Port Coquitlam display connects generations

For as long as he can remember, Gabriel Hyvarinen Bentzen has been helping his grandfather put up the Christmas lights at their family home, the past four years at their townhouse on Paula Place on Port Coquitlam.

Gabriel, who turns 12 on Friday, is the creative force while his grandfather, Digby Bentzen, is the technical wizard who knows just how to connect the cords and sequence the lights to maximize the wow factor.

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The process actually begins the season prior. While driving around with his grandfather admiring all the other Christmas displays, Gabriel is taking mental notes for further ideas to boost their own show.

Acquiring additional lights and decorations happens as soon as they hit the store shelves in the fall. And once everything is up after about a week of reaching, hanging and step-ladder climbing, he keeps a close eye on neighbouring displays to ensure theirs glows brightest.

But this year, the routine had to be accelerated.

Wednesday, Bentzen, 70, went to Burnaby Hospital for knee replacement surgery and Gabriel wanted to ensure he and his grandfather could continue their tradition so he could enjoy the colourful splendour of their labour as he recuperates at home.

Bentzen started the tradition by coaxing Gabriel to help out. Stringing lights evoked special memories of his own childhood in Guatemala, where his parents carefully assembled an annual display of decorations at the gas station they operated, centred around a nativity scene.

As Gabriel has grown older, he has taken the reins.

This year’s display features 4,000 lights, an illuminated candy cane tunnel up the walkway and large decorative baubles as well as glistening icicles hanging from the branches of naked trees. Seasonal dioramas had to be moved under the protective cover of the front porch after they were snowed under last year.

“We make the decisions where to put the lights and he tells me how to do it,” Gabriel said of his creative collaboration with his grandfather. “It’s fun putting up the lights with him.”

• Gabriel and Digby’s light display can be enjoyed at 1314 Paula Pl. in Port Coquitlam. It’s turned on at 5 p.m. and off at 10 p.m. daily through the new year.


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