The Butchart Chronicles : October 2, 2017

Christmas Display Projects

How The Butchart Gardens Prepares for Christmas

12 Days of Christmas - 8 Maid Milking
Some people lament that Christmas comes only once a year. Thankfully so! It takes us at the Arts & Entertainment Department a full year to refurbish, maintain, and update our annual Christmas Display. Another way to look at it would be to say that every day is Christmas at The Butchart Gardens, because we are constantly working on our Christmas display.

A great deal of time and maintenance is required simply to recreate already-existing lighting and scenic elements. Light bulbs and strings need to be checked, replacements ordered, scenery cleaned and repaired, and maintenance projects planned and implemented – all just to maintain last year’s show. Then we have to find time to create new things!

One of our big maintenance projects this year was to refurbish our Eight Maids a Milking display. Over the years, the Maid’s “icy” skin had become brittle and discoloured. To maintain the history of the display, it was decided that the Maids should be refurbished rather than rebuilt. So we set about giving the girls a facelift, or more accurately, a full body makeover. The ladies had their icy coating removed, and then we sent them on a little holiday to Sidney to have their frames sandblasted and repainted. Perhaps you were lucky enough to see the Maids, their naked frames coated in pristine white paint, exalted, joyriding on the back of a truck heading home. Everyone needs a holiday.

8 Maids on the truck back to The Butchart Gardens
Once back on site, our props department set about recovering and recoating the girls with fiberglass cloth and a weatherproof epoxy coating, thus creating their translucent icy-like coating. This process took about two months to complete. We also redesigned how the Maids would be lit, integrating LED light sources into the display to make them less obvious and to introduce coloured light into the display. Now with a new wardrobe and fresh outlook, the Maids are ready to move out of their summer home and pose in the winter garden for you to see. And yet they are still the same Maids, so similar that their makeover may go unnoticed by some, visitors perhaps only noticing that they somehow look fresher and more vibrant than before.

8 Maids - fibreglassing
8 Maids - fibreglassing
Some of our projects are necessary to promote longevity of the display and may not be completely obvious to the viewer, or may actually be intended to be unnoticed. Other items may be more obvious. Our Turtle Doves will also receive a bath and an update this year – along with a new home. Colours will change in the garden lighting along with some décor in the trees. Time permitting, we are also hoping to replace the lighting canopy over our skating rink and update the lighting fixtures in the Ross Fountain.

8 Maids - fibreglassing

Despite our best intentions, some projects need to be deferred because our timeline to work on Christmas is surprisingly brief. All changes need to be complete by mid-September as Christmas installation beings in earnest October 1, taking nine weeks to install. By the time we install, operate, and remove the Christmas display from the Gardens, 1/3 of our calendar year will have elapsed. Any Christmas maintenance, renovation, or creation projects need to happen in the other eight months of the year, squeezed in alongside our work on garden lighting, and while we plan and produce our summer entertainment and fireworks shows. In amongst it all, here and there, day to day, we work on Christmas. Thankfully it is still just once a year.

- Bruce Watson, director of arts and entertainment