Harry James, renowned on P.E.I. for his Christmas lights displays, has died

·3 min read
Harry James is shown at one of his barbecues celebrating the beginning of the Christmas season. James died earlier this week at the age of 81. (CBC - image credit)
Harry James is shown at one of his barbecues celebrating the beginning of the Christmas season. James died earlier this week at the age of 81. (CBC - image credit)

His obituary refers to him as a "true Santa Claus."

Harry James, an Islander known for his Christmas displays and his community involvement died earlier this week of a heart attack. He was 81.

James, who repaired appliances by trade, invested a lot of his time supporting his community and was a staple at many hockey games.

"He was a pretty giving guy who enjoyed life, enjoyed people, and spent a lot of time trying to keep everybody happy,"  said Mike James, one of Harry's five children.

Submitted by Michele Lawlor
Submitted by Michele Lawlor

For three decades, Harry James set up his iconic Christmas decorations, first in Charlottetown and then in Stratford, where he moved in 2008.

He would host a barbecue each year on the night the lights were flicked on. Initially it was just for neighbours and kids on local hockey teams.

But word spread and the displays grew bigger and brighter. More and more people started showing up.

"[The Christmas lights display] was one way for people to come to visit him. He met them in the yard and that was a special moment for him every year," Mike said.

Now, some of James's neighbours and friends across the Island are putting up their Christmas displays early to honour his memory.

Over the years, as James travelled to people's homes, he not only repaired their appliances but built friendships, too, said his son.

"He was probably in more than half the homes in P.E.I. anyway with his work," Mike said.

"That part of his life was being there and not only repairing something, but having an opportunity to talk to people that day. That was a part of dad, a big part of dad."

Pillar of the hockey community

Just about everyone on the Island crossed paths with Harry James in some capacity, according to Forbes MacPherson, head coach of the UPEI Panthers hockey team.

Years ago, MacPherson had to leave a hockey game early because he had the flu. He said James was the person who came to check on him to make sure he was OK.

"That was the first night I met Harry James. And then over the course of my life ... we became teammates and friends along the way."

James volunteered with the Sherwood Parkdale Rural Minor Hockey Association for many years, and later sold 50/50 tickets at Panthers games.

On Friday, Hockey P.E.I. issued a statement mourning his death, saying he was a "pillar" within the community for many years.

MacPherson said that his absence will make a world of difference for the Panthers.

Submitted by Mike James
Submitted by Mike James

"In some ways, he's the face of UPEI men's hockey. He's the first face that people see when they enter the arena. You know, Harry always had a big smile on his face. You could obviously hear his voice … echoing through the hallways and in the lobby and in the stands," MacPherson said.

James was the first person to buy a season ticket every year, said MacPherson, but there was no need.

"He was also volunteering at every game, like there was no reason for him to purchase a ticket. But he did that because that was just his way of giving back."

MacPherson said he's not sure just how, but the team will find a way to honour James the next time they hit the ice.

James's funeral will be held at St. Dunstan's Basilica on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

While his family hasn't decided whether they'll set up their father's holiday display this year, Mike James said he's sure at least a few lights will shine bright.

"My brothers and sister will have to sit down and discuss it all. But I do know my grandchildren will make sure he won't be forgotten," he said.