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Christmas in Williams Park will go on this year, council confirms

Vote to fund staff work on light display passes unanimously

Christmas in Williams Park will continue this year after Langley Township council voted to support it, following a near-cancellation.

Barb Sharp, president of the society that runs the annual drive-through light event, appeared before council to ask them to override a decision made earlier this year by staff. Sharp received a letter in September telling her that Township parks staff would no longer be available to set up and take down lights – help the society has relied on for the last several years.

“We’ve had an event in the park since 1991, and up until this year, we’ve moved along pretty smoothly,” Sharp said.

She noted that between setting up talks with Township staff and discussing the issue with the Christmas in Williams Park Society’s board, this meeting was the first time she was able to speak to council.

When word broke on social media and in the Langley Advance Times that the event might have to be cancelled, it prompted a great deal of response, some of it directed at Township’s mayor and council.

“This is just a bloody mess all the way around,” Councillor Tim Baillie said.

He first heard of it from his daughter-in-law and grandchild, who wanted to know why he was cancelling Christmas.

“I found this whole thing to be incredibly disappointing,” said Mayor Eric Woodward, who also first heard of the situation on social media.

He mentioned emails calling the council “trash human beings,” among other things.

“Clearly the society was created because, in 1991 an event started using this park,” said Coun. Kim Richter. “I think the way they’re feeling right now is that the rug’s been pulled out from under their feet.”

By the end of the meeting, the council had voted to endorse a motion from Coun. Steve Ferguson that would keep the event going this year.

Ferguson’s original motion called on the Township staff to support installation and takedown for the project, with a budget for the work of up to $50,000.

The question of the event’s future came up repeatedly.

One issue was that the event is run by a non-profit society, but using a Township park and with annual help from Township staff.

Sharp noted that in the past, over the varied incarnations of the Christmas event, the lights have not been put up by staff, but that has been the way it’s been done for several years, and a transition to using volunteers or other methods this fast wasn’t possible.

“We need what we’ve had for the past five years at least,” Sharp said.

She also noted how closely the event has been entwined with the Township. When she joined the society in 2011, it was because she saw a Township-placed ad in the newspaper.

“From my initial involvement, I’ve never been told this was not a Township of Langley event.”

The Township’s chief administrator, Mark Bakken, noted that there is a complication with the Township running the event directly.

Governments in Canada can’t directly support one religion or ideology over another. That means that if the Township took a more direct hand in operating the event, it would have to run equivalent events for other major faiths too.

Council discussed other aspects of the event, including traffic issues for neighbours of the park and the carbon dioxide emissions of so many cars moving slowly through the loop of the park’s driveway.

The prospect of another seasonal lights event, run by the Township, at the Derek Doubleday Arboretum on Fraser Highway, was also on the minds of councillors.

Sharp said she had no issue with another, separate event.

But when Sharp noted publicly that there was a listing in the Township events inventory about a proposed light walk, fears were raised that it was intended as a replacement for Christmas in Williams Park.

All the councillors noted that they wanted to continue supporting the Williams Park event.

How it continues in the future, with or without Township staff, will be up for discussion, but not until this year’s event goes ahead.

An amendment to the funding motion was made by Baillie, to have Christmas in Williams Park Society members sit down with Township staff early in the new year, to work out the event’s future. Multiple options were suggested during the meeting, including further staff help, or a transition to using contractors or volunteers, with guidance from Township staff.

“I think this was entirely avoidable and entirely unnecessary,” Woodward noted near the end of the debate.

The event this year is scheduled to run from Dec. 1 to 20 every evening. Admission is free, and donations go towards more lights and replacing existing lights.

READ MORE: Mayor responds to ruckus over possible end of Christmas in Williams Park


Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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