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Space-themed lantern festival brings light to a cold, dark night

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
The Crystal Palace rocked Saturday night to the eclectic and eccentric sounds of Guh following an evening parade through the streets of Picton.

A biting cold evening with strong winds was no match for the excitement. The Mill, consisting of band members Ruth Dwight, Ken Hudson, Bruce Snider and Mario Panacci, played a few sets to the gathering crowd at Benson Park. While many made their lanterns at one of several workshops held leading to the event, an assortment of ready-made lanterns with tea lights was also available for purchase at the park.

Making music along the procession route from Benson Park, Guh was accompanied by giant puppetry, lanterns and stilt-walking tall man, Milé Murtanovski outfitted as a rocket man. Some walked, others danced, some came in costume, most were bundled up, and all were lit up for the occasion making their way to the Crystal Palace with colourful bright, hand-made lanterns.

Inside a warmer Crystal Palace, the theme for this year’s Firelight Lantern Festival was space. While the theme is a relaxed one, and lanterns and costumes can be anything imagined, themed lanterns big and small included aliens, spaceships, rockets and plenty of stars.


A favourite for the festival for several years is the shadow puppetry play narrated by Rick Zimmerman. The play entertained and delighted all but the audience of mostly little ones hung on every word as Zimmerman shared the story of the monster and the lake.

Children were able to get behind the scenes to see what magic a projector could muster and how it worked. New for the festival this year was an area of tables and supplies for the younger ones to create their own shadow puppet under the expert guidance of shadow puppet professionals. For the rest of the evening, they took great delight demonstrating their hand-made efforts behind the big white screen with the aid of a projector.

Krista Dalby and Susanne Larner began the Firelight Lantern Festival six years ago when Larner came up with the idea, bringing Dalby on board to create the artist collective known as The Department of Illumination.

“I’d seen so many lantern festivals and I really wanted to bring one to Prince Edward County,” said Larner. “When I met Krista, she was such a go-getter and creative and one of the first things I told her was I was wanting to put one together here and said it was hard to gather people to do that. She said immediately, ‘I’ll do it with you’”

Costumes and adornments were glittery, sparkly, shiny, sometimes extravagant and, of course, illuminated. Co-founder Larner dressed as a colourfully-illuminated spacewoman. “This is our sixth year and our theme this year is space,” she said.

Along with Bill Penner, Chantal Rousseau and Trevor Henderson, Don Maynard created a multi-media art installation in keeping with the theme. Those viewing the creation were invited to read: ‘Space is an exploration of outer and inner space, and a journey to those interesting things that sometimes hide in the void’.

“We like to gather the community together to bring light when it starts to get dark in winter and in the cold,” said Larner. “I think the cold weather has given us a bit of a hit,” she said noting parade attendance is usually larger than attendance at the palace. “But this year I think it was the reverse because of the cold. We filled the place pretty well, so I think attendance would be around the same as last year, about 400-plus people.”

The Vic Café supplied beverages and snacks as people moved and danced the evening away to the lively extravaganza of hypnotic and engaging tunes provided by a combination of saxophone, drums, guitar, trumpet and bag pipes. Based in Guelph, Guh has been around since 1991 and can’t be placed into a single genre. They have been described as pop, rock, chant, jazz, Latin, polka and more.

The festival was the culmination of weeks of community lantern-making workshops held throughout the County at municipal halls and libaries. Over the last four years, more than 1,000 people have been shown how to create lanterns from tissue paper and bamboo sticks.

“This year, we had about 18 workshops around the community to make lanterns in the month leading up to the festival,” said Larner.

Planning for next year’s fall festival begins almost immediately but 2019 will roll in with a new event being planned by the Department of Illumination.

Everyone leaving Saturday’s festival received a white sparkly invitation for ICE BOX, a brand-new outdoor event to be held on the grounds of Macaulay Heritage Park, Feb. 2-10.

ICE BOX: art in the heart of winter, asks participants to bring warmth to the free event which is to include five colourful wooden ‘ice’ boxes, each transformed into an interactive art installation.

Filed Under: Arts & CultureFeatured Articles

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  1. Mario Panacci says:

    Thanks for the wonderful summary and pictures Sharon! We’re new “full time” residents and had family visiting us for this – our first FLF. We had so much fun that we’re planning to make it an annual family event!

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