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Homeowners go to great heights to light up the night for holidays

More than 100 light displays from the capital region are already on the Times Colonist’s annual Christmas lights map. You have until Tuesday at 5 p.m. to add your own.

Even as the nights grow longer, evenings are becoming brighter as homeowners go to great heights — sometimes literally — to festoon every window, door, eve, dormer, roof and nook and cranny of their houses and every square inch of their front yards with Christmas lights and displays.

Many are happy for visitors to view their creations, with more than 100 included in the Times Colonist’s annual Christmas lights map.

Gary McInnis, 76, has been decorating his house since 1968, starting with two strings of incandescent lights. Today, his Colwood house has a full-themed Disney display, a star on the roof and Santa’s sleigh flying from dormer to dormer.

Growing up, he remembers sipping a mug of hot chocolate on the porch of his grandparents’ house in Huntingdon, a community in Abbotsford, one winter. The porch, with its blue, white and red lights, left a lasting impression on the then eight-year-old.

Today, he enjoys bringing joy with his display. “The image I cherish is the sight of a child’s face pressed up against a [vehicle’s] window, craning to take it all in,” said McInnis, a real estate agent. “It’s a lot of work, but to see the joy on little kids’ faces makes it all worthwhile.”

He said it take 75 to 90 hours to get the display up and running and a further 30 to take it down and put it away.

Every year, he hosts a so-called Christmas Palooza, where his extended family and friends come by to clean, test, assemble and hang lights.

“It’s a day filled with giggles and laughter when all the kids converge on the house,” said McInnis.

Not all of the neighbours appreciate his exuberance and the added traffic in the normally quiet community.

“But mostly their response is ‘glowing’,” he said with a wink.

See the McInnis house at 3566 Promenade Cres. in the Royal Bay neighbourhood of Colwood.

As a boy growing up in Detroit, Garfield Ostrander remembers being taken to the J.L. Hudson department store during the holiday season. He recalls the large window displays and the 12th floor, which was transformed into a toy land for Christmas.

“It was enchanting and that’s what I wanted to recreate — a wonderland for children,” said Ostrander, a professional house painter. “It takes a lot of time, but I’m not one to sit on a couch watching television, so I start puttering about with the display starting in August and finishing sometime in March.”

He said it all started when he rescued some battered Christmas displays from the landfill and fixed them up. Happy with the results, he next tried his hand at making his own — and the rest is history.

There are thousands of lights, illuminated deer, plastic figures, a nativity scene and inflatables, including a five-metre Santa and two 4.5-metre candy-cane archways.

He is always on the lookout for new items for his collection, shopping during family vacations or online. While some things wear out, he repairs and rebuilds what he can, with classic decorations from the 1950s and ‘60s still entertaining visitors.

Visitors are invited to wander along a wheelchair-friendly path to discover some of the smaller figurines.

“The displays have been up since about 1990, so it’s become something of a neighbourhood staple,” said Ostrander, 72.

See the Ostrander house at 783 Hutchinson Ave. in the Rockheights area of Esquimalt.

This is only the fourth year that Yvette Fornelli has put up a display, but already the retired teacher is attracting fans to her Torquay Drive home at a certain time on a certain date every year.

“We do a countdown and turn on all of our lights at 6 p.m. on Nov. 12 — the day after Remembrance Day,” said Fornelli, 57. “We had 50 people joining in counting down the seconds last year, but it poured rain this year and only got 30.”

She traces her fascination with decorating to when she was seven years old. She was in the backseat of the family car when she looked out the window and saw a display featuring Santa and his reindeer on a roof.

“Something clicked,” she said.

She excelled in the arts, but more in music than painting on canvases.

But in 2017, when she was at home recuperating from surgery, she came upon some sad-looking plywood displays. After successfully refurbishing them, she thought: “I can do yard art.”

She enlisted the help of her husband, Trevor, to cut out the patterns with a jigsaw and painted the characters herself.

Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz would have been proud of her Peanuts tribute, with a diorama of the characters skiing on a frozen pond, Lucy’s psychiatry booth, Snoopy hammering a sign on his dog house, Pig Pen building a snowman and the whole gang dancing.

Every year on Nov. 1, the day after Halloween, Fornelli, her husband and Josh, their 25-year-old son, start hauling out the components of the display, including 185 vintage blow moulds from the 1950s and ’60s.

She says it keeps growing every year.

“I’ll let you in on a news scoop. We are working on a new display, one where you will see Snoopy eating bones out of his dog bowl, which we will introduce next year,” said Fornelli.

See the Fornelli house at 4360 Torquay Dr. in the Gordon Head area of Saanich.


The deadline for our annual Christmas Lights Map is fast approaching — you have until Tuesday at 5 p.m. to submit your outdoor display and be included.

Add your display at, or submit it via email to

Please put the address in the email subject line — including the municipality. If you’d like, include a photo and brief description to be shown online.

To be included on the print map, your submission must be in by Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 5 p.m.

The map will run in the newspaper on Saturday, Dec. 16.