Calgary's Christmas lights festival may be over as society butts heads with city

Calgary's annual Christmas lights display at Calgary's Confederation Park golf course may be over.

The extensive display has thrilled Albertans for 32 years

The Lions Festival of Lights fills a corner of Confederation Park with Christmas lights. (Rachel Ward/CBC)

Calgary's annual Christmas lights display at the Confederation Park golf course may be over for good after a lengthy dispute with city staff.

"It's cancelled, yes," Lions Festival of Lights president Otto Silzer said Saturday.

After more than three decades, festival organizers say they're forced to cancel over unresolved issues with accessing the park for set up and tear down.

"Thirty-three years ago, this light display was approved by city council on a handshake and there was a real element of trust," Silzer said. "Now, it's disappeared."

The Festival of Lights has become a Calgary tradition, with thousands of people trekking through the park to see the extensive display.

Letter to mayor, councillor

Silzer wrote a letter to Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Coun. Sean Chu Friday, saying he felt the volunteer society has no other option but to cancel the display.

"We are sure that the citizens of Calgary will be very disappointed," he wrote. "Not to have this totally volunteer display to brighten their spirits, while enduring so many current hardships, including increased city taxes, is devastating."

The Christmas lights at Confederation Park in northwest Calgary draw thousands of spectators each year. (Rachel Ward/CBC)

When Chu received the letter, he said he called the city immediately. He used to take his family to see the lights when they were young.

"I was kind of angry. I said, 'what the heck is the city doing?' However, I said to myself, as with everything, 'there's two sides of the story,'" Chu said.

City staff had requested a map of the required power lines, as the group hoped to expand the display, Chu said. Staff wanted to ensure it was safe.

Timing dispute

However, Silzer said his argument was with the timing for set up and tear down.

He said he has been told that set up must begin no earlier than Nov. 7 to make way for late season golfers. He wanted to start at the end of October to avoid snow and to accommodate volunteers' schedules.

"We need a lot of lead time to do various things," Silzer said.

At the latest, golf course staff want the display removed by March 7, he said, which he argues would be too soon.

In early March, the ground is often covered by snow or it's soggy after the snow has been thawed by chinooks. Those conditions wouldn't allow for a truck to drive onto the site to pick up the display, Silzer said, and could damage the grass on the golf course.

While Silzer said the display for 2019-20 is cancelled, the festival team is meeting with the city next week in hopes of finding a solution.

With files from Tim Devlin, Scott Dippel


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