Have you ever climbed the ladder to hang Christmas lights on your house?
Were there some shaky moments? Any frozen fingers? Any muttered curses about those darned blinkers that just wouldn’t blink?
Well, take those tricky tangles on your rooftop and add another 30 storeys of height straight up into the sky, and now you have a little feel for the job Marc-Luc Lalumiere does every year to get the lights shining at North Vancouver’s Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
Every autumn for the past six years Lalumiere has led a team in charge of covering eight massive Douglas firs with Christmas lights – billed as the largest grove of living Christmas trees in the world – for the park’s annual Canyon Lights display. And yes, his name in French does mean “the lights.”
“It’s kind of ironic,” he says with a laugh.
So how do you cover rainforest giants – Lalumiere says the average height of the trees is somewhere between 260 and 300 feet, and the tallest checks in at around 330 feet – with strings of Christmas lights? It actually might be harder than you think.
The west side of the park is inaccessible to heavy equipment – you can’t drive a crane across the suspension bridge – and so all the work in the treetops is done with ropes and climbing. That, however, is just how Lalumiere likes it.
“I love my job,” he says. “The part I love the most is climbing the trees. … In the trees, it’s impressive to be there, but what’s going through my mind sometimes is that OK, this tree is 800 years old.”
Lalumiere lives in the Kootenays but he’s been called upon often to lead projects in the park, an opportunity he always jumps at because it gets him back up in those beautiful trees. He was heavily involved in the design and installation of other park staples such as the Treetops Adventure and the Cliffwalk.
“Anything that needs a harness and a rope, I do that,” he says. There are, of course, challenges that come with stringing Christmas lights on a tree 300 feet in the air. First of all, it’s a lot of climbing.
“I’m going straight up. … It is definitely physically very demanding,” says Lalumiere. “If I calculate the average vertical I climb in a day and multiply it by the number of days I work, it’d be like going up Everest and back, twice. I ﬁgure I climb close to 30,000 vertical feet.”
It’s not a pleasure climb either – this is business. All the supplies needed up in the tree get carried up on the backs of the workers.
“It’s not just string lights, some of them are ﬂood lights and they are 15 pounds,” says Lalumiere. “You’ve got to be able to work with tools. … You’ve got guys working under you so you can’t drop anything. You’ve got to be aware of that all the time, so you tie all your tools to yourself.”
The team is not just roping up, either. Sometimes they go down. Part of the annual decorating process is lighting up parts of the canyon below the bridge, including a 175-foot waterfall that cascades from the height of the bridge all the way down to the river below.
“That was probably the most challenging of all,” says Lalumiere.
And once the season is over, they take almost all of the lights down – there are more than a million of them spread throughout the park every Christmas – to be stored away for next fall.
It may be challenging, but there is massive job satisfaction as well, says Lalumiere. That’s what keeps him coming back here every year.
“I wouldn’t be here to work normal construction – the reason I’m here is because I’m working in the park and in the trees,” he says. “You go up, you decorate. … Then you go back and at the end of every day you see what you’ve done. It’s a very gratifying job when you see the ﬁnal product and go at night. It’s exciting.”
The Canyon Lights festival runs Nov. 22, 2019 to Jan. 26, 2020.