Basking in the glow
The house of Henri Robert on Greenwood Road is hard to miss. With more than 20,000 lights set to music, the show has become a local tradition, with more features being added every year. For more community photos please visit our website photo gallery at www.thedailyobserver.ca.
LAURENTIAN VALLEY TWP. – If you’ve ever driven down Greenwood Road east of Pembroke between November and New Years, you know the home of Henri Robert and his son, Mathieu. Since 2008, the spectacular light-show-set-to-music has been helping to get people into the Christmas spirit, with more lights and more complex designs added each year.
This year’s show is the biggest one yet. How big is it exactly?
“I stopped counting after 20,000 (lights),” laughs Robert.
The most common question Robert gets is about his electricity bill, which he gets a kick out of, because his entire lighting rig, 100 per cent home-made using his own control switches and high-efficiency LED bulbs, could be run off a single household power outlet.
“I’m using about 10 amps through the whole system,” he says, “with everything on. It’s pretty amazing. When I was a kid, it would’ve been unthinkable.”
Even today, it’s hard to grasp just how much work Robert has put into honing his skill to the point where he can pull off a show like this one. Along with his son, he assembles each individual light show element by soldering LEDs and connectors to circuit boards, and wiring them up to various custom built control boxes, which are then all connected to the household computer in the living room.
Piles of circuit boards and bags full of various electronic components testify to the project’s ever-expanding nature.
“My daughter says it’s an obsession,” he laughs, “but it’s just my hobby.”
A free program called Vixen allows the Roberts to sync the lights to pieces of music in whatever way they’d like, and a $50 short-range FM transmitter broadcasts the music to anyone tuned to 87.9 FM within a short distance of the house.
Years ago, the music was simply played through speakers, but Robert says he switched to radio broadcasting because he was worried for the safety of people getting out of their cars to listen to the music. In fact, the only real concern and stress he feels with this project is when people are putting themselves at risk to enjoy his light show.
“If you go outside and watch the lights, I’ve got no problem with that,” he says in a serious tone, “but leave your car’s lights on. I would never sleep again if somebody got into an accident or some kids got hit because they were walking across the street with no lights on and somebody hit them.”
The annual light show takes Robert and his son two weeks to set up, even with some of the lights never actually leaving the trees around the house, and is usually lit the week after Remembrance Day through to when kids go back to school after Christmas break.
You can also check out his Halloween display, which both lets his family have some lighting fun at another holiday, and also lets him test out the lights and control switches to make sure everything’s in working order for the really big show.
Some safety precautions to take if you are going to check out the show: leave your car’s lights on (or even better, use the hazards); be sure to pull as far off the road as possible; stay in your car as much as possible and if you need to turn around, drive to a safer spot first and use a driveway.
Ryan Paulsen is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist. Follow him on Twitter @PRyanPaulsen