It doesn’t get big time accolades (nor do they want any), but ‘out in the middle of nowhere’, not far from Harriston or Mount Forest, is a spectacular Christmas light display.
John and Elaine Denouden have been offering this presentation for the past 15 years from their farm on Minto’s 10th Line (not far from the Minto/Arthur Township boundary)
And what a show it is! For years cars would just slow down or stop to view the lights, but now there is a sign which welcomes people to drive in and even walk around.
Every year something entirely new gets added so that lawns on both sides of the driveway are decorated as well as the house, a couple of sheds, gazebo, and a few structures down towards the barn.
When asked how it all got started, Denouden grins and says “It was political”. “The day that Bob Rae stood up and declared that anyone who worked at Queens Park was not to wish anyone else a ‘Merry Christmas’, but rather change to the more politically correct ‘Season’s Greetings’ – that was the day I decided I would wish a Merry Christmas to everyone I could”.
It began in Stroud with a typical manger scene, and festooning their 2-storey house with as many strands of lights as possible.
15 years ago they moved to Minto and from there the Christmas light exposition exploded. A neighbor had a large dog house for sale. With a few alterations and additions that became a church.
The round chapel with the cross on top is a replica of the Silent Night Memorial Chapel in Austria. The original chapel was destroyed by flooding, but at Frankenmuth, Michigan there is a replica and John built his model from that. The favorite hymn, always associated with the Austrian chapel, was first accompanied by a guitar, so Denouden has a CD machine that plays Silent Night on a continuous loop each evening.
The year after the church came Grannie’s House with a fireplace and all the trimmings. Mrs. Denouden does the decorating and sewed the clothes for the doll figures in the house. John says his wife Elaine is a huge help, and he admits he couldn’t do it without her as she’s the artistic one.
Then came the Railroad. Several years ago a train was picked up at an auction sale. It was taken apart and used as a pattern for John’s train to be made larger. Last year the building was constructed and is a reproduction of a local CNR depot. Denouden was a painter by occupation not a carpenter, so he had a real challenge with the top of the building because there were so many sections and pitches to the roof. “But,” he says, “visitors always know it’s the Harriston station so I guess I did ok”.
This year a large steel orb is being fashioned into something new and different. Things weren’t going as planned so the end result will be a surprise. When asked if he had already done the welding on the orb John admitted his welding skills weren’t all that great and that the best luck he has with fastening things together is with Crazy Glue.
Looking into the shed that stores the smaller items in the off-season one sees reels and reels of lights – about 15,000 lights. Do they all go in the same place each year? “No”, he says, “I’m not that organized to have everything labeled, now if my wife was doing it ………!”
In bygone days the preparations started after Thanksgiving. Now he starts shortly after Labor Day weekend – “the buildings are getting higher or else the ladder is getting taller because it takes me longer and longer to go up and down (seeing that I’m not getting any younger”).
Does all this creativity add significantly to his hydro bill? Of course it does, and changes have been made. All 15,000 lights have been switched to LED bulbs. The display used to be turned on at 5:00 p.m. but now the show doesn’t start till shortly after 7 and runs until 10:00 p.m.
If cars come in the driveway Denouden tries to make his presence known. He has pamphlets for the adults outlining the true meaning of Christmas and the joy of giving. Children receive a candy cane.
There is no admittance fee, nor will you find a donation box. Any remittance pressed upon him is forwarded to Samaritans Purse (Shoeboxes for Kids distributed worldwide) or Compassion (both are Children’s Ministries).
The Denouden’s want to emphasize and remind people of the real meaning of Christmas – it is Christ’s Birthday that we are celebrating (not Santa Claus, and you will not find a Santa on his lawn). It was God who gave us the Gift of His Son Jesus, and that is what Christmas should be all about.
That is what they are endeavoring to bring to visitor’s attention by their lights and displays each Christmas season.