By NINA RAFEEK
Twelve years ago, when brother and sister Rochelle and Rick DeClute decided to take up a neighbour’s suggestion to decorate a series of trees along the Boardwalk in the Beach with Christmas lights, they had no idea what they were getting into.
Toronto Hydro would string the lights for the first and last time that first year. “We were saying tongue and cheek, ‘Boy, they take so long, we could do this I’m sure, faster,” Rochelle DeClute said with a chuckle.
In 2007, the Light up the Beach event was born. The next year, they were in for a big surprise when they realized how much work actually went into outfitting over a dozen trees with 50,000 individual LED bulbs.
“We had no idea it would take almost two weeks just to untangle the lights,” DeClute said.
In addition to the tedious task of untangling and hanging the lights, they noticed the wires were constantly breaking, until quickly realizing that squirrels were chewing on them.
After 12 years, they’ve just about mastered the six-week process. Rick DeClute and supervisor Andy Mayer, walk around with a ladder every night right up until the day of the event checking and replacing the lights.
The process begins in early October, when a crew of four people prepare and test the lights. By Nov. 1, the crew, with two bucket lift cranes and a slew of mechanical resources in tow, begin to delicately string the lights around the oak, maple and willow trees that stand along the Boardwalk.
“This year with the snow and the leaves in the trees, it was really difficult,” Rochelle said.
On Light Up The Beach day, the DeClutes and their team see all their hard work pay off.
The first year, the event brought together 50 community members. “We spontaneously sang carols and enjoyed each other’s company, coming together to celebrate our community,” she said.
In 2018, 11 years later, the event brought more than 3,500 residents to celebrate the turning on of the lights with carols, hot soup and of course, Santa, on the beach. Along with the elaborate and beautiful display of lights, the DeClutes hand out Christmas ornaments and dedicated volunteers serve hot chocolate.
This year’s Light Up The Beach celebration takes place on Friday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. at the foot of Leuty Avenue on the Boardwalk.
“We now string more than 80,000 individual LED bulbs on 20,000 linear feet of wire each fall […] and last year, we served over 2,700 cups of hot chocolate and handed out 2,000 Christmas ornaments,” DeClute said.
“Every so often, you catch a little one in a stroller, the look of amazement when Santa comes out, seeing their little finger pointing with a look of awe,” she continued.
For the first time this year, there will be an after party in support of the Mental Health and Addiction Services unit at Michael Garron Hospital.
“This will be a really fun way for everyone to get together and help support mental health and addiction services at Michael Garron Hospital,” said DeClute.
The after party takes place at the Balmy Beach Club starting at 8 p.m. Tickets for the party are $75 per person and include hors d’oeuvres, two drink tickets and a silent auction. Tax receipts of $35 will be issued for purchased tickets.
In the past four years, the DeClute Light Up the Beach Event has raised more than $50,000 for the hospital.
“The thing that really drive us to do this is to really try to raise awareness for mental health, we really want to bring the community together to support these services,” DeClute explained.
“We’re so very fortunate to have Rick and Rochelle by our side and rally for the hospital, said Mitze Mourinho, president of the Michael Garron Hospital Foundation.
The funds from the DeClute event will go towards the hospital’s $100 million redevelopment goal, which will, in part, include a new eight-storey tower, with 1.5 floors dedicated solely to in-patient mental health facilities for adults and adolescents, emergency mental health services and a myriad of programs.
“The event is really a gift in our perspective, in two ways: the joy of the lights, and through the impact that they’re having in providing better health care for the East Toronto community,” Mourinho said.
Mourinho continued, “It’s such a wonderful time of year, but it’s also a stressful time of year for a lot of people who do suffer from mental health issues, it’s just exacerbated by the hectic pace and everything that goes on around the holidays. I think just having everybody coming out to the event being and mindful of others and, if they choose to do so, consider making a donation to the hospital. We’re doing what we can to tailor the needs of our community specifically around mental health with this event, so we hope we’re giving back.”
Along with DeClute Real Estate, Light Up The Beach this year is also supported by Wright Sisters Real Estate.
For more information, please visit https://www.lightupthebeach.com