‘Tis the season for outdoor light displays to brighten dark winter nights. The tradition of lighting fires on the winter solstice is an ancient one. In the 16th-century, trees appeared in German homes lit with candles to symbolize the newborn Saviour’s light. The UK adopted this tradition during the reign of Queen Victoria, and it eventually arrived in North America.

“First public Christmas tree in Central Park, Calgary, Alberta.”, 1914-12-24, (CU1122821) by Unknown. Courtesy of Glenbow Library and Archives, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.

An outdoor public display of lighted Christmas trees was first recorded in San Diego in 1904. In 1914, Calgary began lighting up a municipal tree in Central Memorial Park. Rockefeller Centre first raised its annual tree in 1933. By the 1950s, homes across North America were stringing up light displays.

Firemen Volunteers Organizing Lights for the Confederation Park Christmas Lights Display, 1973, Bill Onions fonds, CalA 2011-006-7111
Permission obtained from City of Calgary Archives

An iconic display in Calgary is the Lions Festival of Lights in Confederation Park (14th Street N.W. between 24th Avenue and Rosevale Drive). Lights have been displayed there since the park was established in 1967 for Canada’s centennial. In 1986, the Lions Club began organizing the display as a thank you to Calgarians for donating time and money to the Club. The Festival is supported by various sponsors, most recently including the City of Calgary, Calgary Herald, and Enmax. It is installed by volunteers, who last year strung up 650,000 bulbs on 25,000 strings with almost 4 km of power cords.

Volunteers Organizing Lights for the Confederation Park Christmas Lights Display, 1973
Bill Onions fonds, CalA 2011-006-7106
Permission obtained from City of Calgary Archives

The Calgary Lions Club is the oldest one in Alberta, dating to 1929. Its mission is community service, beginning with assistance to the blind and expanding to aiding seniors and the disabled. In 2013, an affordable residential seniors’ complex opened in the Bowness area.

Other notable displays were at Brewery Gardens, which is slated for major development, and the Calgary Tower itself, which received a natural gas-fired cauldron in 1987. In 2014, LEDs were installed, which use 60% less energy than the prior lights. It’s specially lit for charitable causes and on holidays, including Christmas and Hanukkah.

Christmas tree and display at the Brewery Gardens, Calgary, Alberta
CalA 95-025-002
Permission obtained from City of Calgary Archives

Another favourite was the flickering candle and alternating trees on the Alberta Government Telephones (AGT) Tower. Today, the uniquely designed Telus Sky creates public art shows with LED lights on its north and south facades. Dress warmly when going outside to enjoy the lights!

Telus Building at Christmas in Calgary, Alberta, no date,
ID 105747234 Royalkangas \ Dreamstime.com

– Anthony Imbrogno is a volunteer with The Calgary Heritage Initiative Society/Heritage Inspires YYC


– All copyright images cannot be shared without prior permission