The night the lights went out too early


For the last several Christmas seasons, a three-kilometre-long Trail of Lights has been installed at Downsview Park in northwestern Toronto.

The trail is set up mostly for driving, although one night a week it’s closed to cars and only pedestrians are allowed in. The advantage of staying in a car (apart from the obvious protection from inclement weather) is that you can tune your car radio to an unused frequency and listen to the music that is provided by the former Canadian Forces Base.

Through 2 January this season, the spectacular trail — incorporating more than 400,000 LED bulbs into themeed light displays, more than half of which are animated — has been open five nights a week, until 11pm. That was supposed to be the case even on New Year’s Eve, when I, somewhat belatedly, decided to take in the trail.

Throughout the drive, at a maximum allowed speed of 20 km/hour, the closed-circuit radio station urges you to take pictures, but not to stop or get out of your vehicle. Everyone ignores the no-stopping rule. However, there are several small displays at the end of the trail where you are encouraged to get out of your car and take pictures.

As I said, we were there on New Year’s Eve. The trail was supposed to be open (and lighted) until 11pm, with the entrance gate closed at 10.45pm. So we were a bit surprised when we completed the trail at 10.30pm, and just as we were getting out of the car, cameras in hand, the lights went out. At the end of the trail! The gate was closed and I guess the attendants decided they’d had enough and it was time to find a New Year’s party.

It was rather less shocking for us than it was for people who were already taking pictures of the end-of-the-trail displays. The lights just went out. In the dim light, I saw one man look down at his feet, apparently thinking he’d tripped over a power cord and de-lighted the whole park. But all that was under his feet was mud and muck left after the rain and unseasonably warm temperatures we’d been having.

I sympathize with people who work on holidays, but it was so close to quitting time anyway, couldn’t they have stuck it out for another 30 minutes?

If we have time tonight, we’re going to go back and try to shoot some of the end-of-trail lights, without having to pay the $25 entrance fee again.

Mia, the young friend we had brought along with us, began composing her letter of complaint on the drive home. The Downsview Park management should brace themselves for her letter. Last year, President’s Choice cheated her and came in for a stern letter. A package of PC Christmas crackers we’d bought promised that none of the prizes would be duplicated, and Mia had her eye on a little wooden penguin ornament. We had to pull all of the crackers so she could get her penguin — but there was no penguin. Instead, there were two candy cane ornaments. She wrote to PC asking for a penguin ornament, but was sent only a $10 coupon for PC products instead.

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