A brilliant display of Christmas lights in the dark of winter has the power to transform lives. This is what the Ribalkin/Viau family has come to learn.
There have been first dates, marriage proposals and anniversaries celebrated in the family’s driveway at Christmastime. Perhaps more importantly, as a team the family has managed to take a string of colourful lights – OK, many, many strings – and create a conduit for giving.
Preparation starts early, in September, at the family home situated at the top of Skyline Drive in North Vancouver. The parents, John Ribalkin and Aurore Viau, unbox the lights and start putting pieces of the festive puzzle back together.
Then, in late October, the now-adult Ribalkin siblings move back home every weekend until almost every exterior square inch of the family homestead is wrapped in Christmas cheer – from eavesdrop to the sidewalk.
More than 100,000 lights, intricate figurines and decorations go into the making of the magical Christmas display, topped off with a glowing star shining down from a large spruce tree.
The Christmas before the Vancouver Olympics was when John was challenged by his daughters to “do better” with the decorations. Dad accepted the challenge, gleefully.
“I’m sort of a Christmas guy,” he says, with a hearty chuckle.
On Boxing Day 2009, John set out for some festive finds, and before he knew it had racked up $6,000 in Christmas decorations on sale. That kicked things off, he says.
Every Christmas season since then, 4967 Chalet Pl. has become a destination for locals and Lower Mainland residents alike looking to find a little holiday joy for themselves and their families.
- This North Vancouver home will be so lit for Christmas you can see it from Coal Harbour
- This is the largest FREE outdoor holiday lights display in Metro Vancouver
- TransLink’s Reindeer Bus has hit the road for the holidays
Through this one story alone, John’s son, Ethan, explains what makes spending six to 10 hours a day in the driving November rain worth it in the end.
There was gentleman with a young son who stopped by the display one night in a beat-up car. He got out of the car and hobbled up the steep hill on crutches.
“Clearly, he was not someone with a lot of means,” explains Ethan. “And he saw the donation bin out front and he went to his son and said: ‘There’s people out there that need more than we do, so I want you to go in the trunk and grab a can of food for the donation bin.’ That was really touching.”
The Ribalkin/Viau family is on track to reach the $100,000 total donation mark by the end of this holiday season. Last year alone, people stopping by Chalet Place contributed more than $31,000 and 182 bags of groceries for Harvest Project, which also receives a portion of the financial donations, along with Shriners Care for Kids and the B.C. Epilepsy Society.
Six hundred hours of volunteer work in a short amount of time has taken a toll on the Ribalkin clan, so next Christmas they are taking a well-deserved break.
“It’s the end of a big era,” says John, reflecting on how the family created their own Christmas story. “You please a lot of people.”
This year’s opening night for Chalet Place is Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. The rest of the holiday season the lights will be on from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
“What I like about the opening night is the atmosphere gives you a real sense of how special the North Vancouver community can be,” says Ethan.