen,” Chesney said during the virtual meeting. “Our promenade, our pier is a top destination for the Fraser Valley and they’ve been here en masse on Saturday and Sunday when we had beautiful weather.”
Chesney suggested that council might want to consider further measures on the waterfront, at some point in the future, to deal with crowds on warm, sunny winter days.
“It’s basically shoulder-to-shoulder,” Chesney said.
Coun. Helen Fathers, drawing on her experience of managing crowds at White Rock Farmers Market, raised concerns with how crowds could be managed by the festival.
“We had to manage the crowds and I’ll be honest with you, it’s very tough,” Fathers said. “I think my concern is how is the Festival of Lights going to manage the crowds down there because ultimately, it would be their responsibility.”
The White Rock Festival of Lights has been a project of passion for Gumley.
Gumley, who grew up in North Wales, was inspired for the idea by trips his family would take to the City of Blackpool’s promenade during the Blackpool Illuminations Festival.
“I just want to try and emulate a mini-Blackpool Illuminations in White Rock, that would be my vision. And once COVID goes, we will be able to do it. And I want to stay focused on trying to make something happen for next year, so I’m just going to keep doing that,” Gumley said.