The light returns to Westport


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The streets of the village of Westport were lit up on Sunday.

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It was a tradition initiated in the early 1990s by the family of Dorothy Leeder, in tribute to her son who died at the age of 17; the streets of the village were filled with souvenir lights every year on the Sunday evening before Christmas.

The tradition continued until 2004, which was the last time the lights were turned off – until now. The streets were illuminated again last Sunday.

“The past two years have been so hard on everyone,” said co-organizer Vicki Garrett, adding that the night was dedicated to the community coming together, taking time to reflect, hope, peace and healing.

The night began when St. Pauls Anglican Church and St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church rang their church bells at 5 p.m. as a symbol of peace and hope, Garrett said.

Many of the community came out and wandered the village, looking at the thousands of light fixtures that lined the streets, porches, parks, harbor and all around Westport until the lights went out around 9 pm time.

As the sun set on Sunday, the streets were lined with lightings, made from paper bags; many were festively decorated with snowmen, snowflakes, stars and more and filled with a mason jar with a candle inside.

“We saw so many families come out and enjoy the lights,” said Alisha Behme, co-organizer, adding that the good weather made it possible for people to walk safely throughout the village and see all the lights.

Behme said she saw so many members of the community going out on Sunday night and many people were smiling, wishing others happy holidays and many children jumping and signing.

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Local schools, St. Edward’s Catholic School and Rideau Vista Public School, each installed about 200 light fixtures while some families handed out bags and others decorated the harbor bridge.

Some have used their own supplies to create lighting fixtures and a family found theirs 20 years ago, Garrett said.

“It was a huge success,” Behme said, “there was a feeling of joy throughout the village.”

According to Garrett, a local village store, Kudrinko’s, donated around 3,000 paper bags and 100 tea lights, and Life is Good store owners donated 400 battery-powered lights. The lighting kits were created and then distributed by Kudrinko’s.

The idea to light up Westport again came about because Garrett said she felt disconnected from her community and was losing her holiday spirit. She reached out to other Westport residents on Facebook to ask if they remembered the lightings, and found that many people loved the tradition and missed seeing them, too.

Festively decorated paper bag lights adorn the exterior of a home in Westport on Sunday evening. Many homes, businesses and roads lined up with the luminaries on December 19. (PHOTO SUBMITTED BY NANCY ELLEN SENDELL). Photo of Munro, Jessica /jpg, BT

Garrett said she remembered walking the streets many years ago and seeing the lights illuminating the village and “the feeling of awe and peace that went with them.”

Soon after, she and Behme created a Facebook campaign to relaunch the luminaries.

“I’m sure from the reaction last night that this will continue for years to come,” Garrett said.

( Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works for the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. )

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