Christmas light display brings cheer

A Saskatchewan man uses his annual winter wonderland to raise money for the mental health unit of a Regina hospital

MCLEAN, Sask. — The goal is simple.

“I just want the lives of patients who stay in 1D (mental health unit) to be a little bit better,” says Ian Moats as he sits by a crackling outdoor fire on his expansive rural acreage surrounded by 55,000 Christmas lights.

The 59-year-old contractor first decorated a single tree in his yard in 2006, building up his display annually as a source of personal entertainment and Christmas cheer. In 2017, the lights took on a more meaningful role, as Moats decided to open up his yard for friends and family and turn it into a fundraiser for the mental health unit at the Regina General Hospital.

“My daughter had just gotten out of the hospital and every time she’d been there, it was always the same game with the same missing piece and the same set of crayons with five whites and the rest nubs,” says Moats, explaining that using his light display to raise funds to replenish the mental health unit’s art supplies came together very quickly.

About 30 friends and neighbours were invited to the Moats acreage near McLean for a wiener roast and hot chocolate. The resulting $1,300 in donations that first year covered the cost for new games and art supplies at the General Hospital.

In 2018, the effort was aided by Moats’s neighbour, Maxine Hanofski, who came over with enough baking to feed the few hundred or so people who attended the open house on two different Saturdays.

Echo and Oaklee Bond-Jackson warm up by the glow of the fire in the centre of the light display. | Christalee Froese photo

By 2019, the project grew again, with more than 1,000 people attending and $7,200 being raised over the course of two weekends.

Not only were the art-supply needs fully met with the fundraising efforts, but Moats has also been delivering 50 flowers every second Friday for two-and-a-half years so that all patients can receive one. Moats breaks down in tears as he talks about what the flowers have come to mean to some patients.

“Last night a lady stopped me (while she was visiting the light display) and said she had just gotten out of the hospital a few weeks ago and her kids’ favourite thing to do when they visited her was to get a flower out of the vase and take it to their mom’s room.”

Some of the yard’s 55,000 lights sit nestled in the snow. | Christalee Froese photo

This year, Moats scheduled his Christmas Light Open House from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every evening from Dec. 1-31 in hopes that the crowd would be small enough each night to meet the COVID-19 restriction of 30 people

However, hundreds have been showing up at his yard nightly to catch a glimpse of his winter wonderland.

Moats sits on a bench in the heart of his winter wonderland of lights. | Christalee Froese photo

Moats is currently working on a reservation system to accommodate visitors, with hopes that next year’s event will be fully open when COVID-19 restrictions are no longer required.

“The need isn’t going to go away, so I plan to keep doing it,” says Moats.

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