The Airdrie Festival of Lights wrapped up its 22nd season Jan. 31, with a special event to recognize the volunteers, organizations and sponsors who helped make the event a success. According to Michelle Pirzek, event co-ordinator, organizers “couldn’t be happier” with this season’s turnout.
“Despite the cold weather snap that last week of December, which was a little unfortunate, we had an incredibly successful season – our great volunteers were able to rally the troops, and we ended up staying open an additional five days,” she said.
Seven different fundraising groups received cheques to thank them for their service, compared to two groups last year, Pirzek said. Cheques were also presented to Airdrie Fire and EMS services for their participation in the Great Airdrie Train Race Dec. 22, as well as community organizations including Community Links, Project Linus and Nose Creek Valley Museum.
“It was a great celebration night,” Pirzek said.
During the course of the season, which ran from Dec. 1, 2017, until Jan. 5, more than 3,000 volunteer hours were accumulated – and more than 53,000 visitors passed through the park. Last year, attendance was around 30,000, Pirzek said.
“The last couple of years have been a bit of a struggle for us, and I don’t know if maybe that’s just brought us top of mind again, but I think sometimes you take things for granted,” she said. “But we’ve started to see more and more people getting involved and realizing it’s an important event.”
According to Pirzek, Airdrie’s Festival of Lights has helped put the community on the map – providing a “destination attraction” for people from throughout the province, country and even abroad. Visitors this year hailed from as far away as South America and England, Pirzek said.
“There’s a real community, family feel, and it’s a nice change of pace instead of racing from one thing to another,” she said. “It’s a leisurely walk, just an evening to hang out, and I think that’s appealing to people – especially during the holidays, when they’re looking to not be rushed all the time.”
The event is also budget-friendly, she added, and welcomes people of all ages. Thanks to a title sponsor presenting the festival this year, Chinook Gate, Pirzek said there were also more activities and events than ever before.
This year’s festival also welcomed back some displays that hadn’t been rewired to meet updated provincial codes in time for last year’s event, including the much-loved penguin village display and the expansive townscape.
“We’re still wrapping up the last of our items, but we’re already planning for next year,” Pirzek said. “We’ve got a strategic planning session coming up, so we’ll sit down and look at where we were successful and what we can do better. Then, come February, we’ll start working on our budget for next year.”
The society works 12 months of the year to prepare the event, Pirzek said, in a constant effort to help the festival build and grow. She said she is grateful for how the community has stepped up over this past season, and hopes to see that support continue.
“When we started this 22 years ago, we thought it would maybe last ten years – we never thought 20,” she said. “But now, we’re seeing 20 more years, at least. The foundation is strong, the model is great, and we really hope to keep this going.”