Vancouver woman's epic Christmas collection finds a new home in Stanley Park
Beverley O'Toole's elaborate Christmas displays drew visitors from across Metro Vancouver. Now her family is sharing them with all Vancouverites.
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Starting in November every year for the past 30 years, Beverley O’Toole began decorating her Shaughnessy home for Christmas.
But O’Toole went way beyond Christmas lights: there were wooden cut-outs depicting a cartoon family of gift-giving poodles. A life-sized sleigh with Santa and eight reindeer. A giant Mr. and Mrs. Claus to guard the door. And nearly 3,000 candy canes to hand out to visitors who came to see the display every year.
“It was all about the children,” said Rob McCarvill, O’Toole’s son. “She just really, truly wanted a place for children to go to.”
It wasn’t until O’Toole passed away this May at the age of 87 that McCarvill and his siblings realized the extent of their mother’s Christmas collection. Stored at Gary Turner Display in Delta, the decorations fill a 50-foot shipping container.
“We didn’t know how much there was. We knew there was a lot and we knew the company had it, but we’d never seen it,” McCarvill said.
“And then we’re going, ‘Oh my god’ — because we realized not everything was being put out."
O’Toole had a singular and single-minded vision of how to decorate her yard at 1412 Laurier St. — and cost was no object. She would buy decorations, but also custom-order pieces, such as the cartoon poodle cut-outs (for many years, O’Toole kept and showed Standard poodles).
“Then she’d get it all set up and invite us down with our kids. Even the process was an excitement for her,” McCarvill said.
But the elaborate display, which was different every year, wasn’t just for O’Toole’s family. People from all over came to see the festive decorations. McCarvill recalled how, shortly after her death, he was working on cleaning out her house with his brother when a taxi driver stopped his car and came over to talk.
“He said — I think he lived in Coquitlam — he said, ‘Every year I would drive with my whole family and bring my family and my parents and my kids and everyone to see,’” McCarvill said. “He said, ‘Thank your mother’ and I said, ‘Well unfortunately she’s passed away.’
“And he said, ‘So it’s not going to happen again?’ I said, ‘Unfortunately not.’”
That’s the part that McCarvill finds particularly sad: there will be no more Christmas surprises at 1412 Laurier St.
But it’s not over, exactly. McCarvill and his siblings decided to see if the Vancouver Park Board would like the donations for the annual Christmas Train in Stanley Park. It turned out his mother had had the same thought in the months before she passed away: she had called the park board last January, McCarvill learned when he and the family inquired about donating the collection.
You can now see O’Toole’s very special Christmas decorations in Stanley Park at the Bright Lights Christmas Train, an annual holiday attraction that raises funds for the Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund and attracts over 200,000 people every year.
“Our entire family was incredibly proud of what mom would do at Christmas,” McCarvill said. “We thought it was wonderful that people would take that much interest and would come and want to see it.”