The memory of Donna Jones lives on this Christmas in Lake Cowichan as, in spite of several hurdles, her family is sharing her Christmas village collection with residents and visitors.
For years the beloved village owned by Donna and Dennis Jones has brought all the festive feels to Cassy’s Coffee House in Youbou. With the recent closing of the community favourite of nine years on Oct. 29, and the death of Donna Jones, it was suggested that the yuletide village, on a slightly smaller scale this year, make the Seniors 50+ Activity Centre in Lake Cowichan its new home.
“We were unsure if the village would even go up this year after my mom’s passing. We discussed it and decided that maybe a smaller version of some of her fun pieces would be better,” said Marcia Jones. “At the 50+ centre, we only have about a third of my mom’s Christmas village. She had always said she hoped I would carry on sharing the Christmas village with everyone after she had passed. We wish to carry on this legacy in honour of my mother. It has been hard to assemble it without her as we know she would probably tell us we have things in the wrong area or the wrong buildings together. She was known as the mayor of our little town. With the continuation of the village we honour her memory and have a little piece of her with us.”
Original organizers Donna and her husband Dennis Jones spent 50 years of their marriage collecting all these miniature marvels and treasures, which include pint-sized people, and tiny trains, to fully realized waterfront towns, a carousel, and small scale shops and houses aplenty. It was nearly 16 years ago that the Joneses opened up their home for the public to enjoy their vibrant village. As their village and interest in it grew, they brought their Christmas collection to Cassy’s, which served as the home for this holiday tradition for many years.
“The village started almost 30 years ago in 1994,” said Marcia. “My mom’s parents bought her a 12 piece Christmas village set from Zellers for her birthday. That Christmas dad bought a replica of Dickens’s the old curiosity shop, and since then we have been finding unique and different buildings to add to the village. Today they are over 300 buildings and over 2,000 accessories.”
Admission to view the Christmas village will once again be accepted in the form of donations that will go towards cancer treatment at the Cowichan District Hospital. Donna, who died suddenly earlier this year, was diagnosed with cancer three separate times over the course of her life, so it is a cause that has always been close to the hearts of the Jones family. Marcia says that during the pandemic her family was able to raise $1,500 in 2021, and $1,600 in 2022 with the hopes to surpass the $2,000 mark this giving season.
“This year it’s in the memory of Donna,” said Dennis Jones. “Setting this up each year has been wonderful for me; so many people come out to see it and say thank you to us for bringing back the joy of Christmas.”
“We raise money for cancer care in Duncan and the money we raise helps with equipment required to help cancer patients,” said Marcia. “With past donations, we were able to help purchase a chemotherapy chair, and a chemo pump. Last year the money went to various equipment and supplies required to help all cancer patients. This year the money raised will help purchase items for both the hospital and Cairnsmore. They can also designate the funds to oncology if the need arises, and we’re also raising funds to help support equipment for the new hospital that will be forthcoming.”
The Lake Cowichan 50+ Senior Centre is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will be looking to extend their hours on the weekend of Dec. 9 and 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., to allow the public to be swept away by the magic of this village and the late Donna Jones’s passion project. Community members can also view the village during the Christmas Craft Fair that will take place on Sunday, Dec. 17, and during the Cookies and Caroling event featuring the Good Times Band and the Rivernotes Choir on Dec. 21.
“I really do hope that people get lost in the magic that is created by this village,” said Marcia. “I even find myself when putting it together, saying little things like these shoppers have to go by the shops because they’re taking the parcels home to their houses to wrap up for Christmas. I hope people who view the village will let their imaginations get carried away like mine does — like my mom’s did, and to realize it is a labour of love. My mom loved Christmas, she loved sharing this village with everyone, and the joy it brought them. She loved watching kids enjoy the village at their eye level, and listening to their imaginations get carried away.”