OHSWEKEN — It looked like someone put on another Woodstock at Ohsweken, and forgot tell anyone from Ohsweken they were coming.
It was like an invasion of primarily young people from throughout Southern Ontario. At around 3 pm the traffic on Chiefswood Road began backing up over the bridge to the Highway 54 traffic lights. Soon it was bumper to bumper all the way from the Speedway parking lot, down Pauline Johnson Road all the way to Wilson Road where cars were turning off the highway, dozens at a time.
By around 5:30, both Highway 54 East and West turning lanes onto Chiefswood Road were backed up as far as the eye could see in both directions. Off duty Six Nations Police began directing traffic on the side roads to speed up the miles long back ups.
As it turns out, when the well publicized Lights Fest Niagara Falls – St. Catharines event had its license pulled by the City at the last moment, Glenn Styres, who intended to attend the event, offered an alternative. Why not use his back yard, Ohsweken Speedway, instead?
A few frantic social media posts later, and there were more than 10,000 people on the road to Ohsweken, Saturday afternoon, bringing local and area traffic to a glacier’s pace for several hours.
“I personally don’t know if we were given the heads up or not,” Staff Sergeant Marwood White told TRT. “But I know we have a good association with the Speedway and we help with traffic on race nights.”
On race nights, there is also a lot of traffic to deal with, but Saturday it made all that look like a Sunday drive. Locals were not made aware of the tidal wave of cars that was coming their way, and many were not happy about it at all, posting their grievances, sometimes quite colourfully, up on social media.
Organizers of the world-wide social event anticipated that this year’s “The Lights Fest” would be the biggest yet which was proven true. After some music and inspirational messages came the climax with the release into the heavens of thousands of small candles mounted under paper bags acting as hot air balloons with personal messages written on them addressed to departed loved ones or to the earth itself.
“The Lights Festival™ is a magical evening that will create memories to last a lifetime,” says the official invitation sent out by organizers. “Come celebrate as we put our inhibitions to the side, and our dreams to the sky. In one night, you can change to what you want to become. Let go of your fears, and embrace your true self. Join us as we light the fire within.”
The invitations also inform first timers what to expect.
“At the perfect moment everyone ignites their personalized sky lanterns with Tiki torches and lets them take flight,” the article continues. “It creates a surreal ambiance, where time slows down and your single flame rises and joins with thousands of others to light the sky.”
“This is an event that is for everyone but cultivates individual experiences. Whether you’re commemorating or celebrating you’re creating a special memory that will last a lifetime.”
Although organizers say that the lights fest is “dedicated to leaving a positive impact on the environment and everyone who attends our event,” there are some neighbours down wind left to pick up paper bags and candle cups who might disagree.
The event is conducted in various countries and cities throughout the world. The lantern release is especially embraced by the Asian Community of Southwestern Ontario, to whom this kind of spiritual event is commonplace and quite familiar.