It is winter, 1932. A crowd has gathered in the parking space outside the Pontiac House on Main Street for what turned into an extremely cold evening. Pontiac House was re-built back in 1925 after a fire, but the building isn’t important on this particular day though. The people have come for the ‘Community Christmas Tree,’ which has been heavily decorated.
Local businessmen sponsored the first time venture and one man in particular W.A Hodgins – whose own store is just down the street – chairs the event. The program is filled with addresses and carols, but the anticipation for the man in red, known as Santa Claus makes him a star of the show already, but his arrival comes too early. The screams of delight from the children drowned out one of the speakers, as 300 bags of nuts and candy were distributed.
The first time Shawville held their tree-lighting ceremony at Memorial Park was back in 1999. According to the Pontiac Archives, 300 people came out to see the night light up, to officially kick off the Christmas season.
Gwen Armstrong initiated the tree-lighting idea, but it was really through her daughter, Julie living in the city of Oakville, which gave the inspiration for it. The mother and daughter had a phone call conversation with details of a town square, bands playing, a mayor talking and a finale with Christmas lights flickering on – it all led to the question, “Why can’t we do something like that here?”
The question was put to Gwen’s husband, and former mayor of Shawville, Albert Armstrong and everything was set in motion. Gwen telephoned the neighbours living around the park and that brought the tree lights to reality.
Gwen and the neighbours are no longer involved with the tree lightings, but the tradition continued this year on November 28 for the sixteenth time.
Shawville Councillor Patti Moffatt created the program for the evening, while Town Hall worker, Katie Sharpe provided the behind-the-scenes effort. The local churches gave the baked goods and the Municipality of Shawville supplied the hot chocolate, which Town employee, Denzil Yach made.
Denzil also spearheaded the effort of putting up the Christmas lights with help by fellow workers, Mike Tubman and Lawrence Smith.
The countdown started from 10 and Denzil had the honour of turning on the switch.
Santa Claus has made plenty of appearances in Shawville during years past. Yet, it’s 1961, when the town decides to have him in a parade for the very first time. The Shawville Lions organize and sponsor the event and the excitement is palpable, as thousands come out to watch. In the end, the parade has twenty-four floats and the Pontiac Community Hospital is chosen as winner.
The success of the parade, leads to thirty-five floats in 1962 and among them are the Shawville Rotary Club, Canadian Tire and Scouts and Guides Winter Camp. The float with the Hilton Mines crew was popular as they threw bags of treats to the crowd.
Asa’s Service Station was coined the winner for the Christmas parade in 1963.
The Shawville Kinsmen and Kinettes Club (Eventually, known as Shawville Kin Club) ran the parade for many years. One of the coldest noted on record was in 1995 with a wind chill of -20 Celsius, as CTV Ottawa’s weatherman and former Pontiac resident J.J Clarke, led the way as Parade Marshall.
In 1998, came the kick-off for the first-ever Parade of Lights. The Kinsmen were motivated to change because Winchester, Ontario decided to re-vamp their Christmas parade from day to night time and a town of 1,000 drew an estimated 15,000 spectators.
The idea worked for Shawville. A total of 20 floats rolled down Main Street in 1996, but that year it jumped up to 42. The awards were – Most Creative – Loebs; Best Horse Hitch – Killarney’s; Best Musical – 4H Club; Farm Equipment – Dalton and Joy Hodgins; Best Religious – Wesleyan Church; Best Horses – Harry and Sandra Dale; Best Riders – Ryan McCauley and Jenna Polson and Most Unique – Tom Orr.
The event has continued with Katie Sharpe and James Howard the organizers of this year’s 17th annual Parade of Lights for Shawville on November 29. Seventeen floats, three fire trucks and one police car lit up the street, with of course, Santa Claus the grand finale. Kids met him afterwards at the arena with a total of 75 gifts handed out. Promutuel supplied the hot chocolate.
The winners of the evening were: Best Music – Danny’s Pumps (Brandon Smith); Best Horse – Norah Park; Best Youth – 4H; Best Business – Vaughan Bastien and Best Overall – Tom Orr.
By Scott Campbell – December 2014