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From family tragedy to Christmas joy

By Stephanie Clue [1]

BELLEVILLE – The Foster light display [2] has officially started the holiday season in the city.

Going down to see the Christmas lights at Jane Forrester Park [3] has become a tradition in Belleville. Although they bring happiness and the joy of the Christmas season to the city, the lights didn’t start for a happy reason.

On Christmas Eve in 1958, the lives of two Belleville residents were cut short. Arthur (Sonny) Culloden and his friend Billy Foster were killed in a car accident in Plainfield.

The city of Belleville adds a new light every year to the display at Jane Forrester Park. Photo by Stephanie Clue, QNet News

The city of Belleville adds a new light every year to the display at Jane Forrester Park. Photo by Stephanie Clue, QNet News

Annis Ross was six years old when her brother Sonny died. She says she remembers waking up the next day and finding it strange that her family seemed to be sad.

“I remember thinking that it was odd, because usually everybody would come in the afternoon on Christmas. I couldn’t understand why everyone was crying,” Ross said.

She remembers her older sister taking her aside and telling her that Sonny had been killed.

“I was only six, so I didn’t fully understand what that meant,” she said.

The year after the car accident, Billy’s father, Don, started putting handmade Christmas decorations on his front lawn. He wanted to focus on the joy of the season, rather than the tragedy both families had faced, said Ross.

Members of the two families would dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and elves while handing out candy canes to the children and families who came out to see the lights.

“I know my brother and Billy would be thrilled that the display is bringing the joy of Christmas to so many people,” Ross said.

Belleville Coun. Garnet Thompson has been on the display committee for the last six years. He says the display was permanently moved to Jane Forrester Park in order to preserve it.

“There had been some concern about whether or not there would be a display, so I approached the mayor at the time and he said, ‘If that’s what you want to do and you’re willing to chair it, then set a committee up.’ So we set one up,” said Thompson.

There is only one part of the display that is original and that is the Foster display, which is located right at the front of the park.

“Every year the city adds something new, but the only original parts are the decorations Don Foster made,” Thompson said.

His favourite part of the display is Santa’s Workshop, complete with elves working on toys, he said.

“I love seeing the kids and families coming down and enjoying the display we have here.”