Nearly 1,000 descend on Glen Stewart Park for a night of spirit, song and hot chocolate

Once a year about 1000 revellers descend on Glen Stewart Park, illuminated by little more than candles and coloured lights, to fill the air with holiday cheer.

'It started as a whim and then I guess love sort of takes over,' says organizer David Breech

About a thousand people gathered to sing holiday tunes, accompanied by a Salvation Army band. (YanJun Li/CBC)

On the second Tuesday in December, the west side of the hill in Glen Stewart Park is the perfect spot to hear exactly what Toronto's Christmas spirit sounds like.

At least that's what David Breech will tell you.

That's because once a year about 1000 revellers descend on the Beach neighbourhood park, illuminated by little more than candles and coloured lights, to fill the air with spirit and song along with a Salvation Army band. There's usually a good deal of hot chocolate and cider, too. 

'A Bing Crosby night'

Breech is the man that's been keeping alive the tradition he calls Caroling in the Park for nearly three decades. Each year, he brews and hands out hundreds of cups of hot holiday beverages to keep carollers warm.

It all began in 1989. Breech was a Beavers leader then, and decided to bring the group down to the park for a bit of tobogganing and song at the event first started by two of his friends, Jim and Nancy Palmer.
David Breech is the man that's been keeping alive the tradition he calls Caroling in the Park for nearly three decades. Each year, he brews and hands out hundreds of cups of warm beverages at the event. (YanJun Li/CBC)

"We had a Bing Crosby night with snow, just like today, and we had hot chocolate and cider for our kids," he told Matt Galloway, host of Metro Morning. But then they realized they hadn't offered the drinks to anyone else. 

So, the next year he decided to come back, this time with an entire scout group and enough beverages to hand out to everyone in attendance. He's kept coming back ever since. 

'The hope that they will take that spirit away'

"Just like anything, it started as a whim and then I guess love sort of takes over," said Breech. "The spirit of the individuals that are there, the sound, and the hope that they will take that spirit away with them and share it with others in the community."
“When you stand on the side of the hill and listen to the people singing, it's a very moving experience and the idea is not only to help the salvation army but bring a little joy and spirit to that community," says David Breech. (YanJun Li/CBC)

Breech gets emotional talking about it. 

"We live a lot in the darkness in the world today and I think this brings a little bit of light," he says. "Santa comes, the music playing, the comradery of the people in the community singing with each other. It raises their hearts and gives them hope."

It wasn't always fun and reindeer games though.

Breech has twice been ticketed for noise or "breaking the sound barrier with too much joviality and spirit," as he likes to put it. 
Brianna Henderson came out to sing-along for the very first time. (YanJun Li/CBC)

These days, when Breech passes out cups of hot chocolate, his three adult kids are on hand to help him serve it.

Patrick Breech is one of them. At 38, he's been coming to the park for the event since he was about nine.

But along with the warm beverages, they're serving up something else too: tradition.

"We get to meet a lot of new people that I didn't know and its just making new friends around the city," said Brianna Henderson, who came out to sing-along for the very first time. 

That's all David Breech hopes for. 

"It's that inspiration that keeps you coming back and the hope that they will take that moment of good feeling off to share with others."