For nearly 20 years, the Northern Lights Lantern Festival has been an integral part of Andrew Nicholson's life.
The Festival Society's Board Chair, Nicholson has been enjoying the festival since he was a young boy. Now he's readying to host the 19th iteration on Saturday, August 6.
“I used to be involved with Halifax Recreation in their Junior Leadership Program. The board and my brother – who was always involved – wanted someone to give a youthful perspective. I was brought onto the planning committee and the Board Of Directors,” he said.
“I also remember painting lanterns as a kid, and I have some incredible memories of doing this and what it's meant to the community.”
Meant to be a celebration of the North End of Halifax's bustling city, Nicholson says it gives people a chance to get together and be proud of their community.
“It started in 2003. We were individuals who wanted to come together and celebrate the community. We continue to operate an accessible, free event that celebrates the North End,” he said.
The festival features bouncy castles, face painting, a community BBQ and fireworks, as well as musical acts.
“All of our live music is from local groups. This year we have an ensemble put together by the Stadacona Canadian Brigade. We also have DJ Ace, and Face Phive, who have performed under different names in the past,” he said.
“At the end of the night, we have a parade of lanterns. It involves kids who make tea-light lanterns out of jars throughout the night, and they parade around the field at dusk. We have done this from the start.”
There will also be fireworks on Saturday night at the very end, and Nicholson can't wait.
He acknowledges all this couldn't happen without incredible volunteers, and he feels lucky to have people around him as passionate in the cause as they are.
“We're entirely put on and operated on a volunteer basis, including at the board level. Everyone works tirelessly on this busy event. I'm so thankful for the help, and the people who come help on the day are amazing,” he said.
“We have some Halifax Recreation staff who help, but there are members of the community who volunteer time and time again. We are always so happy to see people contribute and come out.”
The entire festival happens by and for people who love the North End of Halifax, and everything it has to offer.
“When this was first started, it was to fill what the founding members saw as a void. They wanted outdoor community events that were all-ages that celebrated the area. I'm 25 now, and there are pictures of me at the festival when I was six-or-seven. I have a strong connection to the festival, and love seeing people come together,” he said.
“There are a lot of events around the city – especially post-COVID – and we are just finding truly free and accessible all-ages events haven't grown as much. We really want to allow people to come together.”
It will take place at Merv Sullivan Park and will be hosted by Corey Adams. He hopes families and people will come together to celebrate a wonderful part of the city.
“This is a unique spot in the North End. There are only a few large, open greenspaces north of the common. This is furthest north, and for us it's the most useable. It allows us to be able to light fireworks, has amazing views of the Bedford Basin, the Narrows, and the MacKay Bridge,” he said.
“The typeography allows for great viewing and participation. We have had great success laying out activities, not making it feel too crowded, and just having fun on such a large space.”
The North End is a special place to Nicholson, and he loves the diversity in the area.
“The people here are so friendly and welcoming. At our festival, there are always old friends catching up and see the amazing links in the North End,” he said.
“We have one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in the city. There's a strong African-Nova Scotian community, and it's reflected in our music. This is a forever-evolving community, and it continues to adapt to needs in the city.”
To learn more about the free event, visit nllf.org.