Mother Nature may have unleashed heavy rain and wind on the region on the weekend but it didn't dampen the spirits of folks attending the Christmas Parade of Lights.
It's estimated that more than 5,000 people attended the CIBC Christmas Parade of Lights in Downtown New Wemstienr on Saturday, a day that featured heavy rain and winds of up to 30 kilometres an hour in the Lower Mainland.
"This was one of the most challenging events we have ever had to deal with from an operational standpoint," said Douglas Smith, executive director of the Hyack Festival Association. "The high winds made it extremely difficult for our partners to set up in Hyack Square. Unfortunately, our sponsors and community partners were unable to engage with the community to the extent we had planned. Overall, however, some of the new features we introduced as part of the post-parade activities definitely hit the mark including the feature performances by AJ Woodworth and We Three Queens."
Despite the inclement weather, New Westminster proceeded with its annual Santa Claus parade. Parades in some other communities were canceled because of the weather.
"There was never any consideration given to canceling the parade," said Mayor Wayne Wright in a press release. "All the parade participants deserve a lot of credit for braving the conditions. It didn't dampen their spirits whatsoever. It says a lot about our community pride and commitment. Thank you to the parade organizers and event staff for their hard work and diligence under very difficult circumstances."
Nearly 60 entries took part in the Christmas Parade of Lights, which capped off with an appearance by Santa Claus on the Hyack Festival float.
Following the parade, the City of New Westminster and the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association unveiled a new 38-foot tall artificial tree as part of the tree lighting ceremony in Hyack Square.
"The tree is certainly going to be a major attraction for local residents and visitors during the holiday season," Wright said. "I think everyone was really impressed with the size and quality of the tree. It will certainly be a big attraction this month."
In August, Hyack representatives appeared before council to discuss a proposed Christmas Parade of Lights Festival that would see the Santa Claus Parade of Lights replaced with a festival that includes a month-long musical light show timed to music, a giant Christmas tree, entertainment, food, a photo booth and a marketplace featuring vendors and artists. It's believed that the event could be expanded over time to include other locations in the downtown aside from Hyack Square.
This year's event retained the annual Santa Claus Parade of Lights but also incorporated some of the aspects that had been proposed as part of the new festival. In a bid to create more of a celebratory type of event, this year's post-parade activities included food vendors, children's activities, a photo booth where people can have photos taken with Santa, an autograph session with Jon Cornish (a New Westminster native who recently led the Calgary Stampeders to the Grey Cup) and entertainment including fire performers and A.J. Woodworth (winner of the 2011 British Columbia Country Music Awards Female Artist of the Year).
"I think we are on the right track in terms of approach," Smith said. "We had some great performers lined up. ... We did everything we could to put ourselves up for success."
The heavy rain and winds posed challenges for fire performers, who battled the elements to get their fire started for their performance.
The Hyack Festival Association is seeking to create an event that keeps people in the downtown longer and brings them back to the downtown throughout the holiday season.