History of the Festival
The Winter Festival of Lights was founded in 1983 by a partnership consisting of the Niagara Falls Canada Visitor and Convention Bureau (now known as Niagara Falls Tourism), the City of Niagara Falls, The Niagara Parks Commission and a number of private businesses in Niagara’s tourism sector.
The Festival was created as a way to extend what had for more than a century been a summers-only tourism season in Niagara Falls.
During those early years in the mid-1980s, the fledgling Winter Festival of Lights drew a respectable 250,000 visitors annually and around 35 motor coaches. Today, the Festival attracts 1.5 million attendees and over 750 motor coaches each year as Niagara Falls continues its evolution into a year-round tourism destination.
The Festival’s small collection of lighting displays located near the Falls during that first season has expanded greatly now featuring millions of sparkling lights along a 5km illumination route that travels along the Niagara Parkway through the Niagara Parks Winter Wonderland, Dufferin Islands and into the surrounding tourist districts.
The Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights operates as a year-round, not-for-profit corporation with a board of directors that still reflects the unfaltering support of its founding partners, with seats reserved for representatives of The Niagara Parks Commission, the City of Niagara Falls and Niagara Falls Tourism.
Over the years, the Festival has earned countless travel and tourism industry awards including Top 100 Festivals in Ontario, Best Volunteer Program, Most Innovative Partnership and the prestigious Events of Distinction Award from Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO). In addition the American Bus Association (ABA) has long recognized the OPG Winter Festival of Lights as one of its Top 100 Internationally Known Events (2005 – 2015).
In 2012 the Festival celebrated its 30th season! A research study conducted during the Festivals 2012-2013 season by Enigma Research Corporation found that the OPG Winter Festival of Lights attracts 1.5 million attendees annually with an economic impact of $25 million.
In 2013, the Festival entered into a new naming rights agreement with a title sponsor, Ontario Power Generation.
Following the 2013-2014 season, the Festival created a new strategic plan and underwent a change in governance of its Board of Directors. The Festival’s new strategic plan outlined a three-year renewal plan inwhich the Festival will phase-in new lighting technologies as well as expand its illumination route into the BIAs in Niagara Falls.