In the heart of Coquitlam, Metro Vancouver’s largest free outdoor winter lights display, Lights at Lafarge, is enchanting visitors once again. Sara Yastremski, the Parks Services Manager with the City of Coquitlam, offered an exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creation and evolution of this spectacular holiday tradition.
Sara’s journey with Lights at Lafarge began in 2015 when she started as a laborer, installing lights and creating elements for the display. Over the years, she has risen through the ranks and now plays a pivotal role in planning, organizing, and delivering this magical experience. The event originated as a small installation in 2011 and has since transformed into a dazzling 1.2-km loop around Lafarge Lake, boasting over a million lights and captivating themed zones.
The Creative Force Behind Lights at Lafarge
With over a thousand volunteers involved annually, Lights at Lafarge is not just a display; it’s a community-driven masterpiece. “There’s a lot of creativity and enthusiasm that’s put into the lights,” says Sara. The dedication of park staff and volunteers bring to life reimagined elements and vignettes focusing on flora, fauna, and fairytales.
Some of this year’s highlights include a magical lit carriage reminiscent of Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, a “Nature is Lit” area celebrating West Coast nature, and a whimsical “Fairytales and Disco in the Forest” installation at the southern end of the lake.
The event continually surprises visitors with new additions throughout the season to keep the experience fresh. “We find that often people visit more than once throughout the duration of the lights,” says Sara. “So we want to be able to give people a unique experience every single time that they visit.”
Building Inclusion through Collaboration and Engagement
Sara emphasized the importance of community engagement, underlining the collaborative spirit that makes Lights at Lafarge truly special. “The Park Spark volunteer program provides an opportunity to have fun and gain meaningful experiences while enhancing Coquitlam’s parks,” Sara shares. While the program provides year-round opportunities for people of all ages and abilities, workshops for the event start in September, where individuals can actively contribute by fabricating elements for the lights.
As the installation period approaches—a two-week window of all-hands-on-deck effort—volunteers and staff unite to meticulously bring the display to life. “We offer a variety of opportunities for people to lend their expertise or experiences to connect with our parks,” Sara highlights, emphasizing the inclusive nature of the Park Spark initiative.
Throughout the event, the commitment to community involvement continues with free activities that are designed to ensure a unique and memorable experience for each visitor. From a festive dance party around the lake to caroling sing-a-long and more, the diverse range of activities ensures there’s something special for everyone.
Accessibility and Ownership
The popularity of Lights at Lafarge is bolstered by its accessibility. Sara highlighted that it’s perfect for all ages and abilities, with a flat, safe, and hardscaped walk around the lake. The proximity to the Lafarge Lake-Douglas SkyTrain station makes it easily accessible, allowing visitors to ditch the cars and opt for transit if need be.
Sara also noted the community’s sense of ownership to help make the event one-of-a-kind. “Because we have so many people that get involved in the display, people really take ownership of it,” says Sara. “They get involved, they showcase their civic pride for their community, and they’re so enthusiastic that they have something this amazing in their backyard.”
When and Where to Experience the Magic
With over 500,000 visitors annually, Lights at Lafarge is a major attraction. Sara recommended visiting before 6 p.m. or after 8 p.m., or on weeknights, to avoid peak crowds. Rain or shine, the lights are on from just before 4 p.m. until 11 p.m., offering ample opportunities for a magical experience.
The event extends beyond Christmas, with lights shining until Family Day in February. Sara encouraged visitors to explore the Coquitlam City Centre core, with numerous dining and shopping options within walking distance. However, for those craving a quick bite, Lights at Lafarge has a variety of food vendors on-site to provide delightful treats, including grilled cheese, mini-donuts, European hand-rolled chimney cakes, ice cream, and hot chocolate.
Beyond Lafarge: Explore Mackin Park
For those who reside outside of central Coquitlam or are seeking a quieter experience, Sara recommended a lesser known gem. “We also have the Mackin Park light display,” says Sara. “Because Lights at Lafarge is so popular, we wanted to provide an experience on the other side of Coquitlam so that people who didn’t want to travel across town also got that opportunity to have a winter lights display that’s right in the heart of Maillardville.”
Whether reflecting on the Lights at Lafarge or the Mackin Park display, Sara’s passion is evident. “I’ve watched it grow from something so small into this massive undertaking,” says Sara. “And hearing all the different people talking about it and being in awe of it, it’s just one of the best parts of my job I guess I can imagine.”
While the holiday season might be over, there is still plenty of time to enjoy the twinkling lights that promise to be a magical escape for all who venture into its enchanting embrace.