Tis the seasons of all things Christmas for a few more days. City crews will soon be taking down the lights that Winnipeg is known for and that have helped it become the “Christmas Capital of Canada”.
The festive lighting adorning our city’s most famous thoroughfares – Portage Avenue and Main Street – has a long and interesting history.
In 1929, the Board of Trade formed a Beautify Winnipeg committee to “inculcate a spirit of cheer and good-will throughout the city.” Portage Avenue business owners voted to decorate this main thoroughfare jointly and the Manitoba Electrical Association covered the cost of the lights.
Since then, the decorations have gone through a few incarnations but not as many as one might expect.
If you think the current decorations lining Portage Avenue from Main To Kennedy have a bit of a vintage feel, you’re right. They were first put up in November 1999, a year after the Grey Cup between Calgary and Hamilton was held here.
Sixteen years later, the poinsettia on the median fixtures outside Portage Place haven’t lost any of their Christmas cheeriness; and Santa and his sled on the median outside Dollarama are still an iconic kid’s image of Christmas.
The angels picked out in blue with the gold twinkling trumpets and the silver stars attached to the lampposts add a bit more glitz and glamour to the street.
Vintage decorations are nothing new in our city. In 1968, Alderman and Chairman of the Public Works committee, Leonard Claydon, feared there was a danger the downtown decorations could become “stale” in the near future.
He proposed trading with another city in Canada or the USA in time for Winnipeg’s Centennial in 1970.
The same lights were reused for the Centennial but the stars in the centre were replaced with bison details for the year.
Archival photos of Winnipeg reveal these decorations seemed to remain in use from the mid 50’s through to 1998 with minor variations.
Our current 16-year-old decorations seem almost new in comparison. We do tend to keep our lights for a number of years.
According to Lisa Fraser, Communications Officer with the City of Winnipeg, replacement value for all the decorations in the city including the fixtures on Portage Avenue would be approximately $800,000.
So they are not likely to show up at the Goodwill or another charity thrift store.
Any city that trades decorations with us will get a fully tuned up set, as all 188,818 bulbs have been converted to LED rope lighting that reduced the lights’ power consumption by 90 percent.