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GUEST COLUMN: Let's make lights display 'truly presented by the heart of Ottawa'

Dylan Conmy
Dylan Conmy

For those of you who attended the Festival of Lights in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 29, I do not even have to explain the massive amount of disappointment that ensued when the lights turned out to be nothing but trunks.

Not even all of the trunks, but a mere smattering of tree trunks that were a pitiful display of the holiday spirit. I worked all day in town, and we were fearful of the rumors we had heard about said trunks. We hoped it wasn’t true because, after working on keeping a forward momentum on the progression of downtown Ottawa, this would be an embarrassing example of what our town has to offer. I have seen malfunctions at shows in my life, but this was intentional. This was planned ahead of time. And the blame has gone in many different directions. 

To the shoppers that supported your local merchants on both Black Friday, and Small Business Saturday, we salute you.

The merchants in Ottawa are still fighting hard to make downtown the place everyone wants to visit (and not just out of towners, but the local community that makes Ottawa what it is as well).

To say that the Festival of Lights was anything other than mortifying and disappointing would be an overgenerous compliment I would have to fish for deep inside of myself.

The merchants are not to blame for this. I am also NOT speaking for the rest of the Ottawa Downtown Merchants when I say that I feel the city has let us down as well. I am speaking on behalf of my own opinions — not that of the store I work for, nor any other business in town.

I, myself, think it is disgraceful to knowingly string lights up for a town’s holiday celebration in the fashion they did, as there was no chance of this ever being anything other than a disaster. And I am not blaming the gentlemen who actually strung the lights, as our Parks Department works darn hard with the tools and resources they are given. They put up the lights they were supplied with, and cut the trees in the manner they were directed to.

The city itself has let the ball drop on providing funding for town-related and tourism building events. I am not talking about the alcoholic-based events. We can all sit here and talk about that until our faces are red and our lungs are void of air — believe me, I constantly push for kid-friendly events, as well as many many others in the Downtown Merchants. We all want kids events. We also need assistance funding certain things. Sponsors always seem more apt to help out when there is wine and beer, because “that’s where the money is."

I get that. The city, and the man at its helm, need to start to listen to the people of Ottawa, and I think that is the biggest issue here. I recently attended the public City Hall meeting regarding events in Ottawa. A lot of people had ideas and concerns; I, personally, had a family-friendly festival idea that received some support from others. The kicker here is, the mayor mentioned looking into options, and nothing was ever heard about it again. It seems as though support from City Hall as been all used up, and all requests from Merchants and beyond are now falling on deaf ears.

The city’s only concern right now is that it costs money to celebrate the holidays, but I know for a fact there are citizens willing to bring cherry pickers and more to help put the lights up as volunteers. There only seems to be one option left, and that is that we do it ourselves.

I want Ottawa to come together and rebuild the Festival of Lights. We raise money quite easily for the Fourth of July fireworks, and I know this town is generous in its giving (I have seen it myself numerous times at the bookstore during fundraisers).

So, if Ottawa will help me out here, I propose we have a Light Up Ottawa Fund. I will start collecting money at Prairie Fox Books until we can move it to a more central location. This is not a Prairie Fox Books sponsored fundraiser, this is just me coming to Ottawa as a citizen.

I think we can not only raise enough money to make Washington Square Park light up brilliantly next year, but we can light up downtown and beyond. Light the streets all the way to the canal. Light up Columbus Street and invite the nearby churches to be blanketed in the warmth of lights as well.

We cannot always rely on the City to make things happen — this is our town, and we need to make sure we are proud to show it off to those who visit, and those who live here. We need to redeem the Festival of Lights so that we can convince people this was a one time mistake that we will not allow to happen again.

The Festival of Lights has always been presented by Ottawa, let’s make it truly presented by the heart of Ottawa, all of us. We cannot complain if we take the reins on this. I hope that we can turn these ugly discussions of finger pointing and blame, and turn them into a more productive solution. Will anyone help me Light up Ottawa next year? 

Dylan Conmy, Ottawa

Vice President, Ottawa Downtown Merchants

Special Events Coordinator, Prairie Fox Books

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