25 April 2013

The Firelight Lantern Festival

It was a full year ago that Susanne Larner approached me with the idea of starting a lantern festival in the County. We didn’t know each other very well at the time*, but she knew that I had a background in producing theatre and festivals; I had, in fact, been a participant in Toronto’s Kensington Market Festival of Lights for a number of years, so I knew exactly what type of magic she was dreaming of conjuring. Susanne’s inspiration was the Illuminaires festival that she'd seen in Vancouver. Although Prince Edward County is known for its abundant creativity, we had no events like this, and Susanne and I agreed it would be a great way to bring our community together.

poster image by Milé Murtanovski
We put out an invitation to some other creative types, and soon we were calling ourselves "The Department of Illumination." Our goal was to light up the place we love.

The Department of Illumination. Back row, L to R: Norman Marland, Nell Casson, Krista Dalby, Shelby Larner, Susanne Larner, Liz Zylstra. Front row: Milé Murtanovski, Chrissy Poitras, Kyle Topping.
We knew that community engagement would be the heart of our success, so we planned 15 lantern-making workshops throughout the County. There was nowhere we wouldn’t go; we held workshops at a seniors’ home, five library branches, The Bloomfield Centre for Creativity, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Books & Company, Spark Box Studio, and held a special workshop for the Brownies and Guides.

The workshops were an incredible success as more than 300 people turned out to make lanterns with us. We had chosen water as a theme for our festival, although we told people that it was more important for them to express themselves than to stick with the theme. I could relay dozens of stories from these workshops, but one of my favourites is of a father who came to drop off his son. The dad decided to stay for a few minutes to help, and before he knew it, was deeply involved in constructing his own lantern and stayed all afternoon. When his wife called to find out if he was on his way home, he responded "Are you kidding? This is more fun then I've had in months."

Workshop at Emmanuel Baptist Church
Back at Small Pond Arts, the lanterns were piling up…

Most people took their lanterns home, but we made 40+ more to display in libraries and shop windows, and to sell at the festival for those who hadn’t had a chance to make their own.

The day of the festival arrived. Our plan was to gather at Benson Park with some entertainment on site, parade down Main Street to Delhi Park, where we’d have music performances, a shadow puppetry play and light installations to explore. Unfortunately, the weather was ridiculously cold and windy, so we decided to move the festival indoors. We’d had the foresight to rent the charming Picton Town Hall for just such a purpose.
Photo by Phil Norton
We spent the afternoon decorating and setting up the hall. People started arriving early, and they just kept pouring through the doors. Young and old carried lanterns that they’d made at our workshops or at home, ranging from simple to sophisticated, but everyone beamed with the pride of showing off what they’d made with their own two hands.
Kate MacNaughton, photo by Ramesh Pooran
Photo by Kelly Roblin
Then the entertainment began. There was a belly-dancer…
Teresa Burton, photo by Ramesh Pooran
And there was music…

Melissa Larkin and D'Ari Pouyat, photo by Sam Serrano
The wind let up a bit and there was an impromptu and wildly joyful parade around the block.

Photo by Sam Serrano
Photo by Phil Norton
There were drummers...

Photo by Phil Norton
Milé walked around on stilts (apparently “For the glory of Picton!”)…

Milé Murtanovski, photo by Norman Markland
Then we performed the shadow play that I’d written for the occasion, The Monster of Lake on the Mountain.

There was a black light tent…

Photo by Phil Norton
A “Make a Wish” station…

There was more music, and a giant puppet...

Chris Bonham-Carter, photo by Phil Norton
And finally, a little sing-along…

All in all, it made for a most memorable evening in our small town.

Photo by Phil Norton
Thank you to the DOZENS of volunteers who made this happen, and to the HUNDREDS of people who came out to revel in our community’s collective creativity!

Thanks to our sponsors and supporters: Books & Company, Bloomfield Centre for Creativity, County of Prince Edward Public Libraries, Kelly’s Shop, Picton Home Hardware, Picton Recreation Committee, Royal Canadian Legion Branch #78 and Spark Box Studio.

Krista Dalby and Susanne Larner
*through plotting and planning this festival, Susanne and I became good friends, and last November, we even wound up traveling to Ghana together! But that's another story...


  1. I had such an amazing time, I'm excited for next year!

  2. Absolutely FABULOUS! Wish I could have been there ...