INNISFAIL – The pandemic weary populace is being invited to be the light.
Innisfailians are also asked to shed all their differences, and embrace that light. The goal is to be a shining example of how a community of every cultural and political stripe can all come together when the magic of light brings a promise of hope.
“We absolutely need something to bring the community together right now. There has been a lot of divisions. There has been so much that has torn people apart,” said Innisfailian Riki Findley of the vehicle of hope she has joined as a volunteer.
“This is exactly the type of thing that is needed to give something people to look forward to, to bring people together, to give them a single-minded community goal. This is a really beautiful inspiring way to do it.”
Findley’s hope is the upcoming 1st Annual Innisfail Lantern Festival. It is a free event for the community, and supported by a $2,500 grant from the town’s Community Grant Program, that will be held over three days in July.
The vehicles for light will be citizen-made lanterns. There will be lantern-creating workshops for adults at the Innisfail and District Historical Village on July 10, and then for kids on July 17.
On July 24, the historical village will be the venue for an all-day barbecue and food truck festival and lantern decorating.
When the day’s light slips to dusk kids will head out for a Parade of Light at local seniors’ residences. And then, the lanterns at the village will light up for a grand finale, a spectacular community-driven choreographed light show that will fulfill the promise of hope for citizens who have endured the trials of a lifetime since COVID arrived almost 14 months ago.
“I have three small kids, so to see how much they have been affected by this (COVID) lockdown and everything else, this is something they can look forward to, or the seniors can look forward to,” said volunteer Crystal Kemp.
“It is such a wonderful thing for all of us to be able to contribute to.”
The festival idea was the brainchild of Dale Dunham, who co-owns The Coffee Cottage with Shaun Steen.
Dunham was inspired by the memory of a past life in Victoria, B.C. where an annual lantern festival offered hope and lifted the spirits of its citizens.
“People looked forward to it all year long. They would go to such extremes to make these beautiful light installations, anything from animals to large globes full of colour and light,” said Dunham.
"It was such a magical event, and I thought we could try to do something here. It is still breaking my heart to see how divided the community has become over so many things. I am hoping to put out that olive branch."
Everyone is invited, no matter what their social or political beliefs are, he said.
“I love the catch phrase, Be the light. Be the light in the community. Be something that people can look up to, that people can respect.”
However, there remains one big unknown for the festival - the state of the pandemic and whether it will cast troublesome shadows over the promised light.
Dunham said organizers have several contingency plans in place.
“If there is a 100 per cent lockdown and people can’t do anything then obviously, we will postpone it or try to figure something else out,” said Dunham. “But barring a complete lockdown if we are only allowed to be in groups of 10, as we are now, then we are going to have a volunteer go with each, and each group will be able to do something at some place within the town, so it will either be a seniors residence to show them the lanterns or a group of 10 going through the historical village.”
Sue Haddow, a community leader and festival volunteer, has high hopes for the event, largely because the idea and determination to make it successful came from two men – Dunham and Steen – who have repeatedly put the welfare of the community first before all else.
Haddow, who is also the co-chair of Innisfail’s current Welcoming & Inclusive Community Committee (WICC), noted the goals of the lantern festival are perfectly aligned with those advocated by the WICC, to promote tolerance and community inclusiveness.
“It absolutely does. The goals of the welcoming committee are to bring the community together and to have everybody feel welcomed no matter their background, or their religious or political beliefs,” said Haddow.
“This is what the community is about and that is what this project is about.”
For more information on the 1st Annual Innisfail Lantern Festival visit the website at www.innisfaillanternfestival.ca, or go to the Innisfail Lantern Festival Facebook page, or to innisfaillanternfestival on Instagram.
Citizens can also send questions and ideas to organizers and volunteers by email at email@example.com