By Trevor Suffield
Dec. 4, 2008
Wendy Waggoner has been thinking about Christmas on an almost daily basis for the past 20 years.
Waggoner has been a volunteer at the Festival of Trees and Lights since its inception in 1988. As soon as one festival ends, she begins planning for the next.
The festival features decorated trees and ornaments to help get people in the Christmas spirit. It has been held at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory for the past 10 years.
The festival was originally a joint effort of the Junior League of Winnipeg and the Health Sciences Centre Foundation. The Junior League subsequently disbanded and in 2006 the operation of the festival was turned over to the conservatory.
Waggoner, who lives in St. James, first became involved with the Junior League nearly 30 years ago when she was looking for something to do after her youngest child started going to school.
Waggoner, 66, has been involved in every festival and marvels at how it has evolved from when it was first held at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
“We had a children’s area that ran the whole time. We don’t have the room here,” Waggoner said.
Helene Fairbanks, executive director of the Friends of the Assiniboine Park Conservatory, was a volunteer at the first festival in 1988. She moved away from the city for a while but was eager to get involved with the festival again when she returned to Winnipeg two years ago.
“There might have been a hundred people helping out when it first started,” she said.
More than 200 volunteers are involved in the current festival, although only a dozen individuals are required to do the bulk of the work because of the smaller venue.
Last year’s festival was sold out and organizers say this year’s event is on pace to do likewise.
“I think it’s a nice warm place to come and visit with the family,” Fairbanks said.
The decorated trees on display at the festival are raffled off for charity. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to Special Olympics Manitoba and Friends of the Assiniboine Park Conservatory. Gingerbread houses made by students will also be raffled off during the festival, which has raised more than $500,000 local charities since 1988.
Esther Warkentin attended this year’s festival with her granddaughter, Cassia, because she wanted her to experience the event firsthand.
“This year she definitely is taking it all in,” said Warkentin as Cassia marveled at the trees.
Waggoner, who enjoys bringing her own grandkids to the festival, says she plans to remain involved with it for as long as she can.
“Christmas to me just means family, and being together,” she says.
The Festival of Trees and Lights continues until Dec. 7. For more information visit www.friendsfestival.com.