A residential Christmas light display in Burnaby, B.C. that’s a been a labour of love for decades was given the green light to switch back on late Thursday, after having to go dark for almost two weeks due to a COVID-19 related complaint.
Joel DuPlessis’ festive display covers his home’s lawn and roof, and people can even tune their car radios to catch a synchronized music and light show.
“Every year, I just add more, learn more about what to do and how to make things better,” DuPlessis told CTV News. “And just bring smiles to people’s faces every year.”
This past holiday season started out no different, though DuPlessis said he did make some changes after contacting Service BC, to make sure his display was still OK to go ahead.
“Normally I had it so people could wander into the display. I decided not to do that this year to keep social distancing,” he said. “They would park up the street and along the road here...they would take turns coming out, as people left, and it was quite orderly.”
DuPlessis said they actually got more attention than they had expected in December 2020, "because there wasn’t anything else open."
“It’s a bit of a dark year,” he said. “And we’re just hoping to bring some light to the darkness.”
The eye-catching set-up also collects donations for BC Children’s Hospital. DuPlessis said they received over $3,500 in online contributions, and are still counting what they’ve received in a cash donations box on site.
“This is all for a good cause,” he said. “There’s no one doing this to gain anything else other than happiness and helping others.”
But on Boxing Day, an unexpected visit ended with the display going dark.
DuPlessis said there was a knock on the door around 9:30 p.m., and he opened it to find two RCMP officers.
In an email to CTV News, Burnaby RCMP confirmed they attended the property last month following a complaint from a neighbour about large groups gathering. Police said they did not issue a ticket, but left the matter with the city’s bylaw department.
DuPlessis said he was told to turn off his Christmas lights.
“This was very disheartening for me,” he said. “I’m quite passionate about what I do.”
DuPlessis said a city bylaw officer later told him his decorations constituted an event under the provincial health order, which does include seasonal lights displays.
“People were trying to follow the rules,” DuPlessis said. “At times, yes, was there a group here, yes. But at that point, I didn’t know whether it was my responsibility to go and tap someone on the shoulder and say hey, separate more.”
DuPlessis says he suggested solutions, from no-parking signs, to telling people to stay in their cars.
“How am I different from anybody else in B.C. that has a Christmas light display? That’s the part that kind of makes me wonder,” he said. “I know there’s displays as big as mine, if not larger...the only thing I’ve heard so far is that I had a complaint.”
Late Thursday, there was a change of heart from the city.
Burnaby’s corporate communications manager Chris Bryan told CTV News they reached out to DuPlessis to let him know he can turn on his display again, but he will be responsible for ensuring no gatherings occur that violate public health orders.
“We are trying to strike a balance and take a measured approach to protect public safety while allowing this resident to keep his lights on,” Bryan said in an email.
DuPlessis said he plans to add signs reminding people to distance, and now hopes to keep his display shining for the next few weeks.