Parliament Hill lights up

Walk through downtown Ottawa this winter and you’ll find more than blankets of snow and ice. Hundreds of trees sparkle with colourful lights of green, blue and pink. Wired frames in shapes of deer and wolves aglow with clear white lights, grace the lawns of Parliament Hill.Winter glows with some 250,000 Christmas lights in the nation’s capital when the Festival of Lights begins December 7.

The display loops through Wellington, Mackenzie and Elgin Streets in the city centre as well as down Sussex Drive. It includes Laurier Street in Hull and the Portage and Alexandra bridges. Some of the best viewing areas include the front lawn of Parliament Hill and the Alexandra and Portage bridges.

Sherry Berg is the landscape architect responsible for setting up of the display. She says she designs the lights so people can see them from a far distance.

“I take into account how light is perceived in darkness. So in some cases I look at how people are seeing the lights from their perspective and vantage point, and then use the appropriate colours. For instance, Jean Cartier Park is way across the river in Hull but you can still see it from Ottawa. It’s decorated wi really bright colours so it shines much further.”

In with the new
For most people, the challenge of decorating their own homes gives new meaning to the term winter chills. After all, you can’t just toss lights on your house and hope they land strategically. Perfecting the art of putting up Christmas lights takes practice and creativity. And even though this is Berg’s eighth season working for the festival, she isn’t burnt out of new ideas yet.

“There’s been a shift in the design philosophy this year,” she says. “We’re doing the Boulevard in clear lights and using coloured lights for more notable points. For instance, the War Memorial is decorated in deep colours such as blue, green and mauve. I used more somber colours because it’s a place for remembering and it shouldn’t be very festive. On the other hand, Confederation Park highlights the festival’s main sponsor, Canada Post, by being decorated in its signature colours — red and blue.”

In preparation for the festival, Berg also says Confederation Blvd was revamped. Sidewalks were upgraded and sockets were put in for trees previously without power. They’ll now be lit up with the rest, eliminating unsightly black spots.

One would expect the odd black spot or gap in lighting due to burnt out bulbs. But Berg doesn’t worry about that. A crew of five electricians is responsible for changing any burnt out bulbs, but only during the fall months. It takes about a month to put up the $245,000 display, so they start just after Thanksgiving. Berg says once the Christmas season arrives, they don’t replace any of the 250,000 lights. After all, with that many, how could you notice a stray bulb or two?

A great place for families
But the glow of hundreds of thousands of lights isn’t the only attraction of the festival. Berg says people come out because it’s an ideal family outing, especially the grand opening, on December 7.

“”The opening ceremony where we turn on the lights is very nice. Families are each handed candles and then the lights go on all at once. It makes winter not so gloomy.”

And if you find the weather outside simply frightful, you can always stay in your car. The lights are designed so people can drive along and enjoy the display from the comforts of their heated vehicles.

For the rest of the nation, a live camera is set up on Parliament Hill, so Canadians everywhere can enjoy the lights. Just log on to the National Capital Commission web site, anytime between December 7 and January 14, 2001 and be prepared for an enlightening experience.