COVID-19 may have altered traditional Christmas celebrations, but it hasn't made a dent in people's Christmas spirit.
The drive-through River of Lights celebration and stand-still parade organized by the Rotary Clubs of Brockville working with the city, and held on Saturday, was a resounding success.
"We estimate about 8,000 people went through. In the first two hours cars were filled with children. Later people said they waited two hours in line with cars backed up to Sharpe's Lane in the east, Centre Street to the west and Swiss Chalet to the north," said Dave Paul, co-chairman of the Rotarians' organizing committee.
Although the event was smaller and everyone had to stay in their cars, it was no less spectacular.
Santa's workshop (courtesy of Amish by Design) had been set up on Blockhouse Island, and the man in red and Mrs. Claus arrived early by sleigh.
"Rudolph was the only reindeer pulling the sleigh this year, because the other reindeer are social distancing from him," said Monique Homer, Rotarian and volunteer in charge of welcoming Santa.
Following a short rest after their lengthy flight from the North Pole, the Clauses were driven back to Blockhouse Island in a four-by-four led by a small contingent of Brockville re-enactors to kick off the event with the lighting of Blockhouse Island.
This year, the Rotary Clubs of Brockville were astounded at the number of volunteers who came out to help.
"I had more than 100 volunteers, more than I needed, people were so anxious to get out and help," said Paul.
In the end the extra volunteers went a long way to ensuring traffic moved smoothly and all were clearly there to have fun and spread cheer.
"I'm in the firefighting program at St. Lawrence College and I'm not from around here, so I thought I'd volunteer and see what they do around town," said Sam Cordery, who hails from Orillia.
The 18-year-old was stationed near Santa's workshop directing traffic and greeting visitors, and her joyful attitude doubtless contributed to the event's success.
In spite of the long wait times, people were incredibly patient and volunteers were greeted by children calling out "Merry Christmas" as they were driven by.
"It's looking pretty good so far," said Cameron Ewart, a Brockville resident who was accompanied by his wife and children and was one of the early arrivals at the event.
"It's a good idea especially during the pandemic, and we don't have to stand in the cold," said the Van Winckle family from Augusta, as they arrived on Blockhouse Island with their two children, nine and 11 years old.
A big part of the event are the donations that various groups collect at this time of the year. All three organizations, the Kinsmen collecting snowsuits, the firefighters collecting toys, Beattie Dodge Chrysler Jeep and the Brockville Road Runners collecting food donations, reported that "donations were beyond expectations," said Paul.
"It was an emotional event and an expression of gratitude both from the volunteers and visitors," he added.
Although there weren't a lot of floats at the standstill parade, the ones that were there pulled out all the stops and got right into the spirit of the season, with lights, costumes, and music.
The Aquatarium was out with Oscar the Otter and Justin Beaver; Dive Brockville Adventure Centre was out showcasing one of Santa's underwater workshops; and Grade 12 and Grade 9 students from Thousand Islands Secondary School took over one of Santa's land workshops while the elves were busy greeting visitors on the island so there wouldn't be any work interruptions.
"Our biggest worry was that we would have to turn people away, after they'd waited for up to two hours, but as it turned out – it must have been divine intervention – the last car came down at 8:45," said Paul, and the light show was turned off at 9, as scheduled, without disappointing anyone.
Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times