The great pumpkin festival

A Canadian club’s annual autumn display supports key community causes.

Story by Julie Saetre • Photos by Darren Stone

At the Oak Bay Kiwanis Club in Victoria, British Columbia, glowing pumpkins are far from frightful. For more than six years, these Canadian Kiwanians have teamed with a local artist to display hundreds of the decorated orbs for mesmerized children and adults alike during the Pumpkin Art on the Avenue event.

The resulting donations have made life easier for everyone from former foster kids to people with disabilities to those in distress.

 

Darlene Newburg, the Oak Bay club’s community service coordinator, has nurtured the festival for years. It all began when John Vickers, an artist and festival producer, began carving clever designs on polyurethane pumpkin molds and displaying them on his front lawn every October. Each year, he added new models, and eventually the Oak Bay Business Improvement Association began managing the show in Oak Bay’s city hall. 

Newburg, a member of the business association, approached her fellow Kiwanians with a suggestion that the club become involved. It was a natural fit, since the club already hosted an outdoor October park party for the community with a roaring bonfire, a costume parade and plentiful amounts of hot dogs and popcorn.

Kiwanis members agreed and committed to a two-day setup process, four to five days of hosting the pumpkin art display in the park and a day of tear-down. And that was no easy task. Vickers’ pumpkin collection had grown to 800 models depicting characters from Disney movies, stars of The Big Bang Theory television show, members of the British royal family and the Oak Bay Municipal Council, among many others.

 

Kiwanians stacked milk crates in the park to use as podiums, then attached each pumpkin to a crate to hold it firmly in place. The stacks themselves were secured to the ground with rebar so the strong Canadian winds wouldn’t topple them to the ground. Then all the models were lit with miniature orange lights from within, while the milk-crate display stands received white accent lighting.

“It’s a little more convoluted than what it sounds — just put a pumpkin on top of a crate,” says Newburg. “It takes us quite a few hours to get them all up and ready to go.”

The results, however, made it all worthwhile. Thousands of dollars have been collected and dispensed to The Eliminate Project and other causes, such as a group home for teens who have aged out of foster care, a University of Victoria technology department that creates personalized mobility devices for those with disabilities, senior citizens and Oak Bay’s volunteer water-rescue team.

This year, the festival will have a new look. Vickers has moved to Toronto, and Newburg wants to give the event a fresh face. Area businesses will be able to choose a variety of the pumpkins to display in shop windows, and the public can vote on their favorites.

“We’re going to try something different this year,” Newburg says, “because after six or eight years in the same place and same setup, it becomes a little redundant. This is something that is very dear to me, because I just love being there, watching the kids’ faces.”


This story originally appeared in the OctoberNovember 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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