By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
CALEDONIA—The holiday season may be fading in the rear-view mirror as we look ahead to 2023, but one of the major local highlights of last year’s local celebrations was the ‘Lights Along the Grand’ display that lit up Caledonia’s Kinsmen Park in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
That display wouldn’t be possible without the work of dedicated volunteer Mike Montgomery.
“I’ve been interested in lighting displays since I was a child and installed my first computerized light show on my parents’ home nearly 20 years ago when I was in high school,” said Montgomery, who went on to utilize those skills in planning and implementing a synchronized annual display at Caledonia’s Old Mill before it changed ownership.
Once that ownership change happened, Montgomery said Kinsmen Park was a “natural fit” for a walk-through display.
Caledonia Special Projects Committee chairperson Larry Fay recalled how impressed he was with the work done at the Old Mill by Montgomery and his friend Adam Harrison, who has since moved away.
“It was one of those things where it was hooked up so that when you drove up you would turn your radio to a certain station and the music and lights would work together. That was just incredible,” said Fay.
He spoke about the work that goes into the annual display: “Myself along with the Special Projects Group works all year long to refurbish existing displays and create new ones for the upcoming year. The bulk of the work really does happen behind the scenes. 2022 was especially busy for year us with two significant infrastructure initiatives also taking place: underground electrical throughout the park and a Wi-Fi system to support the displays and security system.”
The security system is an addition that was unfortunately necessary following an act of vandalism in 2021 that saw the event cancelled after vandals damaged many of the displays the night before that year’s Light Up Night was scheduled.
“It really upset him that someone did that. Now, everything has security,” said Fay. “Up until then we were running extension cords to all these things. Mike took it upon himself to go to the County … (and) we now have permanent power installed in the park.”
No such problems plagued this year’s event, which saw a huge turnout.
“If one positive thing came out of that vandalism, it was the fact that people realized that all those decorations down there are done by volunteers,” said Fay.
Montgomery even took the damaged lights, repurposed everything he could, and used them to light the fence around the pool and splash pad area at the park this year.
Fay praised the ingenuity behind the display, and the homegrown effort behind many of the items included. He highlighted the beautifully-lit candy canes, made from internally heated ABS piping by members of the Special Projects Committee, or this year’s new addition, a lit up mini–Argyle Street bridge, which was fabricated over the course of two semesters by students in teacher Jim Radix’s shop class at Dundas Valley Secondary School.
While many hands help prepare the displays, the lighting and programming are all Montgomery.
“He basically does it on his own. He’s set up in our workshop at Clark’s Barn by himself at night wiring these things,” said Fay.
Montgomery’s commitment to Caledonia is even more impressive considering he no longer even lives there, having since moved to Hamilton.
Montgomery also has the honour of flipping the switch and turning on the display during the Light Up Night festivities that kick off the season. He called this job nerve-wracking, adding, “No matter how many tests I run, with computers there is always some uncertainty that it might not work the way you intended.”
He said that, while he doesn’t do the work for recognition, “The response this year has been pretty amazing. I think it is extra special this year after the disappointment we had … in 2021.”
Fay called the display and efforts like it vital to keeping the spirit of togetherness and community alive in Caledonia.
“To take your kid or take your parent or whatever, and just go down and see something positive … people look forward to that Light Up Night – that’s the start of many people’s celebrations,” he said. “The crowd down there this year was unbelievable. I’ve never seen a crowd like that before.”
He concluded, “On behalf of myself, the Special Projects Committee, the Chamber, the whole community, I just want to say thanks.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Montgomery is already looking ahead to Light Up Night 2023.
“Work will begin on new components as soon as the current display has been dismantled and will continue throughout the year. We are hoping to increase the amount of displays along the existing pedestrian paths to better the walk through experience.”
We can’t wait to see what Mike and the Special Projects team come up with.