Dickens era village a labour of love, with a nod to North Bay

Dickens era village a labour of love, with a nod to North Bay

There are all kinds of sites you can visit to see a lot of really neat stuff and huge, huge displays and packed rooms. People can really get carried away. This is as enthralled as I would like it to be.

The spirit of the holidays has come to life at Bea and Jack Lockhart’s home.

Bea spends a lot of time each year building her Dickens-era inspired Christmas village that stretches along one wall of her living room.

As visitors pass by, she gently reaches into the village to operate the hidden switches that illuminate the interiors of some buildings.

Delicate lights have also been lovingly strung across the stunningly beautiful village, illuminating the streets and leaving visitors in awe as they eagerly take a closer look.

“This one’s called Vermont Village because we’re on Vermont Crescent. When we lived on Hwy 94 there was a rock in the gallery and so it was The Village on the Rock,” laughed Lockhart.

“There was bedrock on which we built the gallery in our old home. The rock cut was inside and I’ve always wanted to build a village. It was just perfect for that,” Lockhart recalled.

“I had a depression in the rock where it was a natural ice rink. So I cut a piece of glass to fit the rocks for the rink and I had people on it and you could see right through it, so it was kind of neat. And it was just natural.”

The stained glass artist started her seasonal hobby in the ’80s with just five or six pieces.

“It started with the church. I had to have a church and I made a nativity scene out of sticks I got in the backyard and I hot glued them together. And as I moved on, I just developed it along the rock. I needed a bridge but couldn’t find one commercially so I built one,” Lockhart grinned.

Village pieces were collected from travels near and far.

“I found a few pieces in Muskoka, and one was actually an art gallery. So I had to have it. I haven’t shipped anything from Europe yet,” Lockhart admitted.

It’s a labor of love that can take three to four days to assemble, but this year even more time was invested in getting everything just right.

“This year it took a whole week because I had to build the base from scratch. I usually use boxes with cotton batting and white fabric to hide the boxes because I don’t want the wires showing,” Lockhart explained.

“And so I would hide it all under the fabric, but this year I went with styrofoam and shaped the styrofoam myself. I saw these tools online and Jack (her husband) got them for me and I’ve played around with them and it’s a lot of fun. You can cut styrofoam with a hot wire and there’s no mess. And you can do all kinds of crazy things. So it was a lot of fun, but I had to figure out how I was going to operate the fireplace because there are bumps.”

Upon closer inspection, people will see evidence of North Bay.

“Jack likes to look at the houses wherever he’s shopping and hardware stores are great places for them, but he saw this one online. And it was the perfect identical building that, like Dr. Carruthers (former elementary school) looks like, and because Jack was the principal there, he took Dr. Carruthers got it for me, and of course I had to label it.”

The village also has a lighthouse.

“A friend was downsizing her village and asked if I could use a few buildings and I said sure I wouldn’t let them go to waste. So once I had the lighthouse I had to build a water scene. So when we were in Newfoundland a few years ago I had to bring home some Newfoundland slate, just a little box of these, but I dug it up and it’s on our ocean scene with a piece of glass I cut and it’s like water looks like glass.”

The village has become something of a family affair, with one of Jack’s own paintings in the background.

Jack Lockhart is an internationally renowned Canadian artist.

“This beautiful abstraction goes well with the background, but this year he went a bit further and added backgrounds to hide wires and things at the ends of the painting.”

What would a village be without people?

“There are all kinds of people. I like to make them look like they’re doing something to make things happen. So there’s a lot to see on all levels,” explained Lockhart.

“I’ll slide and drop people and drop presents out of a sled, all kinds of nice things to make it seem like things are happening.”

Your village never looks exactly the same twice.

“It changes all the time. And I’m always looking for what I can find in that era, it’s the Dickensian era. And that’s why I like to leave it like that.”

“Jack took a picture of it last year. Behind the sofa was a new addition, dating back maybe two years because it was too crowded on the fireplace. I didn’t have enough room for everyone. So he built this table back here and that’s why we’re behind the sofa now,” Lockhart grinned.

How far the village will eventually expand around the area is unclear.

Lockhart’s eyes light up when asked if she would like to add a specific piece to her collection.

“Oh I looked online last year and there is a tea house. It’s like an old English tea room, and I’m a tea granny, so I thought the tea house would be fun. I know the site where I could get it, but I don’t have it.”

Building villages is a hobby enjoyed by people all over the world.

“There are all kinds of sites you can go to and see a lot of really beautiful things and huge, huge displays and packed rooms. People can really get carried away. This is as adorable as I would like it to be.”

It is natural that while Lockhart loves all of the pieces in her collection, this one is her favourite.

“That would be the church I started with.”

The reaction of the visitors is priceless.

“Oh, they just can’t get over it because there’s so much going on. When you pick up little sleds like this (she says, holding up one of her sleds), it might be a bit bigger than it should be, but I just can’t resist. It just looks like fun.”

Occasionally family members give Lockhart new pieces to add to their collection.

“Our son and daughter gave me a Christmas tree that is absolutely beautiful. I just love it and they also gave me a little church that I adore. Jack buys me most of them.”

It’s easy to imagine sitting in the room and being fascinated by everything.

“It’s a lot of fun trying to make it look as real as possible, and you can let your imagination run wild with it. I just love doing it. When children came to the old gallery on the rock, they went straight to the ground and there they could imagine what they were like inside. Their faces were just amazing to look at. And I would tell them it’s okay to move people and they would do it,” smiled Lockhart.

“I’ll skip it until the snow is gone. It’s so much work to do and that’s why we enjoy it and everyone who comes in seems to enjoy it. And so it is happy to have. We use a lot of batteries, but that’s okay.”

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