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Simcoe Christmas Panorama

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

It Was a Clear Day…

We had been invited to attend the Simcoe Christmas Panorama some weeks before. As with any invitation that we accept, it is always contingent on the weather and being able to arrive safely. Because of the distance involved and the fact this was going to be an evening event, we had decided that we should stay overnight. Festival partner, the Simcoe Comfort Inn, had generously offered us a room for the night. The weather reports had told us that the Saturday would be sunny and clear but that a major storm (snow, wind, freezing rain and then more snow) was going to start Saturday evening. After much discussion we decided to take a chance. What was the worst that could happen, an extra day in beautiful Simcoe? Our dog, Dusty, was luxuriating at Judi’s sister’s home! So, early Saturday morning we packed up and started on our 3 hour trip. As I said, it was a clear day with the sun peaking through scattered clouds. The trip was uneventful. Traffic was fine, even through Toronto (a miracle). We arrived in Simcoe around 12 noon. We found and checked into the Simcoe Comfort Inn. The greeting at the front counter was very friendly. The girl at the front desk knew we were coming. Our check-in went very quickly and we were in our room in no time. I had wanted to see Wellington Park, where the ceremonies were going to take place, in the day light. So, after a short rest, we went back to our car. Along the way we met our benefactor, Barbara Ridout, General Manager of the Inn. Barb is an integral part of the Panorama. She is not only 1st Vice President, but also organizes the reception for the Bus Tours that come to the Christmas Panorama. Our introduction was very short as Barb was rushing off to the reception building. The finishing touches needed to be completed! The park was only a short drive from the Comfort Inn. The park was closed off the traffic, so we had to find a parking spot in another area. There was an off street parking area close by just beside the park’s lake. A greeting committee of a hundred ducks (mallards) or so met us as we exited our vehicle. The greeting was very loud and enthusiastic! We walked away from our greeters to the park where tonight’s opening ceremonies were going to take place…

In the Daylight…

The park was empty except for a few hardy individuals who were putting the finishing touches on Panorama displays. The temperature was a balmy -8?C, but we were dressed warmly so the cold air wasn’t too bad! We decided that we would walk the entire park and snap photos of the various displays as we went along. The displays were a combination of static and mobile. Mobile meaning that they were on wheels and could be also be used as parade floats. The number and variety was impressive. There was everything from Santa in a boat, floating on the water to Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer. The Grinch was there, as were the three little pigs! There was a large locomotive and across from it was a large “Santa” moose! Displays included a model train set-up, a doll choir and a nativity scene. All were laid out to allow for a large number of visitors. As we walked through the display area, we tried to image what the whole scene was going to look like in the dark with all the lights turned on. We would find out in a few hours…

Opening Night…

It was dark and it was cold, but the spirit and the enthusiasm of the crowd that had already gathered made the evening perfect. The opening ceremonies weren’t scheduled to start for a while yet, so people milled around the stage area talking with their neighbours and drinking hot chocolate. The Boy Scouts had set up a booth next to the stage and were making a killing that night. They were serving hot chocolate and homemade cookies and there was a long, steady line up of customers! People of all ages were there eagerly waiting for the festivities to begin. Judi and I were wandering around taking in the excitement of the evening. We had been told that one of the Christmas Panorama organizers would meet us that evening to answer any questions that we might have, so I introduced myself to anyone who looked like they might be one of the festival organizers. This was an interesting process! My first approach was to a group of ladies with “Santa” hats. They turned out to be part of the evening’s entertainment. They were Simcoe’s Carillon Bells Chorus (now members the internationally famous “Sweet Adenines” organization). Next I approached a lady in a very festive Canadian Maple Leaf outfit. I introduced myself thinking so might be one of the organizers. It turned out I had just introduced myself to the Hon. Diane Finley, P.C., M.P., Haldimand-Norfolk, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Diane is the Haldimand-Norfolk Member of Parliament. After getting over my embarrassment of not recognizing the Honourable Minister (after all, I am not from this area, give me our member, Rick Norlock, and I will recognize him every time!), I had a great “chat” with her. She told me she was from the area and wanted to support the efforts of the Panorama organizers. While I had been talking with Diane, a distinguished gentleman came over to speak with her. He was none other than the Simcoe Christmas Panorama President himself, Clarence Wheaton. We introduced ourselves. He immediately knew who we were and told us how happy he was that we had driven such a long distance. I told him we were happy to be there and thanked him for inviting us. I asked him if he knew which committee member was going to meet us. He told us Sue Robertson and then, as if by magic, Sue appeared! Sue filled us in on the evening’s schedule. While we were talking, OPP officers started to appear in numbers and asked everyone standing where we were to move back to make space in the road and driveway area. The evening’s special guest was about to arrive…

And the Lights Went On…

The road was cleared and the black SUV drove into the driveway. The honour guard came to attention as the black SUV came to a halt. The door to the vehicle opened and the Honourable David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, was helped out of the vehicle onto his motorized cart. As the Lieutenant Governor moved forward towards the Panorama officials, the crowd enthusiastically applauded their appreciation of his appearance at this event! His honour moved in front of the stage while Carillon Bells Chorus finished their performance. Once his honour was settled, the MC introduced the festival chairman. Greetings and introductions were made and then the Lieutenant Governor was introduced. After a short address, the Lieutenant Governor pressed the buttons, the lights went on and Christmas Panorama was officially open. To thanks his Honour for his participation in the evening’s festivities, the organizing committee presented him with a beautiful framed print by Vic Gibbons. Vic is an internationally collected artist whose home and studio are located near Simcoe. Vic is the Olde Towne Gallery resident artist. Once the opening ceremonies were over the crowd went their separate ways to enjoy the amazing light spectacle. Judi and I started to follow until we heard a strange noise …

Into the Night and Beyond…

Before we could investigate the lights, an antique fire engine pulled into the driveway, and who should be riding in the passenger’s seat? Santa! What a surprise! I guess he heard that the Lieutenant Governor was coming to town and wanted to pay a special visit! Santa and the Lieutenant Governor had a private chat. I wonder what the Lieutenant Governor could have been asking Santa for Christmas. Maybe we will find out some day! It was now time to explore all the wonderful lights and displays in the park. It was amazing to see all the displays and floats that we had seen during the day come to such vibrant life at nights. As we walked through the park, we saw the joy and pride of the Simcoe residences that had come to the park to celebrate the opening ceremonies of the 49th annual Simcoe Christmas Panorama. We were happy that we had decided to come and visit it. When we were about half way around the park, Judi turned to me and said “Maybe we should leave now and go home”. Even though we were all unpacked at the Comfort Inn, I saw the wisdom in her words and said “Yes, let’s”. We continued our journey through the park, taking photographs of the various displays, while making our way back to our car. From the park we drove to the Tour Bus reception area to say goodbye to our host and to explain why we departing so quickly. The Panorama has a great Tour Bus program that let people come to Simcoe to enjoy the town and its Christmas spectacular. The tour bus drives the people around the town to enjoy all the lights and displays. Part of the tour includes the houses that have entered the Home Decorating Contest. Once the tour has ended, the bus brings the people back to the Panorama Reception area and store. Here tour participants can enjoy a light snack or browse display tables full of Christmas gift goodies. We really appreciated Simcoe’s hospitality and had been looking forward to exploring it in the morning, but we were afraid of the anticipated storm. After checking out of the Comfort Inn we headed home. Luckily the highways were free of traffic and the weather was still clear. When we reached Toronto I turned the radio on to 680 News to listen to their traffic and weather reports. The first report that we listen to told us the snow had started to fall in the Woodstock area. We had just come from there! A little further on, Ajax, the report said that the snow was starting to fall in Kitchener. We had just come from there! In Oshawa, the report was the snow was falling just west of Mississauga. We had just come from there! The final report that we listen to that night was in Port Hope. The snow had just reached Toronto and was heading east towards Cobourg! When we arrived in Cobourg, there was still no snow.
Tired, but happy to be home we went to bed. Early the next morning I woke up and looked out our front window. I couldn't see our car! It was completely covered in snow! Thank goodness for Judi’s intuition!

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