SURREY — In his time working to make Bright Nights happen, Surrey firefighter Adrian Neufeld didn’t know the real impact of the event until he attended Young Burn Survivors Camp as a counsellor.
The week-long camp has been a summer getaway for more than a thousand B.C. kids since 1994, and the annual display of close to three million lights at Stanley Park raises money to send them there, at a cost of $2,900 per camper.
“I actually got to see where the funds raised during Bright Nights go each year, how they get implemented and how they have an affect on these kids for a week, and how these burn survivors get to enjoy all the time at this camp, and it’s just incredible,” said Neufeld, employed at Hall 8 in Cloverdale.
“It’s just been like my second family there,” he said of the camp, to be held in 2018 at Cheakamus Centre, near Squamish – a place where young burn survivors can swim, hike, kayak, do skits and other activities for a week in July.
“I’ve done the camp for five years and it’s the highlight of my summer every single year,” Neufeld stressed. “The counsellors there, I do sincerely think of them as my second family. And the kids every year are incredible.
“That first year at camp is incredibly overwhelming in a positive way,” he added, “but you don’t realize the impact you have on these kids until you come back the following year, and all these kids recognize you and say hi. It’s the ones you maybe think you didn’t leave an impression on, those ones who come up and give you a big hug, that’s pretty special. And it’s like that the whole week, an overwhelming experience of laughter and a just a positive experience for these young adults and kids.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Bright Nights, which opened last Thursday evening (Nov. 30) and continues until Jan. 6; the attraction is closed on Christmas Day.
More than 250,000 people visit the Bright Nights display and ride the train every year, and that number is growing.
The job to set up, operate and tear down the display involves more than 800 fire fighters over a three-month period.
“It’s a monumental undertaking of combined efforts to make this event so successful,” noted Ray Boucher, vice-president of the Burn Fund and co-chair of its Bright Nights committee.
“The funds raised will make a huge difference to burn survivors and their families throughout our province.”
Tickets to ride the train at Bright Nights range from $6 to $12, depending on the time of day, and can be purchased for specific times at ticketleader.ca/events/bright-nights, or call 604-252-3700.
“I always invite everyone down to have a look, ride the train and enjoy the festivities, because it’s important to me, to us as a group,” Neufeld said. “There’s nothing like it in B.C.”
Bright Nights visitors are also encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for donation to Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society, in special bins at Stanley Park.
• The history of the Bright Nights event at Stanley Park has roots in Surrey.
In the mid-1980s, Bob Wingfield and Marg Barrett began attracting people to their Newton-area home with a giant display of Christmas lights, behind the old Surrey Public Market site at 64th Avenue and King George Boulevard. Local firefighters helped put up the display, and donations were collected for the burn unit at Vancouver General Hospital.
The annual display continued for close to a decade, and in 1997 all the lights were brought to Stanley Park for use in a new Bright Nights event there.
“It got really big at their house, just too big,” recalled Marc Fournier, a firefighter who helped put up lights at the Surrey couple’s home, where they still live.
“It had way outgrown the neighbourhood, and neighbours would get upset with all the people showing up,” Fournier added. “We’d use the public market parking lot for all the people. Their house was in a cul-de-sac, and we’d close streets and all that.”
Contacted on Monday, Barrett said she and Wingfield still visit the Bright Nights display at Stanley Park whenever they can, depending on the weather.
“We have good memories of putting up the lights, but we just put lights up inside the house now,” Barrett told the Now-Leader.