The White Rock ‘Festival of Lights’ will be back this holiday season – but as a city-run event.
Following a council decision Monday night, the reinstated festival – which brings a decorative winter light display to the waterfront at Memorial Park and the promenade adjacent to the White Rock Museum and the pier during the Christmas season – will be taken over by city staff as a ‘Class A’ (fully city-sponsored) event.
The city will provide a budget of $50,000 for the event, rather than the $9,080 in in-kind contributions the city had agreed to provide the society.
Started by the White Rock Lights Society in 2019, the original festival was renamed ‘White Rock Lights’ last year, when it appeared that the term ‘festival’ was too suggestive of a large gathering to gain Ministry of Health approval at the height of COVID-19 precautions.
The event’s future came into question earlier this year as a result of a dispute between the city and the society – as well as with its president and event founder Gary Gumley – over alleged damage to Memorial Park lighting poles as a result of last year’s display.
That ongoing dispute – and disagreements over Gumley’s handling of it – ultimately precipitated multiple resignations from the society’s board in September.
As of the Oct. 25 council meeting it appeared the event was still going ahead under the auspices of a “reconstituted” society, but discussions subsequently collapsed over further differences between former board members and Gumley.
On Monday, Mayor Darryl Walker asked Gumley – on behalf of council – whether he and the board, as it now stands, are “ready and willing to move forward with the Festival of Lights for the 2021-22 season.”
Gumley said the society was unable to confirm “which light display components are still going to be available this year, due to the outstanding invoices associated with the alleged damage to Memorial Park lampposts.”
“Until that issue is resolved we can’t do any fundraising, we can’t go out to the community,” Gumley said.
Gumley and Chief Administrative Officer Guillermo Ferrero sharply differed on whether the society had been told it could not go ahead with power-up plans until the invoices were paid, while Couns. David Chesney, Anthony Manning and Erika Johanson questioned Gumley on why more fundraising could not have been done during the year, despite the dispute.
Coun. Scott Kristjanson said he wanted the city to move ahead with a Festival of Lights this year in whatever form it had to take. “What I’m seeing is a minor issue that cost you 10 months of a 12-month project,” he said.
“We have to have some certainty,” Walker said.
Council approved a motion from Johanson, amended by Kristjanson, that the Festival of Lights become a Class-A city event – and approved the $50,000 budget – with Manning casting the sole opposing vote.