Kay Cee Gardens: Christmas in the Park
A 25th Anniversary is referred to as the “Silver Anniversary”. For the Optimist Club of Orangeville, ON, this year’s 25th anniversary of “Christmas in the Park” will be filled not only with silver, but also with gold, red, green, blue, and all of the wonderful colours of the holiday season!
Kaycee Gardens has been the home to “Christmas in the Park” for all 25 years. I had the great privilege to sit down with a few of the members of our Orangeville Optimists, to talk about how this wonderful event has grown and evolved throughout the years.
“The event started back in 1993 with a group from our Seniors Centre that had decided, on their own, and with their own money, that they wanted to make Kaycee Gardens more festive during the holidays”, explains the group. “That first year, Bill Lovegrove and his friends really got it going”. This small but determined seniors group did everything by themselves. “They built a few displays, decorated the park with the ornaments they had, and put up as many lights as they could afford. They even made sure to put the lights up high, to distract from the lack of displays and decorations on the ground. For being such a small group, and with limited help and money, they really did a great job!”
Fast forward three years later, and this same small group decided they needed some more help. Who better to approach than the Optimist Club, who’s mission statement reads “Friend of Youth” and was a natural fit when it came to this particular event, as well as others throughout the year. A partnership was born, and the Optimist Club has been busy with this ever-growing event ever since. The original group of seniors continued to work on this project for the years to follow, and their impact is evident today. If it were not for this hard working group of community elders, this event would not be celebrating it’s 25th Anniversary, and clearly with many more to come!
“The Town of Orangeville, Town Council, and Orangeville Hydro have been huge supporters since day 1. Christmas in the Park has become a large tourist attraction for this community”, say the team. “We have people come from all over the world.” That’s literal by the way, as just a few years ago, a couple from England were looking at the displays on the internet, decided that they needed to enjoy this amazing experience in person, and that’s just what they did. “The couple has returned several times making it their yearly tradition, however in the years they could not come to our lovely little town, they’ve sent an email, expressing their disappointment, saying they could not make it this year.” The town has given the Optimist Club “exclusive” use of the park, and they, in partnership with the town, work hard on keeping it beautiful all year long. The club has built the covered bridge, the pergola, and the gazebo, all for community use all year through. Pretty amazing for our community, I would say!
So the evolution of this inspiring event has gone from small displays, and minimal lighting to more than 50,000 lights. I would like to point out that when they first began, the seniors made all their own extension cords, extension cords that the club still utilize today, and all agree are the best cords of the bunch! Today there are more than 50,000 lights, miles of extension cords, Town-installed hydro boxes throughout the park, and a yearly check to ensure all safety requirements are met and exceeded. The Parks and Recreation Department have been instrumental in ensuring the event is safe, and that it runs smoothly for everyone of every age, and every walk of life, to enjoy.
When asked, it was hard for the “Christmas in the Park” committee to pick one special moment over the past 25 years, but they certainly had some wonderful stories to choose from. “One young man called us, and told us he wanted to propose to his girlfriend during the event. We told the young man that not only would we help him, but we’ll create a large, personalized sign, place it in the gazebo, and have it ready for the happy couple by 7PM.”
“Of course, she said yes!”
The Optimist Club is fast to point out that this is a team effort. “We’ve teamed up with the other service clubs in our area, and they’ve all been a massive help. That’s what service clubs do, help each other, so the community has the best events we can offer.”
An important support element the Optimist Club depends on, to maintain and grow this event, are sponsorships. “We really do rely on the local businesses to help support in any way they can. That can be anything from volunteering for set up and take down in the park itself, to financial. It’s really quite easy these days. Most sponsors will give us a donation, and tell us to build a display on their behalf. We think it’s a great solution, because we have some talented artists in the club that are happy to work their magic, and the business itself gets to contribute to a fabulous event.”
Where this spectacular event could use the most help however, is manpower. “We really need help in the last 2 weeks before the park opens. This year, that would be the 2 weeks prior to December 1st. The set up, and then afterwards the take down, is a large undertaking, and any additional assistance is always needed and welcomed”. For the students in the community, it’s an awesome way to get their volunteer hours in a short time span, and for others it’s a great way to connect with others in the community, and give back to a service club that continues to give to us. This is the same group that puts up the Christmas lights on the medians, running down Broadway in the winter months!
The Optimist Club has little down time when it comes to “Christmas in the Park”. “We have about 2 months of “down time” after the holiday season, and then when Spring comes, we’re back on the job, getting ready for the upcoming holiday season.” The work this service club puts into this yearly event is remarkable. They’ve built an efficient storage / workshop, “the shed”, just across the street from the park and behind the Seniors Centre, where they store all of the magic that goes into “Christmas in the Park”. The shed is organized strategically, and you can bet that every string of lights has been checked, tested, and bulbs replaced before going in to storage. The displays are stored in such a way so that little repair has to be done (although the committee is continually working on the displays new and old). The workshop portion of the shed is insulated so this team work all year long, and still stay warm. Their commitment is outstanding, and it is very easy to see why…
“For us, the best parts are the look on the children's faces, being part of people’s Christmas traditions, and merely the pure joy of giving back in this special kind of way to our community.” What you won’t see, is that when this passionate group shared this simple sentiment with me, they all had tears in their eyes… this is an absolute labour of love
So, Orangeville’s “Christmas in the Park” is here for us, thanks to that small group of seniors that started all of this 25 years ago. People like “Doug”, who was still helping hang lights at the young age of 78, and “Grumpy”, who at 90 was out in the cold, putting up displays. This incredible legacy lives on, and our community is that much more special, because of them.
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