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Dec. 16, 2018 | Sunday
Local News
NOTL Rotary Club launches holiday house tour
Lorna Penman, Barbara Biddell and Inge Sakzkowski at The Farmhouse. (Lauren O’Malley/Niagara Now)

The Rotary Club of Niagara-on-the-Lake's Holiday House Tour returns to town this Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rotary’s fundraising juggernaut, with as many as 4,000 people touring each of six local houses specially decorated for the season.

Lorna Penman, chair of the house tour committee, has been working on this year’s property selection since January of last year.

“Sometimes I hear about houses through word of mouth, and sometimes I just go knock on doors,” she says. Her goal is to maintain a comprehensive mix: large and small, old and new.

Penman is passionate — and convincing, says Inge Sakzkowski, who with her husband John owns The Farmhouse on East and West Line.

“It took some coercing but Lorna was very persuasive,” she says of opening her house to several thousand strangers.

Penman explains there are 300 volunteers dedicated to keeping the six homes protected and respected. And ticket holders are given shoe bags (donated by local businesses) to carry their footwear through the houses, so there is minimal clean-up.

Barbara Biddell of the Garden Club of Niagara is excited about decorating The Farmhouse in seasonal greenery. “We will be using only natural decorations, nothing artificial,” she says with pride.

“We are only a canvas — the Garden Club members are the painters,” says Sakzkowski. The Garden Club is also responsible for decorating McFarland House, which is one of eight auxiliary properties on the tour.

There will be six houses featured, with a local designer paired with each. Eight other properties are part of the event, but not specifically on the tour. These include Grace United Church — which is running its own fundraiser as part of the event, selling lunch at the church — Niagara Pumphouse Art Centre, and the Niagara Historical Society and Museum.

Other restaurants and wineries in town are also offering specially priced lunches geared to tour guests, including the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club Golf Club, Peller Estates Winery, and Trius Winery.

Nadja Lepere, Rotary president, says this is by far the club’s biggest fundraiser, with approximately $850,000 raised over two decades, including last year’s total of $94,000. “We’re thrilled the money we raise is going to so many good causes,” she says. “Our mandate is to make the world a better place locally and internationally.”

Lapere goes on to express her gratitude for all of the support the tour has had over the years, saying, “Even the ticket purchasers are part of the collaboration — each piece is necessary to the whole.”

Distractions during the inevitable line-ups will include live music, and hot cocoa at some locations. Musicians include Juliet Dunn, the NOTL Ukesters, and a harpist.

There is a cultural surprise on this year’s house tour, as well as a bonus seventh property. The McArthur Estate (formerly the Romance/Peterson home) will feature special VIP evening tours — which are so popular they’re already sold out. “We’re so grateful to the McArthurs for generously offering these special tours,” says Penman.

Another home welcoming visitors this year is King’s Landing. The Tudor Revival house on Ricardo Street was once upon a time Trisha Romance’s summer cottage, and will be decorated around the theme of one of her paintings, “Christmas at the Cottage.”

Tickets for the Rotary House Tour are available at local valu-marts, Avondales, the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, Mori Gardens, Regal Florist and Garden Centre, and online.

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