How Capilano gets its festive sparkle
This story is from 2017 and was sponsored by Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, which did not review or approve its content.
When Marc Luc Lalumiere is perched 150ft up on one of the giant Douglas firs at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, he likes to remind himself how lucky he is. “It’s so beautiful up there,” he says. “Sometimes I just stand on a branch and enjoy it – you feel the forest moving and every once in while you see an owl watching you.”
Not that he has a lot of time to stop and survey the natural wonderland. Lalumiere – it means “the light” in French – spearheads the design and installation of much of the 27-acre park’s glittering Canyon Lights, a dramatic festive display that lures thousands to the popular North Vancouver attraction every winter.
The annual project, says Lalumiere, starts in February when plans are finalized and equipment orders placed for a Christmas season that’s still many months away. Then, several weeks before the big November switch-on (this year’s Canyon Lights runs from November 23 to January 28), the installation of more than one million shimmering bulbs begins.
A large team strings the lights around the park’s buildings, Cliffwalk, main suspension bridge and less-lofty foliage, while Lalumiere’s crack smaller group – one other climber and a ground crew expert – tackles the more challenging installations. That means rappelling down into the deep Capilano River canyon plus scaling a series of gargantuan trees that tower up to 250ft above the forest floor.
“I’m a climber so its fun for me. But it’s a very intensive and detail-oriented job,” says Lalumiere, whose team hand-installs each bulb – including those on the eight massive Douglas firs in the park’s bridge-linked Treetops Adventure area. These lofty giants are already being described as the world’s tallest living Christmas trees.
“Each of these Treetops trees has around 8,000 bulbs and more than 100 electrical connections,” explains Lalumiere. “And once all their lights are in place, they look like huge Christmas candles glowing in the forest.”
Not that the magical illuminations damage the beloved woodland park in any way. The strings of bulbs hang from the trees on strips and, due to an innovative installation system, nothing is ever nailed or affixed to their trunks or branches.
For Lalumiere, the creative and technical aspects of the project make it a fascinating challenge every year – and that includes taking account of the sometimes-unpredictable West Coast rainforest weather. “You always have to think about the wind and any potential storms when you’re placing things that high up in the trees.”
But the job’s unique demands culminate in a highly fulfilling holiday season reward. “I’m so lucky that I can look up at what we’ve done and see a grand idea realized. Sometimes, I’ll come to the park during the season and just eavesdrop on people’s comments. I remember hearing one excited little kid last year running up and telling his Dad how much he loved it here. And that’s why I love it as well.”