From on high, Earth Hour inspires

Toronto goes dark during Earth Hour, on March 29, 2008. Photo by Samantha StockellDuring Earth Hour, Toronto turned into a checkerboard of lights.

As houses and buildings turned off the power, street lights and cars lit the paths between. One hundred and sixty communities across Canada participated in the World Wildlife Fund event, to bring awareness to climate change.

Locals, tourists and professional photographers took advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the city without lights from the top of the CN Tower.

“Well, he wanted a romantic night out,” Marie-Sophie Guindon said smiling, of her boyfriend Cody Greenhorne. “It was just coincidence that tonight was Earth Hour.”

“You can really tell the difference from up here,” Greenhorne said.

Indeed, you could tell the difference from up there. Buildings that left their lights on were immediately visible. In the financial district, the Sheraton Centre’s corporate logo remained on until 8:23 p.m.

“We had plans in place for our interior and exterior lights,” Dan Young, PR manager of Starwood Hotels, the holding company of Sheraton said. “We had an issue with the timer and our engineering staff was running around trying to figure out the problem.”

When the red sign finally turned off, a round of applause went up from the viewers in the CN Towers SkyPod. For employees of the Sheraton Centre, the shame was unbearable.

“We felt so horrible,” Young said. “We felt Earth Hour was an opportunity to educate on a social and corporate level, to our guests and associates.”

To compensate for the delay, the Sheraton Centre kept the logo off until 10 p.m. In addition to extinguishing the lights, the hotel also had an art exhibit in the lobby, to raise funds for WWF Canada.

“One of our employees, Riad Jisri (club level manager) sold his paintings at the end of the night,” Young said. They raised $820.

Earth Hour was a successful event for more than just the Sheraton Centre. For the WWF, the event was more than they hoped for, said Julia Langer, director of the Climate Change campaign.

“In 2008, we had an unprecedented result. The event ran away with itself,” Langer said. “People took Earth Hour and made it their own… They understand what it was about.”

WWF is conducting follow-up polls to find what people did and how they can improve for next year.

“What most people liked was the sense of solidarity. Not just me, but millions around the world are worried about climate change,” Langer said. “We know just one hour doesn’t save the planet, but it’s the message we’re sending.”

Goals for Earth Hour include focusing and supporting smaller communities across Canada and creating profiles for people to communicate with people around the world.

“If we can link towns in Canada with one in Fiji or Australia, that would generate great support,” Langer said. “Then maybe we can convince the government to do something about climate change.”