The Humble Beginnings of Port de Grave’s Hugely Popular Annual Boat Lighting

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Port de Grave’s 19th Annual Boat Lighting ceremony is happening at Marginal Wharf on Friday December 8th at 6:00pm. After the opening ceremony, boats in the Port de Grave harbour will light up every night until Old Christmas Day.

The Port de Grave peninsula is home to about a thousand people, but in recent years the Annual Boat Lighting has been drawing between thirty and forty thousand people to area during the holiday season.

The event has been attracting tons of professional and amateur photographers interested in capturing the floating Christmas display. Photos of the decorated boats and their twinkling reflections have appeared in national and international publications.

Twenty years ago, fisherman Eric Lear began the tradition by decorating his boat with a string of Christmas lights. In 1999, the provincial government offered a $500.00 ‘Festival of Lights’ grant to communities who wanted to amp up their holiday celebrations with an especially elaborate light display. Inspired by the grant and Lear’s glowing boat, a small committee of community organizers collaborated with the Port de Grave Harbour Authority to get other fisher-people to follow Lear’s lead and deck their boats in Christmas lights.

That first year, 35 boat owners got onboard, and on a clear night in early December, a crowd gathered on the wharf and sang Silent Night as the boats switched on their lights one at time.

This year, about 65 boats will be participating in what has become the highly anticipated Annual Boat Lighting, with each boat sporting around three thousand lights along with other decorations. Organizer, Joyce Morgan said a deluge of phone calls, emails, texts, and Facebook messages about the Boat Lighting have begun inundating her phone daily.

In an attempt to stem the flow, she’s posted a list of answers to frequently asked questions on the Port De Grave Annual Boat Lighting & Community News Facebook page. The list included tips like the best time to view the boats and where to stop for food on your way into Port De Grave because as she points out, “…the only thing you can buy in PDG is a postage stamp; there are no restaurants, or convenience stores.”

Organizers are expecting a larger-than-usual crowd for this year’s opening ceremony because NTV’s Eddie Sheer and Sharon Snow will be broadcasting live from the wharf.

During the ceremony, Port de Grave musicians Natalie and Ron Curtis will invite kids to join them on stage for a few rounds of upbeat carols, after which there’ll be free hot chocolate and a visit from Santa and some mummers.

“We’ve got a fair-sized stage and any children that want to get up there, if we can fit ‘em up there, they’ll be up there,” said Morgan.

Morgan says part of what makes the Annual Boat Lighting so special is that it’s a free event, it gives families an opportunity to do something special together during the holiday season without spending money. In the age of an overly commercialized Christmas this event brings people together to celebrate something other than consumerism.

About Author

Eva Crocker

Eva Crocker is a writer from St. John’s, her short story collection, Barrelling Forward, was published by House of Anansi Press in 2017.

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