It’s always around this time of year that people ask me about the DeClute Light Up The Beach event. When is it happening? How does it work? What is it?
How it all began
In 2007, the Beaches boardwalk was a thriving summer destination. In the winter months, it was often lonely, dark, cold and dreary. This particular summer, a local resident approached my brother, Rick DeClute, with an idea to bring life to the boardwalk in the winter. It was too big of a project for this neighbour to “light up” the beach himself, but he knew the DeClutes had a long history of supporting and sponsoring many, important initiatives in our community. He was confident we could make it happen.
We were very excited about the idea of “lighting up the beach”. It would be an entirely different and unique approach to sponsorships and a gift to the community. Most importantly, DeClute Light Up The Beach was designed so everyone, no matter what age or background, could enjoy. So it began — the planning, permits, and all the lessons learned along the way.
How does the event work?
Step 1: The lights
In year one, our first step was to call a reputable lighting designer…yes that is a real thing! We had a connection with Visions Display. The founder, JoAnn Craigee, is the best. She is truly the cream of the crop. JoAnn was generous with her time, meeting us at the boardwalk and personally teaching us how to wrap the trees so they looked as bright and magnificent as possible. We quickly realized it is not just a matter of stringing lights back and forth and up and down the branches, there is a whole technique and system in place. As we hung the lights, our excitement grew. We knew just how magical this event would be for our community.
We strung a total of 50,000 individual LED bulbs for the first year of DeClute Light Up The Beach. We were a small, but spirited group of 50 locals who met on a cold, early winter evening to flip the switches and “Light Up The Beach”. We spontaneously sang carols and enjoyed each other’s company, coming together to celebrate our community. We also wanted to gift each attendee with a keepsake. We handed out custom Christmas ornaments, which has become a tradition every year since. Last year, we handed out over 2,000 ornaments.
Each year, we spend 4-6 weeks preparing the lights. It takes two weeks to detangle and test the lights. Members of our staging crew and staff pitch in to help get the job done. By November 1st, we are ready to hang the lights. It takes a dedicated crew of four people with two bucket lift cranes, an enormous amount of resources, and hours every year to carefully string Christmas lights as high as 65 feet above the boardwalk through the mature oak, maple and willow trees lining the shores of Lake Ontario. We now string more than 80,000 individual LED bulbs on 20,000 linear feet of wire each fall.
We maintain the lights and replace or repair them as needed. We typically replace the lights every 2-3 years. Our biggest challenge can be the squirrels. They tend to chew the wires. In heavy rains, the electrical switches shut off. Almost every other night, from December to the end of February, you will see Rick walking the boardwalk with a ladder under his arm on his way to fix a circuit. The lights come down in February, which is typically known to be the coldest month of the year. This process takes us just under 3 weeks to complete.
Step 2: Hot chocolate, soup and Santa!
In year two, we shared the tree lighting with 100 attendees. We began the tradition of serving hot chocolate (we served almost 4,000 cups of hot chocolate in 2018!) and invited Santa along for the fun. All the kids began to count down the tree lighting — 5, 4, 3, 2…1! Santa would use his Christmas magic to light the trees, one by one, as we all followed, strolling along the boardwalk from the foot of Leuty Avenue to the Balmy Beach Club.
Year three was a big one for us. We welcomed almost 500 people to the tree lighting. Veloute restaurant joined the party, serving their signature gourmet soups to all those who attended. Every year since, this amazing restaurant has continued serving their delicious soups to each guest that attends the first, official night of Light Up The Beach.
It’s also been special to have the very talented Malvern school band and choir playing holiday songs for the crowds each year, bringing thousands of people together by singing along.
Step 3: Our generous community
As the years went on, guests would bring donations of unwrapped toys, non-perishable food items and cash to Light Up The Beach. In 2016, we made the decision to connect with a charity that could benefit from our generous community. Our family — like many families — is affected by mental health and addiction, and we decided to partner with the Michael Garron Hospital (formerly Toronto East General) to support the hospital’s Mental Health and Addiction Services. So far, we have proudly raised close to $35,000. This year, we would like to reach $50,000. We are confident we can reach this goal with the support of our incredible community.
In 2017, we took on an enthusiastic new partner in our business and our Light Up The Beach event with Melanie and Lindsay Wright. As inspiring leaders of the Wright Sisters Real Estate Group, Melanie and Lindsay helped bring the event to a new fundraising level and we reached record attendance through the support of their clients, friends, and families. It was estimated the crowd was 3,500 – 4,500 people, which was amazing to see!
To know we can give this gift to the community and draw people to the boardwalk while raising money for a cause that is so important to our community is the best part of the holidays for our families. Our entire staff, all of our agents, and our staging crew participate in Light Up The Beach, as do most of their families. At DeClute and Wright Sisters Real Estate, this is truly the most wonderful time of the year and a special way to kick-off the holiday season.
The idea behind this annual event was conceived as a way of making the boardwalk and the Beach an enjoyable destination for local residents in the cold winter months. Little did we know it would draw people from across the city, country and even across the pond.
We truly value our community and are thrilled to present this year’s Light Up The Beach in support of mental health and addiction services on November 29th. We look forward to seeing you there!